It has been three days that I have been pursued down the old road by those inquisition bastards and for three days that I have had to explore the morbid wonder of the Neidel forest. To take the sodden pathways would be suicide for the likes of me, for Sir Freydir continues to pursue me with a magnanimous degree of wit and conviction unlike that I have ever seen, apart from a stubborn hound I once saw in the Korren Square who I witnessed surmount a royal procession simply to reach the butcher’s waste bins across the way. Indeed, I have but the songs of birds and the chatter of rodents to accompany me, their maddening drivel enough incentive to hurry my exodus. It has been more than a day since I have caught sight of the Knight and his hunting party and I hold a faint hope that I have been successful in my evasion.
However, in my continued eagerness to outdo the proud Inquisitor I seem to have become lost amongst the moss-coated trees and twisting underbrush. I have carefully retraced my steps many a time, although it was made difficult by my own effort to cover my tracks. I scarcely recognize a single tumorous cluster of fungi or knot on any particular trunk. Indeed the forest seemed to shift around me, for every glance yields new information and new vexing wonders that to a mere tourist may be a curiosity but to me all the more damning.
I chose then to simply stick to a cardinal direction, pulling my compass from my pack. If I were to head east I would eventually appear in the Elven provinces where I could slip away into the underbelly of Loth-Nataren.
Wandering for what I assumed to be hours and noticed the sky was beginning to wane into a citrine hue which began to spring crimson lines across its fading form. The forest would surely be a hazard for the evening, and I refused to evade the best in the Inquisition only to succumb to mere wolves in my desperation.
I scoured the nearby land and eventually came across a small limestone ridge which formed a crescent about a sizable impression in the ground. I lowered myself down into the earthen bowl and discovered an opening in the rock face. I took to my pack and dispensed a pitch-soaked torch which I quickly ignited so that I may investigate the cavern for any other vagrants or beasts that may be as wont to use it for shelter.
Through its jagged threshold, I crawled and soon discovered the magnitude of the land beneath the loam and lichen of Neidel. Caverns looped and intertwined like the nest of an oversized insect-like those beetles found to the Southwest along the beaches of Sakarim. Indeed every narrow stone tunnel and hive-like nexus bore nothing distinct leaving only my memory as a means to eventually leave this damp place, however, I hoped the Inquisitor would not think I would be so foolish as to lose myself in these tunnels. Despite that notion, I continued to wander until finally, I came across an end to the labyrinthine madness.
I found an alcove, in the form a large dome with unusually smooth walls that looked as if they’d endured decades of weathering despite their subterranean presence. In its center, a small mound of soil formed a dark mass that hosted upon it a fountain among all things. Indeed, the peculiarly placed artifact was in pristine condition and of a curious architecture. It was around marble pool, brimming with crystal water that even under the infernal glow of my torch shimmered with a strange degree of dignity. From its center was a pillar that rose about four feet high and from four perpendicular spouts poured thin, silk-like streams of water into the placid basin. A strange vine crept from the water and strangled the projection, bathing in the cool humidity it produced.
Beyond the odd mound was something stranger yet. A door, massive, perhaps twelve feet at its apex and perhaps fourteen broad sat flush with the smooth bore walls in a large headstone shaped mass. On its face was a raised pattern that resembled a peculiar tree. It was simple in nature but its branches reached from its trunk in a smooth, swooping pattern that almost resembled the tendrils of an abyssal beast. Posted to its trunk was a blank golden plate that when I approached it hissed and fizzled. An uncanny light soon projected itself across its surface and seemed to engrave the plate with a series of words written in ancient dialect. They read as such:
“To those who wish to join the Madman’s Court,
Pay his tithe and see his folly.”
The strange words sent a dagger-like chill down the back of my neck. Then suddenly I could hear a low thrumming encapsulate the room. It is like a heartbeat pounding a cold, repetitive note into my ears and I must admit I struggle to continue writing as I just know re-acknowledge its persistence.
I continued to look around hoping to find the noise’s source. I soon discovered that as I approached the fountain it only grew louder and clearer. On the faint tip of its notes, I swear I can hear archaic syllables being cast into my thoughts. They speak with a certain hunger and pleading that reminds me of a depraved hound as it whimpers before the butcher. I decided I must leave this place at once for my nerves have endured this long enough.
I attempted to do just that becoming lost once more in the twisting nexus of subterranean maze-work. I lingered for what must have been an hour and yet despite however far I moved from the alcove I could still hear its thrumming tickle the back of my mind.
Suddenly I could hear a tell-tale thunder rumbled through the tunnels. A parade of arrogant boot prints pounding against the silent stones chanted a damning prognostication of my fate. I moved forward, listening carefully to the still distant steps. They became as unsettling as the fountain’s song and what more I could not place their origin making further evasion risky. I paraded around more tunnels until finally, I saw in the distance a figure moving beneath the flickering glow of torchlight. He bore a drab coat, with a crimson undershirt and wore trousers to match. By his waist rested a saber whose gold-trimmed hilt winked at me with opulent light.
His face was unmistakable, the short, dagger-like beard and chevron shaped mustache upon his lips are forever burned into my memory with contempt. Suddenly I could feel his eyes shift onto me; they were a pale blue, cold and clear like a winter morning. He had spotted me and caused me to seize in panic. Thoughts flickered through my head and I took off in the opposite direction wheezing and grunting with all my effort. I could hear his hard boot bounding behind me and I felt as if I were being chased by a grizzly bear.
He soon faded behind me and was overtaken instead again by the awful thrumming. I turned a blind corner and emerged back into the peculiar alcove which sang its beacon-like tune. I fear to emerge back into the tunnels and hope that the Inquisitors do not find this place. The noise seems to blot out all reason, it feels as if my mind has become wounded and is bleeding. There is an itch just beneath my skull and no matter how much I scratch it will never be sated.
No! I hear a sound amongst the hum. Curses! I can hear his senseless bounding; the inquisitors will be here soon! The Door! The Door! I must brave it if I hope to survive! How do I open it? How!?