Genesis Scroll Round 3: {The shadow of Lunnon (an Inquisitor Mortward’s tale)}

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The shadow of Lunnon (an Inquisitor Mortward’s tale)

I had only just returned from my expedition in the deserts of Leilen when the Cartographer’s Guild suggested I should contact a certain Inquisitor by the name of Mortward. The Inquisitor, I had learned, had been surveying the lands in the vicinity of Lunnon and was in need of an experienced cartographer for his next journey to the region.

Although grateful for the vote of confidence the guild had placed in my abilities, it was not entirely clear to me as to why an Inquisitor would be in need of a surveyor. Moreover, I had barely just returned after being away for almost 7 months in a waterless land and was looking forward for a well-deserved rest after such a taxing expedition. Still, it was not every day that such an esteemed individual deigned to travel all the way to the dreary lodges of the Guild, and my curiosity had been slightly piqued. It was still not enough though, and I was not fully convinced the Inquisitor was being fully earnest. Thus I devised a plan. I notified the Guild that I would contact the Inquisitor only once I had fully recovered from my travels, not a day before. If Mortward could wait a week, I would be more than happy to hear him out, but if not, he would have to look for a different surveyor somewhere else. I thought myself very clever and ingenious, as I believed no Inquisitor would wait so long for anyone, let alone a mere cartographer, and I would have been excused in demanding such a long rest given the length of my journey. The Guild relayed my answer to the Inquisitor and to my surprise and I believe, the Guild as well, he agreed to my conditions without as much as quip. I should have known then that his would not be any ordinary request.

Mortward was not particularly tall or muscular but he commanded an imposing presence. I first thought it was the stature of his office that made others fear him, but later I realized it came from somewhere else. There was an aura of majesty about him, a strong sense of purpose and duty, and a heavy silence pervaded the air whenever he was present. He was a man whose words carried weight.
‘Thank you for making time to see me.’ He said as I entered his room. ‘I hope you’ve had a sufficient rest. I know how draining the lands to the west can be’. ‘You have been to Leilen?’ I replied. Partly amused by his remark, as very few people had traveled to those deadly dunes, and even less would have done so willingly. ‘Oh yes. My office carries me everywhere. Wherever Vitriol rises.’ He faintly smiled.

I asked the Inquisitor what I could do for him, and told him I was rather surprised about his visit, as this was the first time in many years I had been asked to help with matters beyond those of the Guild. He turned towards me and looked me directly in the eyes and then asked in a serious tone if had heard of Lunnon. ‘The ruined city?’ I said. ‘If I remember correctly, it collapsed during a massive earthquake several decades ago. Scholars disagree on what caused it, but whatever it was, it must have happened rather close to the city center as the town itself was completely destroyed in a few hours. Very few survived it.’

Mortward leaned forward from his chair and looked straight into my eyes as if he was inspecting an interesting object, or a potential criminal. ‘Good. You do remember well. It should not surprise you to know that the city is still a ruin to this day, nothing dares to grow there, not even moss will touch the stones. A very particular humor still lingers in that area’ Mortward kept his gaze firmly upon me and didn’t blink until he had finished his sentence. I don’t know if this is something Inquisitors do often, but it made me extremely uncomfortable.

After a long silence, Mortward pulled back and sat down back in his chair.
‘What does a ruined city have to do with anything?’ I asked him, although I suspected the answer already. He looked up to the ceiling and after a few moments he closed his eyes, and then took a long, deep breath. Once he was satisfied, he opened his eyes again.

“ ‘I had been searching for a witch for some time in the marshes of Pintat, a few kilometers outside of Lunnon. I knew she was in possession of a large trove of cursed manuscripts and it would be just a matter of time before they would start appearing in libraries across the continent. I tracked her all the way across the Feltic Sea to Pintat and I knew she had must have sought refuge in the humid swamps, looking to absorb the fetid energy of the decaying corpses swelling below the waters. Unfortunately, the swamps proved to be too treacherous even for me and my Tome. I ended up losing her trail and worse yet, I found myself lost in a dark and fetid land.

As luck would have it, I managed to claw my way out of the cursed marshes, but not totally unscathed, I cut my leg in the boggy waters and the wound became infected. By the glory of the divine I was able to crawl far enough into the road for a kind soul to find me, half dead and absolutely delirious with fever. He dressed my wounds and took me back to his home where he let me rest and fed me well. He was a good man, Morren.

