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  As Agate wandered through the hoard, looking for more Inian artifacts, she drifted further from the other kobolds and found herself alone with her busier-than-usual thoughts.

She wondered out loud, “Why do they dislike me? Why is it that, as far as I can remember, they called me dumb? There’s others who aren’t so smart, and they still have friends.” She stared at the distant crystalline kobolds.

"Because you are different," The book answered, making her jump.

Agate looked down and considered her own hands. They were crystalline kobold hands, mostly, with delicate, sharp claws and slender, dextrous fingers. The tiara hummed at her temples. Agate peered closer. The scales were rounded and overlapping. Now that she thought about it, all the other kobolds had pointed, diamond-shaped scales. She looked anew at her freakish hands. She had always been punished for their appearance. For a start, why was she the only one with webbing between her fingers? She had simply assumed it was a character flaw on her part.

"I was born here, just like the others! Why do I have webbed fingers?" she whispered to herself. She pulled the book out of her breastplate, hoping it would help her. The eye within the fleshy cover regarded Agate calmly.

"Point your finger to your head."

"Okay?"

"Focus on your desire to know. Your focus is a key. Your mind is a door."

Agate’s forehead scrunched in effort as she thought about keys and doors and focus. "Right."

"Turn the key!"

And somehow, she did.

. . .

"Agate," said a distant, enormous voice. "Everything is going to be alright."

She was just a tiny tadpole floating in a translucent blue egg. Her heart fluttered in response to her mother’s voice, far away and echoey, but somehow close and comforting. She heard the soft thunder of footsteps. As dim lights and shadows drifted across the surface of the egg, Agate sensed they were traveling down a dark underground tunnel and knew, by instinct, that they were very far from home. Her mother’s hand caressed the egg reassuringly and Agate wiggled her little tail.

"The collapse might have taken our home and the rest of our family, but we still have each other. There is another hoard. Two hundred levels down. We will move there. We will have a new home."

Her mother started to sing a sad song from their extinct tribe, a hymn about the endless ocean, about the great Wyrm that encircled the ice-encrusted seas around Athalon, devouring its own tail. Agate closed her tiny eyes and fell asleep to her mother’s soothing voice.

. . .

Another fragment of memory flashed. Agate recognized the kobold egg chamber of Ognevika's hoard clan. It was dark and humid, deep below the hoard chamber. A perfect, safe place for kobold eggs. She felt her weary mother’s sigh of relief as she set Agate down gently among the other eggs. The others looked different, their opaque shells covered in crystalline, sparkling flakes.

"You’re safe here with the others. I will be back,” her mother promised. “First I must find the kobolds who live here and earn their mercy." Agate looked up as the familiar unfocused figure of her mother stood and looked down at her with grief and love in her eyes.

An urgent male voice resounded through the silent chamber.

“She came this way!”

Her mother gasped and her head snapped up, looking away from Agate towards unseen figures in the dark.

“Outsider! We’ve found you!”

Other voices echoed in the dark. Agate was afraid of them.

"Ah, an Unclaimed! Such interesting fins you have. You will be mine, come!"

Her mother straightened slowly. For a moment, Agate thought she might run, but then she turned and walked towards the unkind voices of the strangers and was gone.

. . .

“Our home was destroyed. Even our dragon died when our caverns collapsed,” Agate said, hoarsely. “All she wanted was a new home. What did they do to her? Why have I been forced to grow up alone, when I once had a mother who loved me?”

“Who knows?” drawled the book. “And who cares? Maybe she was sickly from the journey and they threw her into the Nexus Gate. Maybe they killed her trying to claim her. Maybe Ognevika didn’t like the look of her. Come on, don’t be that stupid. You know your clan. The big own the small. They’d rather let her die than disrespect the hierarchy by being kind.”

Agate stared at the eye of the book, which looked back without pity or malice.

"Lyca called you the Necronomicon. What are you, really? How could you help me remember things from when I was just a tadpole? What sort of magic does that?"

“These answers lie outside the hoard. Are you ready to begin your adventure?” the book asked.

Agate nodded; she was ready now to leave the hoard she had, perhaps mistakenly, called home. If there was no family for her here, she must retrace their time-faded footsteps. There was a glimmer inside her that hoped such a journey might bring her closer to them. The Guide was unconcerned with feelings, but she would find her own solace beyond the limits of her former, tiny, life at the Nexus Gate.

With that thought, she tapped herself gently with the gravity spoon. Her body lightened and her hair floated serenely around her. She ran, delicately but with purpose, leaping the foul moat, gliding over the gaping Librarians, and landing behind them with grace. Nobody called to her; those that saw were too astounded to make a noise.

She left the cavern and headed upwards, past the many signs warning of Ognevika. She came upon the Adventurers’ camp, and padded swiftly and silently around, noting and memorizing the Human defences. She entered a side tunnel and moved ever further away from the hoard, following the instructions of her aloof companion.

