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Cold Moonlight Fire

Part Six


Legacy of Fear

Bryn shut the hidden compartment and left the armory. She needed time and a quiet place to examine the journal, and the gallery was unlikely to provide either, especially now that the laconia dagger had been discovered missing. Continuing along the hall, she found a small, disused room that might have once been a servant's chamber when the family had kept more than two. The adventuress removed the dust cloth from a hard-backed chair and found two iron candlesticks on a nearby table with half-burned tapers still in them. She held her hand out, palm down, and concentrated, schooling her mind to the precise thoughts needed to draw forth the magical energies around her.

"Foi!"

At the chanted word, the candle beneath her palm sparked a light, and she touched the second taper to the first to get it going as well. On a planet where most of the monstrous wildlife was adapted to resist extreme cold, the ability to conjure up fire was extremely useful for Bryn. The hardest part about putting Foi to such mundane uses was tightly controlling the technique to produce only the effect she desired instead of simply releasing all the power she could draw upon.

Bryn closed the door, then as an added precaution slid the small bolt home before returning to the chair and beginning to read. She skimmed over technical details such as an inventory of the recovered artifacts, measurements, and the results of chemical tests used to determine age and composition. When she came to the first mention of the idol, she slowed and began to read more carefully.

* * * * *

July 7: Today I began my examination of the idol we found in the "chapel" on the third-level platform. I am assuming that this item was of some religious significance to the inhabitants of the palace, though if I am correct I sincerely hope that it represents a creature of punishment rather than a being to be venerated. I fear that this hope is unfounded, however, and not just due to Nahar's fearsome reputation. All indications within the chapel suggest that the worshippers there were of a faith completely alien to both the Dezolian Church and any Parmanian religion I have as yet encountered. At the same time, it seems familiar somehow. I must consult my library.

July 8: I was right when I thought the idol seemed familiar. I have since examined my translation of the High Priest D'nara's Record of the Scourging of Menobe and according to it when the Dezolians and the Espers exterminated the sorcerers of Menobe in 1287, they encountered many similar depictions of this being, which the Church calls guraasejpaa^o wuub, literally "evil power," and which the Espers name Dark Force, the One Who Comes With the Millennium. Apparently this is a being of ultimate evil who was worshipped as a god by those of Menobe. If so, this implies a definite link between Menobe and Nahar in a way that does not exist between the other "torture palaces."

July 9: Today I commenced an alchemical analysis of the idol of Dark Force. Being in its proximity gives me a feeling of unease, though perhaps this is due to the fact that I know what it represents. If so, I am at least not alone in my unease, for when Mrs. Saul brought my lunch tray to the laboratory she was barely able to stifle a scream at the sight of it. For the first time, I feel no eagerness, no excitement to begin a project, but only a sense of foreboding. It will be a relief to spend time with Laura this evening. She is such a joy to me! I only pray that she is happy here, and that she does not think that she has not gotten the worst of a bad bargain in me.

July 10: The idol, so far as I can tell, appears to be carved from no mineral known to present-day geology. I find certain distinct similarities to volcanic obsidian, but there are noticable differences. One particular anomaly is a persistent oily feeling, such as one finds in soapstone. I find it most disquieting, even repulsive, which is perhaps not surprising given the subject matter of the piece but is hardly a proper scientific attitude. I must proceed with a clear head; my findings at Nahar may be the key to understanding these demon-worshippers.

July 11: Today I proceded from physical tests to alchemical ones. Would that I had done so from the start! It was clear at once from an application of Markness' Compound that the idol of Dark Force had magical properties, which perhaps my subconscious mind had been aware of, resulting in my tension and worry. I proceeded to observe the idol through the Aero-Lens and noted the strength of the aura, which appeared as a blue flame. Clearly this idol was far more than a mere object of worship for its ancient owners. Lacking the magical abilities of an Esper, I have been unable to learn more; I shall have to consult my reference works in the hope that they can explain this phenomena.

July 12: I did not work this day; my sleep was disturbed by frightful dreams, dreams of blood sacrifice in which demonic creatures feasted upon the bodies of Dezolian and Parmanian victims alike. Above the violence, I sensed a hateful, gloating presence reveling in the suffering and death--Dark Force itself. Were these dreams a vision of the past or are they merely the product of my own brain, obsessed by the remnant of evil I have discovered? Laura is worried for me; even Cole suggests that I may be working myself too hard so soon after the rigors of the expedition itself. Perhaps they are right, and yet I feel that I am on the cusp of some important discovery. I must return to work tomorrow!

