I am Valdo Caeserius, chief Arkhon of the Oriath academy in Theopolis. Servant of the High Templar Venarius.
I begin these writings as a record of events transpired, in hopes that the penning of such horrors will help bring sense to the matters at present. Some time ago, I was commissioned in the repairing of a strange device delivered into my hands. A golden machine found broken in the ruins of Wraeclast. Believing it to contain some dark infernal secret, the High Templar asked that I restore it and weaponize whatever powers it might contain.
Though I saw it as mostly inconsequential at the time, it is worth noting, my daughter, a quiet young thing of five, suffered nightmares and tantrums unlike any I'd seen, during those former weeks I spent working on the device. I'd assumed that she missed her mother and was going through a rough patch grieving. Now, however, I can't help but wonder if perhaps it was a sign.
I'd considered refusing Venarius, though not in any serious nature. Though my personal politics remain my own, I've often struggled to follow his instructions and rule – filled with such malice and hunger. Regretfully, I accepted his orders, for I know of many families who have refused the High Templar before. They have all vanished now.
The device lay on my work table, shattered and in pieces. I'm ashamed to admit now that not once did I ask of what design it belonged to. Rather, I busied myself on all the little pieces, ignoring the sum of its parts. I pondered on how it had been structured for days on end, until at last, a creeping dread submerged me.
I was unable to rebuild this relic – whatever it was. Though it seemed to be mostly functioning, something... important appeared to be missing. Worse still, it seemed as if the part required, well... it didn't exist. Not in our reality anyhow. The thing that made it tick, the thing that was mysteriously vacant, I could only conceive of in the half-baked imaginings of my own mind.
My thoughts felt like a fleeting dream during the first few minutes of waking. I worked tirelessly in search of answers, exhausting myself beyond what I'd ever done before, until finally, at the base of that cruel device, I fell into a deep, deep sleep.
I awoke in the most beautiful of places. The skies were blue, unlike the greyness of Oriath. Birds fluttered through the air, singing pleasantly. Around me, a warm wind brushed my face, and tall grass tickled playfully against my skin. I couldn't know where I was, though even then I suspected the place was somehow connected to the infernal mechanism lying dormant on my workbench.
As I wandered this strange new land, I felt a growing sense of realization that I was not alone. Exploring the fields of tall grass, I sought a peace within the brush. It was in that moment that I met a fellow wanderer. It was a Shade - a whisper of embodied smoke, barely heard or seen amongst the vegetation. It rose and spoke to me not through language, but through thoughts and pictures, colours and emotions, bursting into my mind like water, billowing up through cracks in the earth.
The Shade welcomed me to its land and asked how it was that I arrived. Eager for answers, I found myself enthusiastically volunteering information in detail of Oriath, of my daughter and of course, the strange and mysterious device I suspected had lead me to this place.
The Shade nodded thoughtfully. It knew of the device. The machine was a doorway between my world and the dreamlands, I was told. The device had been lost. Broken and torn apart by villains and thieves. The Shade was overjoyed to hear it found, and offered to help me rebuild that final missing part.
It seemed too good to be true. We would open the gateway between worlds, and then, all the goodness of these lands would flow out into Oriath leading us into a new age of prosperity. I agreed wholeheartedly – for I feared, and I still do fear, what will become of my daughter under High Templar Venarius' reign. All that the Shade asked of me was to return the favour, when the time came.
And as I lay down in the cool grass bathing myself in the soothing sun, I found that sleep once more took my body, only this time, when I closed my eyes there, I also opened them in the cold, empty darkness of my study...
Weeks passed. The sun set and the moon rose countless times. And every night, I found myself asleep at the foot of the strange device, awoken to the reality of another world inside my own. I would transition into the dreamlands.
In my sleep, I would apprentice myself to the Shade, allowing it to teach me the ways of this strange place. I learnt how to shape and build things from my imagination, forming them in thin air as if by some great, thaumaturgical marvel. It was through this tempering of the mind that I, under its instructions began rebuilding the missing component of the device. And most exciting of all, how to transport such phantasmagorical treasures back into the world of man.