Morren lived in what was once a village close to Lunnon. He told me that he himself had suffered the sickly marshes as well, as he was a war refugee who had come to Pintat escaping the wickedness of his own people. It was there where he found one of the old houses which by some miracle still remained upright. It was a queer stone building with low arches and even lower windows, but it had a splendid decoration. Whoever lived there before him must have been extremely wealthy and had an impeccable taste.

The house was composed of multiple rooms that extended across a single ground floor in the shape of an elongated cross. The inner walls of what once was the dining hall still bore the murals that had decorated them decades ago. There were three murals and they were all predominantly painted in shades of purple, red and violet and displayed scenes of battles, celebrations, and rapture. The first wall depicted what can only be described as a Triumph. It showed the tortured faces of a defeated army, hundreds of soldiers captured forever in time in the midst of eternal agony among the engulfing flames. Some were depicted grasping their faces, some were crying at the heavens, but the majority were prostrated before the image of a large dragon. The second one was one of Celebration, it depicted a joyous and beautiful scene of half-naked women, dancing in a circle and holding large bundles of grapes in their hands. Under their feet there were what appeared to be crushed bones and around them, like a terrible maze, an orchard made of bone roses and decaying vines. The last mural was that of a Coronation, it depicted a tall woman, a princess or a queen, being anointed by a celebrant and receiving a golden crown inlaid with rubies and precious stones. Behind her were the armies depicted in the first mural and next to her where the women who were dancing in the second one. The artistry of the whole was undeniable, it was both terrible and beautiful at once, and it touched something at the very core of my soul.

The dining hall was not the only remarkable part of the house, however. Outside the main building, at the west end overlooking the swamps, stood a small chapel. The chapel had a domed roof and some of the oval windows that lighted it were still intact. The surviving glass crystals were painted with the same exquisite craftsmanship as the murals inside the house was, and they featured a woman similar to the one in the coronation scene. In the middle of the chapel, stood a large, black marble altar, tinted with purple and dark blue veins. The altar occupied most of the space inside the chapel and thinking back, there was a faint smell that came from it, the whiff of a sweet rot, or of spoiled wine.

I remained in Morren’s care for the better part of two weeks, and once my wounds had healed enough, I went back to my original quest which had led me to Pintat. I eventually picked up the witch’s trail back to Lunnon and found her and another one in a makeshift inn in the outskirts of the city. Ironically, the witch I had first tracked turned out to be a mere necromancer - posing as a witch - and the real witch turned out to be far friendlier than I expected (she also fled, I presume after finding out I was an Inquisitor). After five days in Lunnon I decided it was time to leave before I became sick once more, but before parting I decided to visit Morren again. I wanted to give him a proper a goodbye and thank him for all his help.

The next day I arrived at Morren’s house shortly after sunset. I called for Morren but he did not reply. Worried that something might had happened to him, I rushed inside the house and began looking for him. I finally found him, hiding underneath the dining table in the hall. Morren was slumped in a fetal position, holding his shoulders tight and rocking back and forth in a slow motion. I could swear I heard him quietly sob.

I asked him what had happened, and before he recognized me he let out a cry that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I helped to his feet and he then asked me if we were alone. I told him we were, as I hadn’t seen anyone else since I left Lunnon, but he didn’t believe me, and kept asking me if I was certain, if had checked all the rooms, and all the corners of the house. I assured him we were the only living things in this house and that we were safe, but he was still suspicious and demanded we get out of the house, as he would feel safer there where at least the moon would provide some light, even if only a pale reflection.

Once we were outside I told him it was all alright, and that were safe. He was still in a visible state of shock, so I gave him my tome and promised him that I would stay with him for as long as he needed, but I needed to know what had happened. Once he had calmed himself, he began.
‘You see ser Mot’ward’ he said. ‘There is nothing of value left in this damp marshes, not even the weeds will grow here, but I ain’t no fool. I know that some very rich sers lived ere, I see the murals every day, I eat and sleep where they used to eat and sleep. The chapel is also empty of its relics, only that vile thing is left there. But I knew there must be something, some loot to be found around ‘ere. When you stayed here I noticed how you looked at the same murals I look at every day, I saw you look inside the chapel and marvel at the windows, and the floor and even at that ugly stone in the middle. I knew they were rich folk, but i thought everyone here was rich. But then after you were here I realized these ones, the ones ‘fore me must have been really rich. So after you left, I started to dig. You have been out there, you know how mushy the ground can get, it is not firm like in my country, but it isn’t water either, it is a wretched mix of rot that pulls you in and wraps around you once you’re down. I digged, I digged a lot, and I dived and I sunk my arms in these fetid swamps more times than I care to remember, but I finally found it. After all of that, I found the crown.’

