When you see and experience what I have experienced I would wager you would not have done what I am about to tell you. I should have known not to have dabbled in the Darkness again, but as you will see, its pull was stronger than I fathomed.
Years after the events of Savenroc Timberland I again encountered the dark mysterious magic of the Obsidians. Even after being the sole survivor of my first encounter, I was still drawn to learning all I could about it. Perhaps I will never be rid of it.
It did take time. It may not seem that way to you, dear reader, poring over my records decades, maybe centuries later - if someone hasn't already destroyed these volumes.
I returned to Ardoris after the terrifying events of the Savenroc Timberland. I busied myself with menial tasks of everyday people: cooking, sewing, shopping at the market, all the trappings of a regular life.
When I gathered a small amount of courage I went to the local library or bookshop and read some stories - simple pleasant stories. I cared not for the dark mystery of the Obsidians that engulfed my time months before. That is what I told myself.
I met a young, excited traveller there. She was a fiery woman determined to explore and learn. She reminded me of myself years before but she held much more confidence.
Her name was Sonya, and she told me of the Shard Falls. She told me of stories she had heard and books she had read. She was planning on going to one of these craters: Grundvald Shardfall in the barrens to the north.
I politely listened but my palms sweated at my side in clenched fists as she spoke. She was a young excited explorer fully engaged in her curiosity. She did not begin to understand the dangers she may unlock and unleash on herself.
I could not hold it any more when she showed me an illustration of a Shard Fall in a book she carried. It was done in black ink. I looked at the crystalline chunks of floating obsidian and was taken back to Savenroc, the gaping void that drew in kobold and friend alike. I grabbed the book from her hands, slapped it shut and threw it down. I looked at the woman and pleaded her to stay away. Whatever she read and learnt about was nothing compared to what she would learn if she went there. She had no idea the danger she was getting herself into.
I was about to relate my tale to her. She shook her head and reached for the book. I told her there was a darkness beyond black that the Obsidians awoke and there would be nothing for her, a fate worse than death, something she could never come back from. She picked up her book and walked quickly away, muttering that I was crazy.
Time passed. Years. Colour return to the world. I felt the echoes of happiness, I remembered warmth. The darkness returned to being a fact after the sun set, something that would always fade with the rising of the sun. My dreams became mundane and pedestrian.
Then she came back. Sonya. She looked for me, searched me out. She was clearly older, more than the years would have aged her. She had bags under her brown eyes. Her hair, once neatly tied, hung around her ears out of a messy bun, broken and dry. Her clothes were torn and dirty from long, long travel. She recognized me by sight, grabbed my arm and said: "You were right."
Then it all came back.
The void, the emptiness and the nothingness beyond death. The screams of human and kobold as they were torn from reality. The scent of the forest air tinged with ozone and an odd unearthly scent of space and stardust.
She was helping me up then. I must have fallen - fainted. She propped my head up with a pillow from a nearby chair.
"Everything you said was right. And more. There is more magic the Obsidians used, it doesn't just tap into the void, it does something else," she said. She was excited.
I kept shaking my head and told her everything. I told her of the kobolds, the forest, the amorphous void summoned in the dark. She went pale, gasped, but her curiosity remained. Even after what I told her and what she already saw, she remained curious.
I told her then of her folly, of the very high chance that if she continued on this path she would perish. She risked the fate of my friends and the kobolds of being swallowed by the void. But she maintained that she wanted to learn more.
"No great discovery was without risk," she said.
I'm trying to recall how I was convinced to accompany her. I don't remember. Maybe the void was calling me somehow. Maybe I was connected or a part of it. Maybe it was the time since I last encountered the void. Maybe time healed all wounds and I wasn't as afraid of it as I was then, or now. I remember thinking that all I would be is an observer, a guide. Someone who could warn of telltales and triggers to protect her and myself from the Obsidian's magic. She was the adventurous one, I would be safe.
She took care of everything. Travel arrangements, food, lodging, all of it. She bought books and ink for me to use. I recorded our journey as we went through Soltown, across the peaceful village of Solace Bridge and through Eastreach Gap. We stayed in Desolis. Two more days and we would be at the Grundvald Shard Fall.
There were regrets I felt about being here following Sonya to meet what has become my biggest fear. Her confidence helped me. She was not afraid - not truly - no matter how much I told her. She wanted to see the void. She wanted to learn how these portals were made and what their true purpose was.
There was no purpose I knew. I doubt the Obsidians knew what they were doing or what they created, summoned or tapped into.
She believed she could find out.
