Study of the Zaulfung Stones (book)

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A Study of the Zaulfung Stones

"Twelve of the thirteen in Farn's Company perished to raise these Warding Stones. I, the last, will soon join them on the Starry Road. Let the sun never set on this land if the stones should fall, for they alone prevent the nameless evil of the Zaulfung from consuming more souls and growing in strength."

These words were engraved upon one of two standing stones by the enigmatic and dangerous morass called the Zaulfung, near Riverhaven. The swamp, the stones, and the inscription itself have baffled the Lorethews since the glory days of the Seven Star Empire.

The generosity and indulgence of the Baron as well as the Guild of Warrior Mages of Riverhaven have enabled the Gealeranendae College of Magical History to investigate these mysteries in an attempt to piece together the story of Farn's Company and explain the strange device they constructed.

Our research began with the examination of several documents found in a hidden cache by a Gor'Tog stonemason during the renovation of Theren Keep. The craftsman (being honorable, cautious, and unable to read High Gamgweth script) immediately reported his find. The documents outlined some of the best-kept secrets of the Imperial government; nothing so sinister as that which Dzree's theocracy performed daily and out in the open, but matters of spycraft, conspiracy, and potential political embarassment. Why such affairs were recorded on paper and hidden for some future generation to find, at the risk of the chronicler's life, remains unknown. Yet after careful study there is no doubt that the papers are genuine, and little reason to be skeptical of their veracity.

Farn's Company was (so the documents say) an elite group of specialist mages, all with considerable experience in battle, hand-picked by Empress Merthamone. The chronicler notes that they often passed as a small mercenary band. On occasion the Company would even take employment with rebel lords and participate, to some extent, in raids against the Empire itself. However, they would leave with the knowledge of the rebels' strengths, weaknesses, and strategies.

The documents were not in good condition, and in places were not neatly penned; where we had to hazard a guess, we have enclosed it in brackets. The chronicler identified only a handful of the Company:

"Captain Farn Emdarson is [a weathered?] Dwarf, a Master Warrior Mage and veteran of more wars than Merth has gaudy jewels. He was an infamous mercenary and occasional privateer before the Empress hired him for life. What she promised him for that [?] [contract?], I would give my left hand to find out. He is the only one in the Company with a public reputation, and after meeting him personally, I can confirm that none of it is exaggerated."
"Osneg Vanar is a Human who hails from the far north, the lands of snow and ice where Humans look so like [beardless?] Dwarves. Another Master Warrior Mage, and a man of few words. As strong as he is at harnessing and as deadly with [?], I expect he will be slain by a Guardian, an Immortal jealous of his talent, or old age, rather than any mortal foe."
"Yalvache Ruahen is an Elothean [scholar?] and strategist who would doubtless best Marelanis in a beauty pageant if only she would devote some time to her personal appearance. She is obviously uncomfortable at Court, but is ruthless and remorseless in war. (This is fortunate for her, else my sister might kill her for her hair.) Her cunning tactics have turned many a desperate battle into a stunning victory."
"Zhakran-something, the S'kra Mur, is a mystery to me. I witnessed an occasion where he stormed into the Great Hall in his black lacquered armor, actually *threw* his longsword (sheathed, thankfully) at the guards, and proceeded to curse (I assumed by his tone) the poor Empress in his native tongue for a full three minutes. The [lord?] in attendance was infuriated that this brute had interrupted his audience with the Empress. Merth just gave them both "that look" and very coldly and calmly answered the mage in the S'kra Mur tongue, after which he [strode/rode angrily?] out, forgetting his weapon. The next day he returned in proper Court attire and gave Merth a very formal and [sincere?] apology. He even swore personal fealty to her, which she accepted." (This is unusual, as a warrior would have sworn service to "the Empire and the Crown" rather than to the monarch, who was after all just another servant of the Empire.)

The chronicler had somewhat more to say about Farn himself, but as it involved the details of her occasional romantic encounters with the Captain, and as he was not inclined to discuss Company business with her during those encounters, they are of no consequence to our research, aside from this single, hastily written passage:

"Today Merth summoned me to her [solar?], to personally [deliver?] to me the news that my dear [Captain?] has perished, with his entire Company, in the unholy swamp where the [dragon fell?]. It was some small comfort to know that his perilous endeavor to contain the curse was [successful and?] will save countless souls from [b---?] [?] [?] [wandering/withering?] forever in the [?] [generations?]. The village of Riverhaven would surely have been lost within a year had he and his [company/companions?] been any less bold, and the very seat of the Empire might have [fallen?] within my lifetime. I suppose I should be thankful [to Sithsia/Sildum?] who gave them the forbidden lore needed for their success, but I cannot shake these [twin?] thoughts: that the [?] murdered them afterward to cover [h--?] own [treachery?] against [his/her?] own kind, and that my Farn would have [anticipated?] it and, while too much the selfless hero to refuse the quest, should have at least visited me one last time. I never had the chance to tell him he would be a [farmer/father?]."