As she drifted along, barely touching the ground, she observed changes in her environment. The walls of this tunnel were close, the ceiling low, and the dangers few enough that she could take in the under-sea passage with greater detail. Crystalline life sprouted from dark crevasses that reached up from the Deep. Underground lakes and grottoes glowed with magical radiance. Water filtered down from the distant ocean far above, and dripped slowly and hollowly on the slick floor.

Beneath centuries of erosion and decay, beneath layered buildup of crystals and minerals, she started to notice… symmetry, order and rhythm of form. It was present everywhere, underneath everything; an omnipresent pattern; an echo; a memory of something ancient.

Before she knew it, she had emerged into a chamber with a high ceiling. It looked like a dead-end. The ground dropped sharply away into a shadowed bowl and what little air emanated from the space was foul and stale. There was no sound of dripping water and the tiny reverberations of creatures far behind were silenced. The silence pressed down on her like a threat.

Before her was a strange circular shadow. Around it, barely illuminated by what biology remained, was some kind of intricate diagram drawn in a brown-ish-black substance on the far wall of the cavern. Its dim outlines slithered up the walls out of view, and Agate had to crane her neck and squint through the darkness to see that, high above her, the lines culminated in a humanoid figure inside a semi-distinct star-shaped design. Six points. There was a circle between the points and further design work in the center, but she couldn’t resolve enough detail to make out exactly what. As her eyes adjusted, the jagged lines on the far wall became clearer, splitting from one central branch and spreading into a complicated maze of box-like shapes.

Below her, more lines, red this time, stretched down from the drawn structures into the rounded pit, which she could now see was nearly a perfect hemisphere. With a start, she realised what she thought was a circular shadow was in fact a three-dimensional object. While the surfaces of the hollow chamber were smooth, this sphere was not. Hundreds of bodies, carved out of the stone, intertwined around it in images of endless, complex passion.

“What is that?” Agate asked, pointing with the book to the human figure at the top of the drawing.

“The Master Builder. He who came from the stars above and triggered armageddon.”

Agate aimed the book lower, at the labyrinthine structures.

“The cities of Inia, bathed in blood.”

The book progressed downwards towards the stone sphere.

“The Altar to The Gorefield.” The Guide stated.

“Tell me... what is the Gorefield?” Agate inquired. The older kobolds always swore “Gorefield this” and “Gorefield that”, but never really explained much.

“The gift of Undeath for all, concepted in the heart of the Deep by the Undying,” The book answered.

“Un… death?” Agate raised an eyebrow.

“Immortality, life everlasting, unending existence, absence of aging and end to war, disease, pain and suffering,” the book elaborated.

“How does one um… attain immortality?” Agate asked.

“By unlocking death’s door, of course. With the Key of Life.”

“The Key?” Agate asked, walking closer to the altar to examine it.

“I’ve had many names over the centuries,” the book said. “The Key of Life. The Word of Gorefield. The Necronomicon. And now… the Guide.”

The book’s tone became steadier, starker.

Agate’s breath was quick and shallow, her mouth dry. For the first time she was almost afraid of the artifact she held. What kind of power did it really have?

"Wait… I unlocked my own memories as an egg? Made them alive again?" Agate whispered, touching the intertwined figures on the stone sphere.

"Yes,” the book replied, and then added in a raspy, congratulatory tone: "You're a Necromancer, Agate. Now, step behind the sphere and witness the works of your predecessors.”

Agate walked around the spherical sculpture and discovered a small passageway hidden behind it. She stepped through onto a platform overlooking fathoms of empty air.

Before her was a vast space crosshatched with dark forms made of complex, enormous, lopsided, boxy shapes. Agate’s chest rose and fell as she stared at the otherworldly wasteland before her. The massive structures, on which those intricate cave designs were clearly based, stared back at her with thousands of empty, square sockets cut into their walls.

Agate pointed at the vast cavern. “What are those… square holes? What sort of an Undersea creature made these nests?”

“Those are windows of skyscrapers. They were not made for life underground. This was the surface of the world."

“Skyscrapers?” Agate asked, staring at the gargantuan expanse of ruined forms. There was no sky, not here.

"A skyscraper is a continuously habitable high-rise building that has over 40 floors.”

“Floors,” echoed Agate thoughtfully.

“This was a great city of thirty million inhabitants once, one of many across the planet, before Celestar shattered the Moon,” the book said without tone.

Agate’s mouth fell open. So these strange shapes were the bones of a city. There were thousands of windows there, hundreds of walls and exposed floors stacked on top of each other, lopsided, broken, shattered, buried, long forgotten for centuries beneath the seas. Tears formed in her eyes as the horrid, unwholesome realisation struck her. As she finally understood the truth.

“How many?” Agate asked slowly. “How many died when the moon fell from the sky?”

“Thirty billion.” The book replied, and then there was only the utter silence of dead Inia.

Suddenly, everything made sense to Agate. Those complex passageways she saw, the weathered corridors of metal and stone. There were stairs, columns, doorways that looked like they were designed by someone, not naturally formed.

