The Path of the Beastlord
Have you ever had a leader so self-assured, so charismatic, so confident that it seems somehow unthinkable to pursue any goals but his? That's how it was with Sellok.
To be honest, I was just in it for the money at first. Work was short that winter, but I'd left home only that summer, and I was determined to earn my own way in the world. I'd rather have starved than return home to admit defeat and face the mockery of my brothers. So, when the hooded figure approached me on the Nektulos docks with an offer of steady income, I wasn't inclined to look too closely at the details.
I'd always been quick on my feet and good with a blade, so it hardly seemed like work at all when they asked me to infiltrate myself into adventuring parties exploring the recently rediscovered continent of Kunark. I was to look for an ancient scroll or tome containing the writings of an ancient sage. I would know it by the age and the language it was written in; they showed me samples of the ancient script known as Death's Whisper so I would be able to recognize the angular runes when I saw it.
Several months passed while I offered my services to this or that group of adventurers exploring in one dungeon or another. I had grown almost complacent with this lifestyle, content even; and then I found the tome.
I had joined a group exploring the ancient Iksar tomb known as Charasis. We found ourselves in an area I was later to hear called the Vault of Eternal Sleep, but at the time we just called it a deathtrap and other names that were less polite. The halls were riddled with pit traps and other hazards, and after the umpteenth time we had to get ourselves out of one, I was long past ready to leave. I was prowling around the final room when a massive and weighty tome caught my eye. Glancing at the others to make sure their attention was still focused on dividing up the loot, I cautiously opened the book to the first page and immediately recognized the spiky runes I'd been taught were Death's Whisper. Unfortunately, the tome was far too heavy to take with me, so I copied the first few phrases into my journal and returned to the adventuring party to find our way back to the safety of daylight.
When I showed the runes in my journal to my hooded contacts, there was an immediate rush of activity. In no time at all I was taken to their encampment in a hidden vale, and brought before their leader. Introducing himself as Sellok, he demanded to hear every detail of my expedition and the location of the tome, and then there was no option but to immediately assemble a party to return.
Eventually we reached the tome, and Sellok's disciples set up a makeshift camp and scribing table, while Sellok spent several days studying it and making copious notes before we were allowed to leave again. I should have taken my payment then and left; I could have returned home with enough gold to buy a modest farm of my own. But while we were holed up in that vault with no one else to talk to but the skeletons, Sellok took an interest in me. He said that he was impressed by my initiative. I'd succeeded where dozens of other hirelings had failed. During the short breaks he took from studying the tome, he explained a little - a very little - about his research.
He told me of the Truespirit, beings locked in a plane between planes, a world of spiritual power and energies that lay parallel to ours. In the past, he said these spirits had found their way into our world, possessing and corrupting animals into what he called "spirit guides," and using them to lead innocent mortals into evil ways. The root of this corruption was in the city of Shar Vahl on the moon Luclin, where the resident Vah Shir kept what they called a sacred glade filled with these corrupted animals. Sellok said their evil influence grew over the city to such an extent that the gods themselves were eventually forced to destroy Luclin entirely to free the world from these Truespirits. He added that since the destruction of Norrath's moon, we have been free of their control, but they are ever trying to return, looking for more more mortals to enslave. He hoped to use the knowledge in the tome I found to be able to control these spirits and prevent their return to Norrath. And I, naive farmer that I was, didn't think to question what he told me, nor think that the kind of knowledge that is likely to be found locked away in a sealed forbidden tomb is unlikely to be wholesome.
You'd think that growing up with three elder brothers I should have known better than to accept any story unquestioningly. But as I said, Sellok was a man of great charisma and conviction. When he spoke, we all felt like lowly insects crawling in the presence of greatness. When he asked for something, we all leaped to earn a precious word of his praise. And so, when we left Charasis I too donned the hooded robes of his disciples, and joined the cult of Sellok.
The following months were a blur. I worked harder than I'd ever worked on my parents' farm, and that is no easy life even with three brothers to share the load. Some of the demands from Sellok seemed odd, but we followed unquestioningly. We traveled the length and breadth of Kunark, rounding up the skeletons of long dead Iksar warriors so that he could test his theories. He constructed a strange altar in the hidden vale, and told us it was to trap the spirits into the old bones as they tried to enter our world.