After hearing how he scavenged and dug like a mad dog I thought this would be a happy resolution. Morren was a good man, and he deserved some good in his life, the swamps were dangerous and sickening, and it appeared to me that his perseverance was rewarded by the Divine.
‘There is a problem, though’ he said, ‘I still don’t know how to put it back’

‘Why would you want to put it back?’ I asked him. ‘Why would you want to bury such an exquisite piece again? I don’t imagine anyone would claim it as theirs, nor dispute your claim to it. You have done nothing wrong, my friend.’

Something about what I said must have brought him great discomfort, as he started to sob profusely and rock back and forth again, as he had done when I first found him. He kept weeping and whispering to himself ‘It won’t go back. It won’t go back.’

I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him until he snapped out of his panic attack. He then continued. ‘…… I should have never taken the cursed thing. But I did. Every hour since has been a constant misery. It took me hours to dig and get the filthy crown out, and I know it watched over me every second. I felt it, just as I feel it know. After I grabbed the crown, it just got worse. Sometimes you can see it, appearing out the corner of your eye, just to disappear immediately. Sometimes all you feel is a cold presence behind you, its steely eyes, for I know it must have eyes, piercing right straight into your soul. It’s a malevolent presence that just won’t leave me, the worst is that it likes to play with me. It leaves me for hours just to come back when I feel safe and resume my torment. I see it always just with the corner of my eye, shifting and scurrying, only once have I been able to look at it straight on. I try to stay in the dining hall, protected by the murals, and I made sure that no one was out there, but it always came, just as I laid down. I can feel its cold presence entering the room, and when I get up, it is always gone. It haunts me, moving from one room to the other, from a shadow to another shifting behind my back, and I can always smell its sweet rot. It had just found me again when you arrived, and I thought for sure this time it would take me. But then you came.’

He put his face in his hands and cried again.

I felt I needed to comfort him somehow and I said the only thing that came to my mind. I told him I would help him put the crown back. Even though I did not fully understand what his mad ramblings were all about, if digging out a buried crown had left such a consequence on my poor friend, I was convinced that some sort of curse or powerful enchantment must have been placed upon it.
I asked him to show me where he kept the crown and he pointed at the chapel next to the house. I took him with me and together we went inside. The crown was made of a purplish, or rather violet, metal and set with numerous gems, mostly rubies and sapphires and a large diamond in the middle. The craftsmanship that went into its confection was evident, and its four prongs were carved in a rough, almost organic like fashion, like antlers or the horns of a dragon.

The crown was placed in the middle of the altar, and as I reached to it, the smell of rotting corpses and blood attacked me. Immediately afterwards I heard the sound of metal hinges prying open and a gust of wind tore open the gates of the chapel. Outside stood the shadow of a man, his eyes glowing with hellish fury. He did not move except to extend a large finger and pointed at Morren. A screeching sound then came from a hole in the shadow and it vanished into the night. Immediately after, the ground beneath started to shake and the roof of the chapel began to crack.

Fearing for both our lives I grabbed Morren and made a rush for the door before the collapsing ceiling would bury us both.

I left with Morren that same night and never looked back. I left him in the care of a healing order far away from Lunnon and the swamps. I pray the Divine will keep him, and whatever it is that he unearthed will never found him there.’ ”

‘And the crown?’ I asked. ‘What happened to the crown?’

‘That is why I need a surveyor. I left Lunnon with only one thought on my mind. Survival. It was only after we had crossed the sea that I remembered I never took the crown back. We must return to the chapel and put back whatever it is that got loose.’ He said.

After that, I told Mortward that I would consider his request, but that I would need some time to make my final decision. It has been one week and I still haven’t replied. I didn’t tell him that I too smelled the faint odor of sweet rot when I first met him.