Grays #26 - The Blackweave
It was the devil's mark in the days of Sooth when Leylocke Gadamir stepped from the Farplane.
A mage of war, yet he had no spellbook to speak of, his arcane knowledge confused and garbled. For magic did not behave as it did in the Outlands. Not here in this strange world where creatures worship his friends like gods, and hold him in ill contempt for his blasphemy.
To harness his sanity and rebuild his intellect, Gadamir called forth the one legacy of his people, a semi-sentient magical ink pen, buzzing about like a dragonfly; he called Lemira, and with her help he wandered the new world, absorbing every book he could. But he could not memorize everything, so he carried the scriptures with him, adorned upon his skin. This would become his spellbook; prepared and studied, he would cover himself in scrolls of his own flesh, each time wincing through the pain of unleashing his magic - each time it would burn a little deeper. Soon, the arcane weave would embed itself within him, some spells permanently infused into his blood, the flesh burned black by the untamed weave.
Each morning and each dusk, Gadamir would pull away his robes and sit half-naked in meditation, reaching out to the scorched surfaces of his skin, tugging upon the fragmented memories of magic in the Outlands. He would use this as his study, his preparation, his reflection, and his pain. And each day, with each new shred of companions, he would drift further and further from his world beyond.
But Gadamir's love for Io-Sooth would grow when he found himself under the care of the Auran people. The Skyborn, he called them, and his many years fighting for their independence in the name of Kord and Pelor would garner him a great respect from their elders, who gifted him a clutch of baby griffons. Now a Paladin of two gods, and a man of two worlds, Gadamir's code of ethics extended beyond simple coin for deeds. He saw the power of the arcane and divine, a righteous union of awesome power and responsibility. So he gathered others of his like mind, carefully selecting them for strict trials and valiant quests, all without promise of coin or treasure.
What he found was a lot of trouble, and was often in the frame to defend himself. But after ten years of discord, for every group that swore him off, there was one who stayed. And the ones who stayed were gifted the griffons, now trained and grown, and gathering more. Leylocke named them the Knights Of Duros; a blend of his world's greatest elder (an Elder Elemental from another time) and this world's Pelor, Kord, and Helm. An Allfayth was born under an ideal: protect the weak, defend the innocent, trade value for value, and keep your promises.
Before the turn of the age, Leylocke, now 180 and growing still older in a frail human body, left his legacy to a young captain, Sir Eres Black, and began a planar pilgrimage. He left at the turn of the tide, and never returned, but his deeds garnered such renown among the kings and queens of Erena that they gifted his memory with the eastern nation, home to his aviary of knights and the skilled artisans of Tal'Fune. Duros defended the shore, and would do so evermore...
Traditions and Codes burn hot in recent memory, but back then at the edge of Empyr, thousands of years past Gadamir's pilgrimage, the Knights were undergoing a revolution of ideals. Their code was one of sanctity, trust, and empathy, but rarely supported expansion. Gone were the days of the wizard-paladin, righteous beacons of knowledge and ethics, and as the water became more muddled, so did the idealogy.
The scale did shift with the swell of ranks under the leadership of two great Knights: a monk named Arthurian Dragoon and a warlock, named only Ortacana. Arthur was a militant man of strength, discipline, and order; he wore his tattoos proudly, adding to his ink notes of sentimental values and religious code. His followers did the same, emblazoning his teachings and the ancient interludes of Gadamir all over their bodies. Such a display amused Ortacana, and it could be this bravado that first drew her to him. Playful friendship became passionate romance, and the two spoke well of the order...and its need to expand.
With the blessing of Sir Hana Black, Ortacana and Arthurian ventured Westward, eager to set up an academy in the wondrous shorelines of Shefara. They righted wrongs along the way, gaining further renown and still more soldiers to their ranks. Now over 1000 strong, they set to the sea to find their future. And though there were threats, a combination like this, fortified with an ideal understanding of the weave, and the growing influential boons the entity called Vaeyen bestowed upon her champions, these valiant vanguards punched through the veils of the sea. Shefara was happy to have its champions, and the Flashburn Academy grew tenfold before the fall.
The Burn decimated the Knights of Duros. Thousands ripped from the weave itself, others gone mad by the culling. Countless deaths, the Knights tried to rebuild, but the shockwave sent from Ifa herself left Avianas and Tal'Fune in ruins. Further out from the impact point, at the westward reach, Flashburn was still standing. Shaking, but standing. An elderly Arthurian, desperate to reestablish order across the continent, dispatched all he could spare to douse the flames of discord and rally the people toward hope.
Arthurian found it in a merchant alliance. A drow named Breton Al'Frama. He had a small band of artists and engravers seeking refuge and sanctuary, and Arthurian welcomed them with open arms. Eager for knowledge, Breton asked many questions about the studies of Gadamir, and explained that magic no longer worked the way it was expected; that perhaps the Academy was the last great library of the weave before. The two became good friends in a short time, and the merchant guild was a curious, helpful sort; skilled in many things, they worked together to rebuild Shefara.
But Ortacana had been having nightmares; she said that Vaeyen was crying. Mourning the loss of her champions, and fearful of her waning power. She, an elder creature, was scared...a thought that would burn a hole so deep into Ortacana that it would shake her very soul. One night, while Arthurian still slept, she awoke in a trance-like state, wandering out toward the sea. The water parted for her, and she disappeared into the black...
Ortacana awoke on the surf, surrounded by bodies. She found the lost lives of her knights, their throats cut and drained dry. Sobbing and enraged, she pulled one back from the brink, ripping its soul back to her. "It was Breton..." It wheezed. "He got the others drunk and drugged..." Relinquishing the soul to rest, she scoured the academy for signs of life...and found none. What she did find, were the remains of her beloved and his consort; skinned and bled out.
"They were here...for our flesh." Her words carried with them the realization of an Elder's fear. That all that were marked by knowledge would become targets for those to eager to earn it themselves; that we were just goods and services to be claimed and bartered; and that our trust, our empathy, and our hope opened the door to monsters.
Even as the unmarked children ran to her, coming up from the hidden bunkers beneath the sand, Ortacana was shaking, and earth was rising around her. An elemental rage, raw and pure, and an acknowledgement of another voice deep within, like a seed sprouting. "Vaeyen...is that you? Am I to be your vessel, your haven, your mountain?" A rumble in her chest acknowledges. "Then you shall lend me all your power, and we will make safe the way..."
And Ortacana wielded the Elder as her Sword, summoning the angry spirits of her allies, an army of revenant souls. Perfect in their dread memories, and vengeful in their hearts, the Vagrant of Vaeyen and the Ghosts of the Flashburn sought out every "skinner" and scribe, killing and burning the bodies as they went... A dark tapestry of the swinging pendulum, her children spinning her threads into the tomes of our brethren.
And it is her example that we summon today.
Leylocke Gadamir was an idealist in a time where ideals were needed; he would feign to defend himself if there was but a chance to save the other. But Flashburn tells us that the Duros is dead, and we must discard this empathy for now and wear the dark shroud of dreadful purpose and ironskin. Only then can we usher back in the light. Only...when it is safe.
So bless your Ink, and harden your hearts. We build a better world, one body at a time.
--Imperiona Dragoon, Second of the Living Sun
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