When High Templar Venarius visited during Oriath hours, I'd lie to him and make excuses. Arrogantly, I didn't want him to know of the power I'd uncovered. I wanted these dreamlands to be my secret, to belong to me and me alone. Not even my daughter could know...
The day came when the missing part of the great device had finally been formed. A bizarre segment meant to hold mystical images of ancient maps. It was on this day that the Shade requested its one favour.
I was shown suddenly images of the past, of the Shade's once proud rule as King of all the dreamlands. I saw his good and noble kingdom, and the shadow that fell upon his domain. A sect of hateful men and women – The Watchers of Decay rose up to destroy the Shade. Questing to control the land, these terrorists fashioned a powerful blade meant to divorce the King's spirit from his body and curse it to wander his former kingdom while his body blistered in stone.
I was mortified! How could people do such cruel things to this humble creature? And where were these villains now? Had they been the same ones whom had made off with the device? Had they been the ones who severed the connection between worlds and ruined its function?
The Shade led me deep into a dark forest and revealed to me in the depths of a forgotten cave, a statue, cast from black marble, pierced by what I assumed to be the very same sword from my visions. The effigy was frightening. Utterly terrifying to behold. The creature it depicted – a violent and abhorrent thing, stood amidst an altar of ancient wood and bone. I felt a chill go up my spine as in that moment, the Shade closed in behind...
"Pull the blade from my chest." the Shade imposed upon my mind in both image and thought, "remove the sword. Free me." But as I found myself reaching out to do as asked, a great horror came upon me and for the first time, doubt entered my mind. I wondered if this creature was who it had told me. I resolved to hold off for a moment, to ask more questions and discover a greater understanding of the Shade, and so in trepidation, I refused.
At merely the suggestion of rebellion, the Shade flew into a fury! It flamed red, full of rage! And though it could not speak, it made its intentions very clear. I felt my mind torn asunder as images of murder and mutilation were forced upon me. I was... doing things. Terrible things to the ones I loved... to my daughter.
I fled in a panic, running from the cave, through the dark forest, cursing myself for ever trusting such a strange creature so blindly. At last, in desperation, I found a small, abandoned fox-hole and burrowed inside. The Shade passed by, still flaming in anger, searching desperately for me. It was in that dark damp hole that I trembled with revulsion and terror, weeping in silence until at last I fell into sleep returning once more to my laboratory.
Once back, I fled into the streets, arriving home in the dead of night. Bursting through my daughter's bedroom, I woke her and hugged her tight, shaking and crying as I did so. Promising that I would never, ever, let her go again.
Months have now passed since my horrifying descent into that fox-hole, since the Shade revealed its true nature. Every day, the slimed and poisoned tendrils of fear grip ever tighter into my flesh, and each morning, I lock myself inside my study, delving into the darkest tomes one can find, searching for some infernal, occult knowledge that might save us from the thing I fled.
I'd almost given up hope, so little did I really know about the Shade and its "dreamlands". That is, until this morning when a shipment arrived for me from Eramir, a scholar whom I greatly admire. Sifting through the countless fragments of parchments and books he has sent me, I have found at last, some information which could be of some use.
These Watchers of Decay did indeed exist at one time in our world's distant past, and now, I've some of their work! The truth of their history... it's... it is so unutterable that I hesitate even now, to write it down, to put the words to my own journal. Yet I am an Arkhon and us Arkhons record all...
They called it the Elder. A creature of malignant madness, born of that oblivion from before time itself began. Once only an abstract expression, the Elder was given physical form. It entered our realm. It fashioned for itself a bauble of chaos and secret worlds to use as a kind of... hunting ground. This "bauble" is undoubtedly the dreamlands I've uncovered.
The Elder came here out of hunger. Preferring victims of a younger flesh, it became the bogeyman, dragging our children off into the night, casting them into its realm of shadow and feasting upon their nightmares undisturbed, for it was imagination that truly satiated it.
With such sustenance, the Elder deigned to cultivate something. To... sustain and birth forth its true goal. Its true self. The Oblivion from outside time and space. The Decay.
