Chapter 96: The Hunt for the Nether Scroll
It was perfect.
Edwin's great breakthrough came in Trademeet, when he recognized the crest on a noble's cloak pin as one described in a report about Nevaziah, the last known keeper of the Nether scroll (an incredible stroke of luck, even more so because he and his impeccable mind were there to seize the opportunity). The noble, a reasonably tolerable cretin named Skarmaen Alibakkar, was extremely receptive to compliments about his suit of elven chainmail (crudely, and obviously, reworked to fit around his very un-elven belly), his ornate cloak pin, and, most insincerely of all, about how he must be a beacon of style and elegance among his peers.
He was also extremely receptive to wine.
It took Edwin less than fifteen minutes to get Alibakkar to tell him all about how the cloak pin bore his family crest, how his family was older than Trademeet, and, indeed, how his family had founded Trademeet, and in another five minutes, Edwin managed to confirm that he was a descendant of the wizard Nevaziah. To Edwin's amusement, the noble was actually embarrassed about being related to someone who was obviously far better than himself (but inferior to Edwin Odesseiron, of course); the name of the wizard was now nothing but an unpleasant reminder of the disgrace he'd caused the family.
According to Alibakkar, Nevaziah the wizard went insane and had himself buried alive.
Along with all his work.
It had been hard to mask the excitement Edwin felt at that moment, but he managed to stay calm (Calm, Edwin!) as Alibakkar spoke of how Nevaziah had humiliated the family further by haunting the family tomb. Utterly disgusting, it was; yes, Edwin most certainly agreed. Edwin also wondered what had been done about the problem. What, nothing? The family had decided to move and just let the ghost rot? Yes, it was a solution, but wouldn't Alibakkar feel better knowing that Nevaziah was completely gone? He would? Edwin would be happy to help with that. Yes, Edwin was a good friend.
And so, Edwin returned to Athkatla knowing exactly which tomb to visit, and how to enter it. It was perfect, utterly perfect!
Or it would be, if only the others would understand the urgency and importance of this task.
Yoshimo agreed to come along easily enough, but the rest of the group... Edwin could understand, he supposed, that Ember would rather spend her time searching for employment than 'paw through a tomb in search for a scroll that probably rotted a long time ago' (after all, she wasn't even remotely capable of appreciating the importance of the Nether Scroll), and he couldn't say he minded that the Rasheman brute and the insufferable halfling also refused, but Edwin Odesseiron was no fool, and would not take no for an answer from the party cleric. The pompous oaf of a Helmite did, after all, have his uses when it came to dealing with the undead, and Edwin should not have had to point out to him that he would be at least marginally useful if he came along to the tomb rather than following Ember and the halfling around on their job hunt, which they were just as capable of doing on their own (even if they were dragging the giant imbecile around with them). As it was, the cleric didn't relent until Edwin said some drivel about how it was his duty to assist with this task that had been assigned them, and even then he agreed only very begrudgingly. Incomprehending fools, all of them!
Imoen would have understood.
(She screams! She screams!)
With a shudder, Edwin shut his eyes and forced the words of that damned gypsy from his head. Random blatherings from a fraud, that's all they were!
(But what if they weren't?)
No. No more thoughts!
He'd show them. He'd find her, and rescue her. He'd claim the Nether Scroll, and once he'd harnessed the power contained within it, he would be unstoppable. He'd be invincible! He'd make the Cowled Wizards bow before him; he'd tear their prison apart and burn it to the ground for their daring to hold Imoen in it! Oh yes, he'd have his glory and his revenge, and maybe even Imoen's gratitude (would she realize, at last, what a fool she'd been to turn him down?)...
"Is this it?"
Yoshimo's voice jolted Edwin out of his reverie. "What?!" he all but shouted.
"This," Yoshimo said, pointing at one of the tombs in front of them; while Edwin had been... preoccupied with more important matters, they had evidently reached the oldest part of the main Athkatla graveyard. The tomb in question was worn by time and crowded by newer constructions, but it was still easily identifiable as their goal; there was, after all, a shortage of Mulhorandi-style pyramidal tombs in Athkatla.
Edwin gave Yoshimo a withering glare. "What do you think?"
Behind them, the cleric sighed. "I think you should do what you must, wizard, that we may dispense with this matter as quickly as possible."
"(I don't care what you think,)" Edwin grumbled, and set about casting the spell that would unlock the wards on the tomb entrance.
The inner chamber of Nevaziah's section of the tomb lay deep underground, at the end of a twisting and turning corridor that was populated by several shadows; Edwin left their disposal to the Helmite. While the Kara-Turan checked the path for traps, Edwin busied himself with examining the decor of the tomb. Nevaziah appeared to have been overly fond of pottery; the place was littered with urns, jars and bowls from a number of cultures, including a Thayvian jar with a glazed spiral design that had gone out of fashion several hundred years ago. It might have some value as an antique, Edwin mused, then remembered his situation and decided it was better (yes, much better) to dismiss it as a piece of tacky garbage.
