The following memories is for Mary:
The human mind is a fragile thing. It can only sustain so many memories before they are lost in the tide of time and experience. For many centuries, you have been the herald of Besmara, the Soul Reaper, the Captain of the Black Rose, and a ghost story in the Fever Sea. You have been dead for so long that you have forgotten human comforts. The touch of the wind on your skin. The taste of fine wine. Even your memories are your foe.
The curse left behind by your husband still burns in your bones. You often confuse yourself with being another being. Two souls in one body. Ancient memories of fighting eldritch horrors from the dark space between stars. Leading your people to freedom, holding aloft a blade of blazing silver. The soul of the silver sword muddles your mind and further divorces you from reality. But you have Gage, your monkey. Gage has always been at your side. He is there to help you or amuse you. The monkey is a gift from Besmara, your patron. He was there when you were rescued.
You remember it clearly now. Thanks to this trip to this strange realm. The memories are becoming more clear, less murky. You were a Azlanti Queen named Athyra Cassadega of the free-city state of Ankeshel, the youngest bride of Priest King Thalassos IV. You were an ambassador of good will that brought salvation to the starving giants of Sumitha. You even took a fancy to the religion of Wendo, practiced by the giants of Ghol Gan.
You also remember the day when Sumitha hosted the summer court of Ankeshel. Priest King Thalassos IV met with a foreign diplomat from another world, the immortal herald of a foreign goddess. His name was Gage. You were assigned to be his tour guide. You took him around the island, shown him the mighty halls of Ghoral Rey where the oracles sought answers from their celestial gods, and listened eagerly to stories of his adventures in the Great Beyond. He fought ancient dead gods, armies of clockwork horrors, rescued a goddess from the depths of the Abyss, and was a philosopher-warrior in the great war of ideas in Sigil.
His words were sweet as honey. You were young. Naïve. He promised you many things and you believed every word of it. The promise of freedom. He was going to take you to the stars and beyond. Your heart belonged to him.
Oh how you hated him.
Another memory comes to the surface. You remember the day that your husband was going to give a gift to the immortal outlander. A sword of pure silver. You never seen such an amazing weapon before. You could hear the sword singing. Singing in your mind! When you inquired as to the sword’s origins, your husband only mentioned that he acquired it back in the capital from an adventurer. He would speak no more on the subject. The mystery of the blade intrigued you.
You recall sneaking pass your sleeping husband, sneaking pass his other wives and putting the guardian constructs at ease with a password that you puzzled out on your own. You often would sneak away to play with your husband’s treasures. This moment was no different. You still remember the blade’s touch. Ancient and powerful. Memories of another life time. A dozen life times. The promise of freedom.
You blacked out.
You believe that the sword took control of your mind at this moment. Again, your memories are muddled. You believe that sword was using you in order to see a play at the local theater. The sword wanted to experience life.
You vaguely remember returning to your home. Your husband’s guards were waiting for you. You cried out as they snatched your arms and carried you away, struggling against their grip as they took you down to the depths of the ancient ziggurat. In the bowels of Sumitha your husband was waiting for you. He wasn’t alone. Several priests of the god of Ankeshel, Abadar, were in attendance to cast the ritual that would bind the sword’s soul to your body. You cursed them in the sword’s ancient language as they placed a necromantic curse on your struggling lithe frame. Priest King Thalassos IV said this was your duty. A duty to the world. Wherever the Silver Sword of Gith goes, death follows.
You were entombed in a pocket world. Provided with all the luxuries of your station. Left behind. Forgotten. Gage never came back for you. He never rescued you, much like how he rescued all the other damsels in the stories he told you. But you still had hope. You clung to the idea of your hero coming to save you. To rescue you. The promised fairy tale kept you going in the endless cycle of days within the pocket world. Besides, he wouldn’t leave behind the child growing in your belly. At least you were not alone. You, the voice in your head, and your baby. It was a miracle that the child survived.
And then one day, Besmara rescued you. This was back before Besmara was truly a god feared and respected in the world of man. She was a fickle water spirit, a creature of the Wendo, and above all else… a pirate. She plundered the treasure of Ankeshel and took you along with it. You and your son. You sailed the Great Beyond by her side, granted freedom and a promise at adventure. She even bestowed her familiar to protect you, a nameless monkey that made you laugh and smile. You named him Gage.
You wanted to keep the child, but Besmara insisted that you give him up. The sea was no place for a baby. She promised that you would be able to visit him from time to time. Shore leave she called it. You gave him up to a loving family on the mainland of Azlanti. And from time to time you did visit him, watching him grow from afar. You spoke on a few occasions when you had the sly opportunity to do so. You had plans for him to join you on your adventures. Adventures in the Great Beyond.
But somewhere in your adventures you took a knife in the gut. The wound killed you. Slew you dead on the spot. You vaguely recall imagining what it would be like to be a mother in those last moments. And then you died.