By the gods... Even now as I write this, I feel my hand trembling, and I struggle to keep my mind on the task ahead... The Elder. It cannot be killed. The Watchers, they built the device, so as to travel to and lock tight its kingdom of torment, bringing with them the blade I saw – Starforge – it was called. A weapon capable of divorcing agency from form, to give the Elder a kind of eternal rest... There in its den, amongst the gibbering nightmares of child victims, the Elder became trapped. Starved. Unable to hunt. Held in ungodly chains.
The Elder's form may be trapped in stone. But its agency roams free. I have met it. What if someone else were to enter the dreamlands and encounter the Shade? What if Venarius...? My meeting with the Elder, must have invigorated and refreshed its fervour. I must find a way to put a stop to it, before it finds a path to freedom. If not for my own sake, then for that of my daughter...
Time has passed since my last entry, of that I am aware. I've spent every waking hour since, trying to find a way to end this unholy Elder, though nothing has, yet, fit.
Within my secret study, I've begun work on a device of my own. Whereas the Watcher's map device was designed to enter and lock tight the Elder's pocket dimension, my machine is of a different nature, though not entirely dissimilar.
Day and night, I have toiled away, tinkering and shaping this invention. When I'm finished, this Elder will never bother our world again. The creature cannot be killed, and divorcing its spirit from its body has not kept it silent, but maybe... just maybe... It can be exiled...
How could I have been so stupid? So caught up in this whole nightmare that I forgot my work as an Arkhon! My "supposed" lack of progress on the Map Device has given the High Templar cause for suspicion.
At noon, as I neared the completion of my work, he and his guards interrupted my tinkering with a furious rage! Tossing my machine to the ground, he destroyed much of my research, demanding to know why I no longer focused on the task given to me. Clapped in irons I was led off to the Theopolis prisons for my insubordination.
I write this now, due only to the kindness of a friend in the Templar guard, he knows of my partiality to journaling and so as soon as he heard of my capture, managed to sneak in a diary for me scribble upon.
I don't know what Venarius plans to do with me. I've heard whispers of public shaming and lashes, but none of that is certain. What is certain, is that the Elder is coming for us. It's coming for us all. No matter whether you are High Templar or the lowest of the Karui slaves, the Elder knocks at the threshold. Bringing Decay... I must find my way from these chains at all costs. Only I can save us from this blasphemy that has fallen upon Oriath...
My daughter... My darling daughter... By the gods. So much has transpired since last I wrote. So much horror... I've not a moment to lose, but I need to... I have to... I must write down what has occurred. It's the only way I shall keep my sanity. I believe I'm safe for the moment, so I shall rest and reflect, in the hope that it will give me new insight on how to proceed in this current disaster.
Venarius, that bastard... Enraged by my lack of progress on his occult weaponry, he marched me through the streets. "This man has betrayed me!" he shouted as his men stripped me of my robes and beat me with sticks. When I was but an inch from death, he took me aside once more, demanding to know why I'd failed him. In my... in my foolishness, I... I told him everything.
I'd hoped to appeal to his better nature, to his higher self, that he might rally the Templar army behind me. Together we could defeat the Elder once and for all! But you should never appeal to a man's better nature. He may not have one. Venarius... he... he took Zana! Held her at knife point. Demanded... demanded that I take all of us through, into the dreamlands - to meet with the Elder!
Please, whoever you are, reading this – do not think wrong of me. If it were your daughter's life at risk, would you have done this any differently? I... I did as I was asked. Using the Map Device, we stepped through a gateway and I found myself once more setting foot in this atlas of worlds...
The land was as beautiful as it'd been when last I'd visited. The breeze rippled across the meadows and the sun beat affectionately down on our necks. The High Templar and his men marvelled at such wonders. My daughter cried in fear. I felt sick to my bones.
As we trampled through the wilderness, it wasn't long before we were met by the overwhelming presence of the Shade itself. The very essence of the Elder stood silently before us. I felt its eyes bore deep into my skin. Demanding of me in visions to tell it why I had returned. But before I could answer, Venarius stepped forward and greeted the phantom, offering his words up into the air:
"He tells me you are King of this land," he said, "My poor, poor scholar says that you are imprisoned, that you need a key."
As he spoke, the shade stayed quiet, listening and smouldering smugly.