"Well, here we are," Yoshimo said. "The inner chamber."
Other than a few more urns, the chamber was empty. There was not as much as a coffin, much less the vaunted ghost and his work.
How could this be?!
"This is a pointless undertaking, wizard, even for you," the cleric complained. "There is nought to be found here but shadows!"
"Perhaps not," Yoshimo said, kneeling in the corner. He pushed something, and a section of the wall slid open with the loud, grating sound of stone against stone, whirling up a cloud of dust. Excitedly, Edwin peered through the dust and into a second chamber. It was larger than the room they stood in, but at first glance, all he could see was more of the incessant jars and urns. Then, he saw the shelves, full of dust-covered scrolls. "This is it!" he cried, exultant.
Something stirred in the chamber.
A tall, gangly figure shambled towards them. Its skin, which looked like old parchment, didn't quite cover its skeleton, and its body was draped in tattered, mouldy rags that looked as if they might have once been green and gold silk, but not even Edwin could tell for sure anymore. Dust and fragments of rotten silk fell away from the creature with every movement.
It was a lich.
"Helm preserve us," the cleric whispered.
"Haaaaaa... it... it cannot be!" the lich rasped. "Have... the cowled ones... come for me...? Have I been... found out... after so long?"
Yoshimo stepped forward. "We are no Cowled Wizards, if that is what you are concerned about," he said carefully.
"You... you are not of the Cowled Ones? That is... that is good. They... found me out... my pupils and I... practicing the arts... without their permission. We... we fled... so long ago... How... long now? I... I cannot remember. Have you... come to... destroy me?"
"We mean you no harm, my good lich," the Kara-Turan said. Edwin rolled his eyes.
"Lich? Lich? Is... is this what I am? No... no... was I dying?" the lich muttered, sounding bewildered. "I was dying, so long ago... I used the... magic to save myself. Just as... as I have used it... to save my pupils... How... how long have my pupils... and I... been below? Do the... wizards still... hunt me? Is the... name of... Nevaziah still spoken in the world above?"
Edwin had to restrain himself from shouting with glee at the lich's mention of his name.
"No," Yoshimo said, "I don't think they remember you any longer."
"I... I have been forgotten? The name of... Nevaziah... Keeper of Wisdom... has been lost to the sands of time? It... it is as if I have been... in a dream... My... my duty... is long gone. I... I am dead, am I not? And... and all my pupils... as well. Oh... how long has it been? Hiding... hiding... in fear... for centuries!" A cackling sound that was probably supposed to be laughter escaped the lich's mouth. "Thank you... for opening my eyes. The Keepers never came... to collect the wisdom... my pupils and I... have saved. They... they are long dead."
Edwin's patience ran out.
"Enough of this prattle!" he cried. "I wish the Nether Scroll, you senile lich! Give it to me at once!"
Someone - the cleric - put a hand on Edwin's arm; he shrugged it off.
"The... Nether Scroll? I... I have this... most sacred scroll..." Nevaziah said, glancing towards one of the shelves. "It is... most dangerous wisdom. Others must be... protected from it... lest they be destroyed. I... I have used its power... sparingly... but... perhaps not sparingly enough. What... what makes you think... wizard... that you are strong enough for it? It... it must be destroyed... with the other knowledge..."
"No! NO!! I will not allow you to destroy such an invaluable artifact!" Edwin shouted. "You are a fool, lich! And I will have the scroll if I must destroy you, first!!"
The lich snarled (not that he really had any lips fit to snarl with). "It is... it is you who... are the fool... wizard! I... I am the Keeper of Wisdom... and I say... you shall not have it!! This place will be your tomb!"
"Excellent work," the Helmite growled behind Edwin as the lich began summoning an orb of fire.
"The halfling was right about you, wizard," the cleric said as they stood outside the tomb, gasping for breath. Puffs of white smoke drifted out of the entrance; the scrolls within were still burning. "You have nothing but disdain for the safety of your companions!"
"I told you the tomb was haunted, didn't I?" Edwin said distractedly, cradling the few salvaged scrolls in his arms. Yoshimo had shown a quite admirable presence of mind when he darted behind the lich to grab the documents moments before the lich's spells set the entire tomb - himself included - ablaze. (Really, what kind of Keeper of Wisdom would rather set his work on fire than pass it on to a worthier being?)
"Haunted, aye," the cleric said with a harsh laugh. "You sent us against a lich!"
"A lich? Barely," Edwin scoffed. "He was weak, untrained, and insane. (Give me a few centuries, and I'd do vastly better!)"
"He nearly burned us all alive!"
"Details, details," Edwin muttered, and returned his attention to the precious burden he carried in his hands. It was true that a lich (even an unskilled one) was a bit more than he'd expected to find, and it was true that they'd been dangerously close to incineration, but none of that mattered now.
The sigil on one of the salvaged scrolls didn't lie.
The Nether Scroll was finally his!