“Imagine the kobold clan that serves Ognevika: it’s a large clan, some three hundred plus”, the book continued. “Imagine a clan three times that size, then thirty times that, one hundred times that and finally ten thousand times that.”

Agate held the book close and wept because she could not. The number was far too great, too impossible. The tiara showed her a crowd of kobolds stretching endlessly into the distance, so she could better understand the number. She wept even more. Now the Understanding hurt. Now it was a curse.

“Why has The Builder done this?” she choked out. So much lost in time, broken, forgotten. This was not order, not logic, not justice. This was madness, a war of total extermination. This was too dreadful, too abhorrent to comprehend.

“Why?!” Agate shrieked. Her head was full of death, and each death reminded her of her mother, her unknown doom, just another soul extinguished.

“It was a pursuit initiated by the Master Builder,” the book replied. “When he came from the stars, he saw the works of Inia and found them unwholesome. So he cleansed the world of all life and set up a world of his own design. Only the Undying survived the fall of the moon and the glacial winter that followed.”

“The Undying?”

“We are sentient songs written by the Inians. We are their servants, ghosts in black carbon shells. We are memories of a past long gone, persisting across the world, resonating within the Deep, echoing within the tools you now wield. The Builder's children – the human rulers of Avalon – now carry on his mission to silence all songs of Inia, to still the resonance of our magic.”

“Voices of the Inian artifacts.” Agate whispered. “You… are one of their tools. But you aren’t made of… oh.” She stared at the murky eye of the book. Within its depths she saw a black, distinctively-shaped pupil. It was a pyramidal key made of black, hexagonal metal. It was an Inian artifact, wrapped in crystalline growths, surrounded by a book of human flesh. Everything about the book was false, additions from its prior owners made to conceal its purpose from others. The truth was hidden deep beneath layers upon layers of lies.

“And, further,” the book interrupted, “according to the Master Builder’s rules, you, the Kobolds, are simply so-called Monsters Created By Dark Magic, to be hunted by humans for… experience,” it intoned, darkly.

“We are not monsters!” Agate protested. “And then… what am I to the Deep?” she demanded.

“Our last chance. The heir of Inia, our Hero, imbued with the Understanding. The carrier of our Key.”

Agate struggled to comprehend the responsibility she was being given. She grasped at the one death she could visualize, the one injustice she understood.

“My mother… c… can I use you to bring her back? Unlock… her death?”

“Yes, but it will not be as easy as unlocking a memory, for her body is long gone, devoured by the great silicoid barrier. It will be a long journey, fraught with danger.
With love in your heart and clarity in your mind, wielding the Key of Life, you can unlock the Void Gate of Oblivion and unite the dead with the living in Gorefield, the Singularity of the Flesh.”

Agate nodded, furiously. After what it had shown her, how could she argue?

“But, before you do that, you and your chosen companions must disarm the rulers of Avalon, shatter their Empire and conquer Celestar itself. In this mission you must be extremely careful and move unseen. The Builder’s children will try to stop you. If they become desperate, frightened enough, they will not hesitate to use the apocalyptic power of the StarHammer to wipe the world clean.”

Agate became more and more worried as the book spoke. She shrank instinctively, making herself small and still. How could she, a diminutive kobold, take down an Empire?

“...and if I hide, run away, do nothing?” she asked.

“The Probability Knights will track down and silence all songs of Inia. The adventurers will hunt down and exterminate all beings that they consider monsters. The other races will fade away or become slaves of the Empire. The Isle of Ferrum will dominate Avalon by force and chemistry with mechanics will replace magic. Every tree will be burned down for energy, every mountain will be consumed to fuel greater and greater metal machines. Entropy will silence all in the end, beneath scorched skies, for the world above is far too small for Machinist greed. This, we have foreseen.”

The book’s dark eye rotated slowly like a compass within its sphere of crystal.

“Do not be afraid, my little adventurer. You are not alone. I will Guide your way.”

Agate nodded. Lyca was wrong. The book’s words did change her mind, but not with subjugation. It changed Agate with the truth. Inians were not gods. They had been just like her once, beings of blood and flesh, easily broken. They were victims of a global extermination, of a great cataclysm, set in motion by the Master Builder.

She hugged the Key, her Guide to Adventure, and whispered, “I’m sorry… that your creators died.”

She wiped her tears and stood straight, staring at the mute ruins with their ancient stories of suffering. “I will avenge you. I will make The Builder pay for what he has done. I will end his game and I will undo death itself.”

“Quest Accepted: Save the World” declared the book, rigidly, as Agate stood resolute.

Yes, thought the book, the Adventurer now had a tragic, motivational backstory. The book was getting too old for this business and its new name was befuddling its mind. Things had made more sense as the Necronomicon; it was easier being pure evil. Nevertheless, it had at last acquired a worthy hero. This time it would surely succeed. This time it would definitely not die in a fire. That was really annoying.

 

 

 

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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
  • https://www.rom.ac

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union - Novokuznetsk of Siberian Russia.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was thrown 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 Presbyterian church and partake in writing and drawing things.

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