July 13: The dreams again. Though the scenes were similar to those of last night, this time the attention of Dark Force was focused directly upon me, as if it could feel me watching. The burning red eyes seemed to be searing into my mind. When I awoke, I was too weak to get out of bed, let alone continue my study of the idol. Have I inadvertently brought a curse upon myself?

July 14: I awoke this morning with renewed energy, my sleep having been untroubled. Laura was overjoyed at my recovery as, I must admit, was I. I would much rather stand against a beast or monster that I can see and fight than some subtle and unseen horror I cannot even be certain was an attack and not the product of my own mind. When I sought to resume my investigations, however, I could not find the Aero-Lens. This is highly frustrating, for while the Lens is a vastly inferior tool to the legendary Aero-Prism it was modeled after, it is still my most potent aid in uncovering the secrets of enchanted items.

July 15: Trouble. I discovered the Aero-Lens shattered in the back corner of the laboratory hearth. It had not merely been broken as if dropped but ground to powder, maliciously destroyed sometime during the past few days. This was not done by some dream; I must face the grim realization that someone in this house has deliberately smashed one of my most priceless possessions. Yet who would do such a thing, and more importantly, why? I must keep on my guard from here on out, as something is very wrong.

* * * * *

July fifteenth, Bryn thought. Six days ago. That tallied almost precisely with what Draycott had said about Rostoke becoming secretive about his research around one week ago. When he discovered that the Aero-Lens had been deliberately destroyed, Rostoke had realized that one of the four members of his household--at least one, she amended the thought--wanted to obstruct his research. The discovery limited the murder suspects, too. If someone had been working against him six days ago, it couldn't have been Wyreth or Hawthorne who was Rostoke's enemy.

Eager to find out what, if anything Rostoke had learned about the idol in the past few days, Bryn resumed reading the journal.

* * * * *

July 16: The discovery that some member of my household is plotting against me has left me shaken. Even if their motives may be pure--to protect me against the malign influence of the idol, say--the fact that they are driven to take action in secret rather than confront me openly worries me, as does the possibility that their intentions are in no way beneficient. Lacking the Lens, I have become convinced that the key lies in what it could have revealed, so after much research I found a process called Noah's Chime which will allow me to perceive magical auras.

July 17: This morning I used Noah's Chime to test the idol of Dark Force. The resonance produced by ringing the chime indicated that the aura's strength is now much less than it was before my illness. Could this mean that its power was expended when I suffered those horrible nightmares? If so, though, then I am left prey to a new fear, for when I returned to my laboratory after luncheon, I found that the silver rod I had used in the chime was gone, and that there was a chill in the air. Someone has been reading these notes and, unaware that I used the chime this morning, took the simple precaution of hurling the rod out the window to be lost in the snow. If this is true, then I must hide this journal in a place where no one can guess the truth.

July 18: It has begun to take a toll on my nerves, this awareness that someone I trust is working in secret against me. I snapped nastily at Laura today when she made an innocent inquiry about how my work is progressing. If there truly is a merciful God, then please let it not be her who is my hidden enemy! I have consulted some of my rarer books on magical auras, including even Esper Khevan's speculative Essence of Power, and combined with the glimpse I had of it through the Aero-Lens I am certain I have found the key. The idol's aura was one of preservative magic, not corruptive as I would have expected. The blue flame, though, is of a color more usually associated with holy energies such as the fire of the Eclipse Torch.

July 19: I intended today to send some of my findings in a letter to an ally of mine, the Esper Mathew Wyreth, only to discover that some of my personal stationery is missing. Laura and Cole both have their own, so there could be no innocent reason for this pilferage. As for the reason, though, I cannot explain it. Part of me wonders if it is not I myself who is doing these things, perhaps in my sleep, out of some morbid fear. If so, then that fear will have something to feed upon, for my research has pointed me towards a single inescapable conclusion: I must consult the Menobe Writings.

July 20: I do not know what is worse, the hideous depravaties set forth in the Menobe Writings or the plain-spoken, matter-of-fact way in which they are set down. The casual references to eldritch horrors beyond imagining turned my stomach--but it was not in vain! I do have an enemy, a true one, and yet I do not know its name. It could be any one of them. Behind any of the faces I love and trust could lurk a devil's soul, an evil that I have unwittingly unleashed by bringing Dark Force's idol back from its tomb. There may be a way to uncover this evil yet, but with no one to trust, can I do it alone? Or will my own folly in tampering with the forbidden be my epitaph?

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