The agonized wailing and shrieking of the spirits as Sellok caused the skeletons to become animated were dismaying at first, but he assured us it was merely the Truespirit fighting to escape him, and that we were protecting Norrath by entrapping them into these old bones. Most learned to ignore the sounds; some, like me, preferred to leave the area entirely when the wailing started. When it got too hard to listen at these times I would visit the plains of Antonica. Walking through the farmland there never failed to remind me of home and calm my mind as I assured myself it was lands like these that I was now protecting.
It was on one of these excursions that I encountered the wolf. It was sitting in a quiet glade and seemed to watch me with almost human intelligence. I knelt slowly on the soft grass nearby so as not to startle the wolf, and enjoyed the scents of life all around me. As I knelt there, I felt strength returning that I didn't even realize I had lost. The bees buzzed in the background, the birds sang in the distance, and a small badger waddled out of the bushes nearby and stuck a cold wet nose on my arm.
"Your spirit seems remarkably untroubled for one who has helped create so much pain," said the wolf suddenly. His voice sounded as old as the hills themselves.
"Your pardon?" I almost replied in surprise. I looked hastily around, half thinking someone was playing a trick on me. Norrath can be a strange place at times, but talking wolves are not something you encounter every day.
"You work for the necromancer," said the wolf and his pelt twitched inadvertently as if flinching in revulsion at the very mention of Sellok. "You bring him skeletons, corpses, and dead husks in which he traps the living spirits as they attempt to enter this world to bring help and life. Surely you cannot be deaf to their cries of agony. I hear them day and night now, trapped in their dead prisons, unable to escape."
"That is necessary!" I shouted, standing up in anger. "They would corrupt Norrath! Just as they did to Luclin, which is why it was destroyed!"
"Young one, the tragedy of Luclin had nothing to do with the spirit realm. And as for the Truespirit, we only wish to help. Our role in Shar Vahl was as friends, advisors, and guides. We took animal form to best travel in this realm and partner with mortals, but we have only ever gone where we were freely invited."
"'We?'" I repeated, more confused now than anything, but stubbornly holding on to my anger as the one thing I could be sure of. The wolf certainly didn't seem like an evil, corrupting influence, but if I believed his words then it meant my master had deliberately led us all astray, and I had been unwittingly aiding in the most terrible of deeds. "Don't you touch me!"
The wolf gave me a long, sorrowful gaze. "Listen to your instincts, young one," was his only reply before twitching his whiskers and vanishing from sight in a few powerful leaps.
I tried to return to life as normal, but the wolf's words haunted me. What did I really know about the Truespirit? Was there any evidence to support what Sellok had told me? The questions plagued me, and the next time Sellok tried to trap the spirits in the skeletons of the dead, I didn't leave but instead crept close and watched. The look on his face was not that of a man selflessly saving the world. It was a self-absorbed, power-hungry look that made me feel unclean. Watching one of the undead Iksar shambling around afterwards, I seemed to feel the agony they were in, and couldn't bear it any more. I swung my blade and ended the abomination there and then, feeling its gratitude like a whisper in passing as the spirit escaped its prison.
My life was only saved at that point by the coincidence of a group of adventurers entering the hidden vale at that moment. As Sellok and the cultists fought for their lives, I slipped out of the vale, arranging it to look as if I had died in the battle.
Since then, I've dedicated myself to finding the spirits Sellok had trapped in the undead bodies and ending their suffering. Nowadays I seem able to see an almost visible spirit essence escaping, and sometimes it seems to whisper something to me as it passes by. I heard Sellok himself had been killed by a group of adventurers, possibly those whose arrival allowed my escape. I hear his followers scattered but I have lost track of them as I continue to travel the lands of Kunark, seeking to free the trapped spirits. I don't know if I can ever atone for the pain I helped to cause, but I can at least free those I helped to harm, and in doing so I am learning to see the signs of the spirit realm where it touches Norrath.
Despite Sellok's best efforts, it seems the Truespirit are touching our world more frequently now. I have not seen the wolf again, but something tells me that once I have finished undoing the damage I wrought, we will meet again. And when we do, I intend to ask him more about the secrets of Shar Vahl. I want to learn how the spirit guides and chosen mortals formed a bond as strong as life itself. I want to learn to work with the Truespirit to truly protect Norrath, as I had misguidedly thought I was doing long ago. I want to discover the joy of facing the world with my spirit warder by my side. I want to learn to become a beastlord.
(The events in this story make reference to the Mystic epic weapon quest, "A Sleeping Stone." The beastlord prelude quests are currently available from Caalina in Antonica, or Elmin in Commonlands. The beastlord class is coming in winter 2011 with the EverQuest II expansion: Age of Discovery!)