A Traditional Sload Tale

Glub Glub Glub. Arise, little grubs. Come hither that this one might tell you an educational tale. Shy not away from the ripples caused by this one’s motions, come hither, this one shall not eat you! At least, if you come close and listen to this one’s story. What, you doubt that this one’s bulk can move with enough speed to catch your nescient little forms? Understand this one’s massive girth is telling of years of knowledge and deceit. A long period of feeding and of being able to keep fed.

You draw near, that is wise. And very bold. *grnch* Let that be a warning against further brazen behaviour, little grubs, and do not regret that one’s passing, for that one moved too fast and trusted enough to snuggle against this one’s bulk and this naiveté is precisely what this one warns against with the telling of this tale, which should be virtuald in your mnemocrypts to be referred to as a catechism up to, and including, the time you develop your land-limbs and leave the wet for the dry.

Now having your attention, this one begins. The folds of this one’s flesh speaks of the geography of bygone atlases, when Thras was a thousand times greater than the cloud shadow that it is now. And that is where the story begins, with a Sload named K’tala, young and brash, wisdom-jowls hanging barely noticeably on that one’s face and thus barely capable of knowledgeable discourse. Yet that one had a droplet or two of knowledge, collected like dewdrops do in the cup of a flower, and the image in the droplet shimmered slightly whenever that one walked and ate and slept, so eventually, it quite nearly consumed him, like the blinding shine of a diamond of the finest water.

This droplet was the knowledge of one successful soul merchant, turgid with wealth in souls and pearls and coin; a treasure coveted by multitudes, K’tala amongst them. However, K’tala was not so foolish as to believe that a waif of such modest size could succeed where no other could. ‘A fool and one’s money are soon parted’, as they say, and the soul merchant was neither, being in possession of a respectable girth. Almost all that one’s commerce was conducted through proxies, corpse-ambassadors controlled like puppets, except on those rare occasions of high provirtual customers that it behoved that one to meet in the flesh, and in such cases, that one left that one’s hidden abode by airship and met with clients in a litter made of coral and bone shaped like a tub and filled with Thrassian seawater, bubbling and steaming from a mixture of firesalts and carried aloft by the sturdy shoulders and indefatigable strength of undead Nordic porters, skin still milk-white and eyes still sparkling and precious gems hammered into the joints. And yet, no one had ever seen from where that one left or to where that one returned during these business excursions onto dry, rich land, or where that one’s treasury might lie.

K’tala travelled throughout Thras to unravel this mystery, consulting with the largest of the Sloads and showing the proper forms of mocking deference expected of him. To the furthest reaches of Thras banshees were sent to howl the question to all who would hear it, aquatic screeches that tore through the water with such force that they caused tidal waves to fall on Hammerfell, like - if one might concede to this one a small joke - like a hammer. On and around the shores, rusalka, valuable because of the difficulty used to acquire them, usually by manipulating drowned husband sailors whose visitations were used to lure them to a watery suicide, were sent to query the aged and reclusive ones, big as whales, blubber swaying gently with the water, who plotted and schemed such grand schemes they became lost in the convolutions of their own scenarios, and were kept alive only by the ministrations of their decaying attendants and, occasionally, nourished by the reckless larvae who accidentally swam inside their mouths in search of crumbs. All gave the same answer, counselling caution and reconsideration while evasively referring to the north.

But then one of the questing phantasms returned, the spirit relaying the message impressed upon its ectoplasm.

"That one is cunning, yes. No ostentatious vault to proclaim that one’s worth to the world. A simple cave hidden on the northern coast of Vandor, near Lokar serves as treasury, reachable only by swimming through a lake, a moat infested with a swarm of reanimated sharks. Beware! A shark in life knows as much as it does in death, which is little except killing!"

Before K’tala could grab the phantasm’s coalescing form in an effort to ring the name of that one’s mysterious benefactor from out of its chthonic substance, the ghost lost its coherence and dissipated in a spluttering of half-remembered regrets. K’tala cursed that one’s own craftsmanship and prepared to plan.

This was not a task that one could entrust to a temperamental toyol, nor did that one wish to burden himself by carrying a jar sloshing with blood and amniotic fluid. K’tala left after a week of thoughtful contemplation, a small group of well-preserved revenants at that one’s side should trouble burst like a volatile corpse. At the water’s edge, that one paused and sent a revenant lumbering into the depths, which was promptly dragged below the surface as the waters frothed and churned. A limb floated to the surface but did not stay there for long before it too quickly disappeared from sight, followed by stillness and quietude like that of a virgin crypt. K’tala stood at the edge of the water and considered possibilities.

Hours turned to days, days to weeks, and still no solution enlightened him, but action was overdue. The only way was forward. Leaving behind that one’s revenants, and slowly, with the minutest of steps like ghostly footfalls, that one entered the water, naked but for that one’s wits. A simple spell kept that one from floating to the surface and bringing that one’s presence to the attention of the sharks, for, as yet, not a ripple or a current had betrayed that one’s presence. With the most deliberate of motions, K’tala edged forward. An hour passed before that one moved a step. A day passed before that one had even crossed half the distance required to reach the cave wherein lay the treasure, all the while, one eye was fixed upon the sharks, the other upon the shadows of the cave. Yet even within the split focus of that one’s attention, other details emerged from the murky water, such as the striking desolation of the place. Though no stranger to the clinical silence of a laboratory or the stillness of a tomb, K’tala noted that even the coral in the lake was hard and dead and scratched at that one’s underbelly, and the sharks showed signs of lamentable decay where the preservation magic had failed, festering untended by the fishy parasites who happily live on the rot and mould of our servitors. Their pus-filled yellow eyes stared blankly in front of them as they circled mindlessly.

Eventually that one entered the cave and emerged in a grotto, starving, but for much more than food, though so weak that that one could barely flop up onto the rocky floor. A foul stench hung thickly in the shadows of the cavern. A globe of light dispelled the shadows and that one looked away, expecting to be dazzled by a king’s ransom in soulgems and gold, but when that one raised his head and observed the details of the cavern, that one found only the rotting remains and cartilaginous frames of dead Sload. K’tala reached into one of the fresher corpses, feeling inside the head for the soft and squishy mnemocrypt. That one closed that one’s eyes and muttered a cantrip, speaking to the memories, swimming through them, being enclosed and sustained by them like placenta. Slow, painful. Dying. Realisation. Soulsnare. Poison. Now K’tala understood the absence of living parasites in the pool and the soul merchant’s near limitless wealth as a wave of nausea swept through that one’s body and that one collapsed onto the floor. That one’s body gurgled in agony as that one’s soul began slipping free only to became happily entangled within a web of magick, strung along on a path made by a rosary of glittering soulgems and held captive by a beatific vision of wealth.

So concludes this one’s tale. Fitting punishment indeed for such hotheadedness. Take heed of this story, little ones, and respect your biggers, so that one day you too might become old enough to have a clutch of young grubs to feast on the accretions on the underside of your belly.