We arrived at the crater at midday - at my expressed intent. The sun was hot overhead, but it allowed us a good deal of time in the light.
The shards were scattered around a crater, floating. And there was a central cluster made up of large pieces that were much larger than myself. And they were black, very black, but still, thankfully, earthly black.
Maybe Savenroc was a dream.
Sonya got straight to work, measuring the shards, testing their density, collecting samples of the earth below. She wrote a good deal in her book. She spent the whole day and far into the night writing her observations.
The night was peaceful - thankfully. I watched the campfire light reflect dully off the floating shards. I remained a safe distance away from the crater. Far enough to see her while she worked, but far enough from the shards themselves. She worked through the night. I simply watched.
The stars wheeled overhead and nothing happened.
We didn't talk the next day. She kept working and I grew anxious. Either something was going to come and devour us or I was truly mad. I began to wonder if I imagined the events of Savenroc forest. Did my friends even exist? Were my last few years of reclusion a lie? If nothing was happening here I began to question the validity of my memory.
I could hardly stand it. I went towards Sonya and began talking - asking questions to see if my recollection of events matched what I told her days before. She ignored me, raising a hand to hush me.
"Listen. That hum. The frequency... I'm trying to measure it."
I spoke to her again, trying to get her to understand but she hushed me. The look in her eyes was terrible. A moment later she returned to scribbling in her book.
I grew even more anxious, feeling the low humming in my chest now as I walked around her and looked over her shoulder at what she was writing.
Lines. Waves. Scribbles.
She turned the page and scribbled on. It was nonsense. I looked for her first volume and flipped through it. She started coherently, speaking about physical measurements, harmonics, apparent weight of the shards versus how high they levitate. Then halfway through the book, scribbles.
On the fourth last page stood a testament to her madness. It was a page so full of ink it bled through to the back cover. She drew a circle hundreds if not thousands of times, creating a frightening representation of the void I saw years ago.
"You didn't want me to come here originally," Sonya said, standing a safe distance before me, dagger in hand. "It's because you wanted this all for yourself. You couldn't finish your own research, you were too afraid. So you want mine."
I started walking backwards. She matched me, step for step.
"There is no research," I said, turning the book towards her. "It's only scribbles."
"Of course it is!" She screamed, her shrill voice echoing off the shards. "I don't want you or anyone stealing it. I have learned so much. The void is endless, unfathomable. If I can use it..." she trailed off, her eyes wild and wide, furious at my perceived betrayal. She stopped in mid step and the sun set.
Above her I saw purple lightning arc between shards. I smelled ozone and felt the cold chill wind of emptiness. It was here, I recognized it. I wasn't mad, it was all real and unimagined. Before I could search the darkness for a sign of the void Sonya lunged at me.
I don't carry weapons. I stopped after Savenroc. I saw no point. If I was killed by a weapon, I would find peace. Anything would be better than existing in the void. All I had was her journal to defend myself with. I moved to block her stab as I turned, giving her less of my body to hit. The sudden force of her attack propelled by the strength in her entire body overwhelmed me. I fell on my back, my head hitting the dry ground. I moved as best I could to avoid the descending blade. My eyes had sparks in them. I tasted blood in my mouth from the fall, I must have bitten my tongue. Sonya struggled on top of me attempting to wrench her dagger from her journal. I kept twisting it trying to keep the blade trapped somehow. It was the only way I could defend myself.
I am ashamed to record what happened next. I assure you, dear reader, that I was defending myself. I had no choice. As you see, I was near death, being attacked by someone gone mad.
I timed a counter push as she tried to draw the dagger from the journal, slamming the dagger's pommel into Sonya's face. It hit her in the mouth, cracking teeth. I pushed again, hitting bone. I pushed again and again. I pushed countless times, feeling bone, flesh and blood rain down on my hands, the journal and my face...
I am writing this in Ardoris, safe as I ever was. I am alive, writing this months after the events I just wrote down. I killed Sonya. I crushed her skull with the blunt side of her dagger and her scribbled nonsensical journal. I still feel the blood on my hands.
You may not believe me. It was the shards. It was the void they were a part of. They turned Sonya against me, it turned her suspicious. It turned me into a murderer. Yet, as much as I know this is the truth, I am wracked with guilt. It is the only reason why I am writing this. I have killed because of the shards, because of the Obsidians and their desire to explore beyond Novia. Sonya could have lived a fill beautiful life if she didn't become curious and find me.
But what of me? I have survived two encounters with the void. I have changed because of them. What does that make me?