You awoke four days later aboard a ship that you would soon call the Black Rose. Your husband’s curse made sure that even the embrace of death would escape you. All so that you would continue on to perform your duty. Even in undeath. Besmara gave you a ship to captain and a crew made up of dead sailors. She even gave you some mercy by bestowing you with the illusion of life. You were now a soul reaver. A ghost story.
You left your son behind and went on to become legend.
The following dream sequence is for De’de:
You’re dreaming. The black abyss of the sea beckons you. It writhes like a lover, twisting and turning against a blanket of blue and foam. An endless expanse of dark blue until you reach the very edge of the world. A plunging waterfall into the great below. You hear it calling you. A sea of mist. A cave with teeth. Blue lights. A parade of the dead. And an island with dead trees. Each tree bares a face, itched in sorrow and regret. A great library of lost souls.
Each of the trees bare a symbol on their forehead. You continue on passing through the dead forest until you find a tree with a symbol you recognize. The same symbol you have been seeing over and over again in your dreams.
The Azlanti Sign. A ward against the alien darkness between the stars.
You touch the tree and its eyes begin to weep sweet honey that reminds you of blood. You feel a bond as queer as you feel the odd kinship you possess with the undead champion of the Pirate Queen.
The tree moans and you find yourself sitting in a cabin alone in the dark with a single candle providing a small comfort of radiance against the darkness. The scent of ink and brine is strong in the air as you pick up a quell and scribble down a litany of words written in a foreign language. You recall vaguely that the language is Elven.
You read aloud the words as the quill’s tip sings across the paper, “among the Sahuagin, pure physical power determines rank. As a male ages and amasses more physical power, he is eligible to advance to higher rank in the hierarchy. This advancement cannot take place unless circumstances create a vacancy in the hierarchy. Relationships between Sahuagin ranks remain essentially feudal. The elite dispense justice to, and receive tribute from, their subordinates. Likewise, the nobles derive military power from the ranks of their subordinates and often exercise that power against enemies too powerful for their subordinates to face on their own.”
“A Sahuagin defers to all other Sahuagin of higher rank in almost every matter. The sea devils, however, do not tolerate indiscriminate killing among themselves, so commoners need not fear summary executions – as long as they behave themselves. Likewise, a Sahuagin can expect deference from all Sahuagin of lesser rank. Sahuagin of the highest rank receive first choice of food, treasure, and (usually) mates.”
“Sahuagin priestesses represent a separate hierarchy paralleling the male one. Under priestesses rank above commoners but below lieutenants and baronial guards. Senior priestesses outrank everyone in their villages except the barons. Officially, the priestesses act as advisors to the nobility and as the spiritual counselors and protectors of their communities. In practice, their superior status gives them considerable political clout.”
“Sahuagin are oligarchic; an elite group of senior males direct the commoners’ activities. A Sahuagin prince rules an area consisting of about twenty villages. A baron oversees each village. Beneath the baron is his chieftains, acting as military leader of a band. A band often numbers in the hundreds. All princes in an area report to a single king. And a Sahuagin king never has more than nine princes under his rule.”
“In most cases, a Sahuagin must seek out a higher ranking Sahuagin and defeat it in a duel to the death. It is not possible to “skip” a step in the hierarchy. That is, a common warrior cannot challenge the village baron. He must challenge a lieutenant or baronial guard for his position. Likewise, the male and priestess hierarchies remain completely separate; the senior priestess cannot challenge her baron, only her high priestess. Duels do not always prove necessary for advancement. A position in the hierarchy might already exist through the advancement of a higher ranking Sahuagin, the death of a higher-ranking Sahuagin – whether accidental or war-related – or through expansion. Once a Sahuagin attains the age and power required to advance a step in the hierarchy, it has an obligation to seek advancement through a challenge. Failure to do so is taken as a sign of cowardice and ultimately leads to banishment or execution for the timid sea devil.”
“The sea devil has a few rules governing challenges. Every sea devil has the right to challenge any other sea devil. However, the relative difference in rank precludes certain types of challenge. For example, a warrior can accuse his king of cowardice and challenge him. If the warrior wins, his accusation must be true However, the same warrior cannot challenge the king for his throne because it is clear that a warrior isn’t fit to rule – though a king who suffers defeat at the hands of a warrior will quickly receive a challenge from his nearest rival.”
“Sahuagin must fight their challenges before the entire community; they forbid private duels, as such conflicts deprive the community of great entertainment and leave room to doubt the validity of the battle. In addition, a sea devil cannot withdraw or refuse a challenge once it is issued.”
The sylvan scholar stops writing and turns his attention to you. He looks like Quade. He smiles sadly at you and remarks, “We are all connected by blood.” His eyes begin to bleed like a tree’s sap.
And then you hear a cat’s howl.