Experts are of the opinion that the Stones are too crude and heavy-handed to be the work of Sithsia. No "Sildum" is known to have lived at the time, save the deaf S'kra Mur S'Ildum Kran'd'jir, seller of questionable healing elixirs in Trefan Maug, charged with poisoning an officer of the Imperial Army, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. The adjudicator noted that S'Ildum was of humble means, had little education and no innate magical talent.

A few pages later, she wrote with an equally shaky hand:

"It has [become?] clear that my sister and the Prince will not return from their deer hunt. The body of [?], save for his head, was [found by?] those same stones my [Farn?] died in raising. His sword lay by his side. My sister has not been found, after [four/five/few?] days of searching. [They?] will record in the [?] Chronicle that she was [taken?] by brigands for the slave markets in the [T---?] Isles, and that he perished while valiantly [fighting?] in her defense. More likely the [?] [b---?] tripped over his own [?] while fleeing, fell on his blade, and rid his [shoulders?] the burden of his head. 'Tis no [?] I never liked the Prince and never [?] him a [suitable/sensible?] husband, and I can only hope that in his incompetence he has [followed?] the wrong branch of the Starry Road, so I shall not be [compelled?] to [share?] my eternity with him."

The remainder of our historical investigation has centered around finding and approaching the descendants of those known to have been present at the court of Empress Merthamone or who might have been aware of the movements of Farn's Company. The search has been frustrating and has borne little fruit. The work continues as it must, but little hope rests with the historical investigation.

The arcane investigation of the site and the device has provided even less successful thus far, but the College remains hopeful that a breakthrough will one day occur -- a breakthrough which may lead to new disciplines of magic and increase the quality of life of all the Seven Races.

The finest Moon Mages, most scholarly Clerics, and the most sensitive Empaths could find nothing of their own particular forms of magic about the device. This rules out the S'lai with their quasi-shamanic bent, the unique and infuriatingly illogical Vykathi combination of moon magic and geomancy, and crude Trollish magics which disturb the flows of Life mana.

Though wary of disrupting the workings of the device, we have removed small chips and shards from each of the stones. The black stone is only black upon its surface; beneath the burns and ash it is the same type of stone as the other. Viewed with the elemental Othersight, the samples consist mostly of inert Earth with the typical background of other elements; in fact, the samples could not be distinguished from ordinary stone from another location. Alchemical analyses of the samples also reveals nothing extraordinary.

Alchemical analyses at the site itself, however, indicate an Ethereal presence within the substance of the stone, of the type used to contain semicoherent spirit plasma. Othersight reveals, within that structure of active Aether, a strong flow of Air from the grey stone, into Electricity between them, to Fire in the black stone. This raises many more questions than it answers, and challenges our very understanding of the elements.

Where did the Air come from? We know it was not distilled from mana nor from physical air, and considering the strong current, not from the physical stone itself or it would be consumed in a matter of minutes.

How, and why, did it transmute into Electricity, and then into Fire? It has long been held as a fundamental law that an elemental substance never changes into another element, but merely combines and separates with other elemental substances. Is there something at work here to deceive our Othersight, or must we discard all our theories of elementalism built over millenia in order to understand this phenomenon? We would call this device a divine work beyond mortal undertaking, had the Clerics not already ruled out that possibility.

Where did the Fire go? Though the black stone is covered in a thick layer of ash and appears to be burned, weeks of observation have not seen any darkening or covering of the small area we exposed when we took our samples. The stone seems to be of normal temperature, so (again considering the strong current) the fire cannot be emerging as physical heat.

We do not know the purpose or significance of this bizarre circulation. Nor have we found the boundaries of the spell which supposedly holds this unnamed curse within its present confines -- every mage we consulted would have approached the problem by creating a large-scale ethereal shield to hold it, powered by a direct elemental tap from the Void. Such a construction would be eminently noticeable even to untrained senses, yet we have not found it.

Nor have we even stumbled upon this mysterious swamp itself. It will doubtless seem foolish, but we have been literally unable to enter the Zaulfung proper, merely the scrub and marshy plain that surround it. Certainly the grotesque noises from the swamp have kept us huddled close by the fires of our encampments by night; but by day when the sounds are easily recognized as normal fish and fowl, we have set out many times to find the place and failed each time. Perhaps it is another function of the spell to see that none wander into the place.

We have no conclusion yet to present to the Baron and the Warrior Mage Guild, however, with their continued support, we hope to extend our study of the Zaulfung Stones and unlock their secrets, enriching our understanding of the mysteries of the elements as well as the glory of the Barony.

For the GCMH,

High Mage Wosykaun Ervintralao
Professor of Interdisciplinary Arcana