"I can be that key for you." The High Templar announced.
For a moment more, the Shade did not respond. A perverse, pensive, pregnant pause lay heavily upon us all. Then finally, casting an image at once upon all of our minds, we felt it ask of Venarius:
"What dost thou want?"
The High Templar smiled. "Why, power, of course." He replied.
The shade spluttered into a great shimmering blaze, moving rapidly forward into trees up ahead. The High Templar gave chase, his soldiers dragging my daughter and I along behind. I recognized where we were headed. The forest was as dark as I remembered, and the cave, just as terrible. Before we knew it, we stood at the base of that blasphemous effigy seated atop its crude pagan altar.
"Pull the sword from my chest."
The Elder imposed and the man, in all his vanity, didn't hesitate for a second. He took the sword and yanked it forward. A great earthquake shook the land! It was as if the very ground itself was cowering in the face of the Elder's reunion with its frigid body.
Bursting forth from cold stone, the Elder approached us all. The blade dropped from Venarius' quivering hand and clattered to the ground, a white light in the hilt flickered and shrank until it at last was put out by the great darkness of a tentacular void.
Realizing what it meant to look upon its face, I turned and shielded my daughter's eyes, and as the true scope of the Elder befell the High Templar and his men. I could hear screaming and mad gibbering! The Elder did not speak. Visions no longer left its mind. It was free. It had no need to communicate with mankind any longer.
As the richness of life fled from the quickly shrivelling bodies of the High Templar and his men, I readied myself and my daughter to flee. While the Elder began to feed, starved from millennium upon millennium of constraint, I took up the Map Device Venarius had dropped and together, we ran...
I fear this to be the end. Not just the end for me, but the end of all things. The Elder has been freed. Soon it will feast on me and then, my daughter. Once it has finished with us, it will turn its sights on the rest of the world.
Times will become as they were in the days of old, when the Watchers of Decay were formed. Children will go missing from their beds. Parents will mourn, darkness will descend, and then birthed from that carnage, the Decay will arrive, finding its physical form in our dimension – for that is the Elder's true master! The fungal monstrosity will manifest and spread forth its mighty tendrils. The mould from before time and space began, will seek out the destruction of all things...
As we fled through the forest, I focused my resolve. It was too late for me. I knew of the shaping powers. Only I could have a hope at defeating the Elder. Preoccupied with its feast, the eldritch abomination had somehow forgotten us, and as we made our way back, retracing our steps, I found myself standing once more before the portal home. Not even stopping to look behind, I dove through the shimmering window, and together, we collapsed into Oriath.
With not a minute to waste, I took a nearby tool and jammed it into the infernal device, where it hummed, ominously entrenched in my laboratory floor. The Elder had to be stopped, and so... I left her there, bidding her to hide in a closet or beneath a work table. Then, with the portal flickering and shrinking steadily, I turned back and stepped forward into the dreamlands, one final time.
My dearest Zana,
Where are you now? I hope, as a father often does, that you are happy and tucked away in the safest of places. I hope you grow up kind and strong, that you love and are loved. It is my life's greatest regret that I will not see you again, but I must do what I can to protect you from the evils of this outer dark.
I have failed against the Elder. To be honest, I never had a chance. The creature was too strong, too well versed in the shaping ways. If Venarius had not damaged the weapon I built, that day he arrested me in my study, then perhaps I could've opened a void, forced it from its physical shell and out of this reality. But I no longer possess such a device and the Elder has suckled at my mind so many times now, that I fear I could not remember how to rebuild it, even if I tried.
My war with the creature is far from over however. I've no upper hand. But like a cornered animal, I will bite until I am gone. I've attempted to sleep and awaken in Oriath, many times. Hoped that one night I might get to hold you in my arms once again. But instead of my study, I dream of nothing.
I know this letter might never reach you, but I write it anyway – if not for you, then for the sake of my own fragile wits. I love you my darling daughter, and hope the best for you, far away from all this... cosmic darkness. You've made me very proud, and I've considered each day a blessing that I've been able to call you my daughter...
I must keep moving. I must keep fighting. Perhaps one day, if the gods allow it, we shall see each other once more. I love you greatly.