Kuragari

2

Maanzecorian gently lifted the metallic oval relic. He could feel the powerful magic flowing from it, tainted magic, but magic none-the-less. It was an object more of curiosity than power now. Still, it would make a nice addition his vast collection. He could hear scratching sounds from within, as if something were trying to claw its way out. He knew the price Yahiko would ask, and it would be high, but not for Maanzecorian.

"The Egg of Lolth. Impressive. A pretty enough bauble, as long as it doesn't burst into a swarm of spiders, of course." He looked at the half-oni, "It will suffice. But I must warn you, you will not like what you will see."

"I rarely do." Yahiko said softly.

"You have no idea." Maanzecorian replied flatly. "Very well, you will see the origins of the one you call Kuragari."

And he was there, in a village shrouded in a strangely sinister mist. Immol. Barovia. The names came to his mind unbidden. He looked at the house beside him. A child was being born.

Maanzecorian was taking him through his life, from the very beginning.

He watched the child grow. Years passed as moments. Time had no meaning. Josef. Tall, handsome, with a winning smile and nimble hands. A clever thief who could charm the jewels off of naive noblewomen and pick the pockets of the most alert of men. He was successful and happy.

His ultimate downfall was his pride and his association with a fool named Krieg and his band of thieves. He should never have listened to them. Even though he had no way of knowing that Lord Strahd von Zarovich was a vampire, only fools and madmen sought to plunder dread Castle Ravenloft. But Krieg was even more charismatic than Josef, and he convinced his band that they would win great fame and glory for their daring.

Who is the greater fool, the fool, or the fool who follows him?

Strahd allowed them to get as far as the feasting hall, a bit of dark humor, before he appeared to them. Then he revealed the true nature of 'The Devil Strahd', By the time Josef realized the magnitude of his error, the vampire was already at his throat.

Josef awoke to new power and horrible realizations. He was a vampire, and the lord of Barovia was his master. He belonged, body and soul, to the Devil Strahd. He obeyed his master's every command, all of his morality had been stripped away by the shock of his undeath, all of his free-will was crushed beneath his sire's heel.

Strahd was a creature of evil, but his niece, Lyssa, was far, far worse. if Strahd was The Devil, Lyssa was The Queen of Devils. She tore him away from his master's control, only to chain him even more tightly. She began taking Strahd's spawn intentionally as a show of contempt for her uncle. She gathered a large number of vampire thralls and led them through the mists into Bluetspur, into Hell itself.

The creatures of Bluetspur were even more terrible than the most monstrous horrors of Barovia. Tentacled demons who tore the brains from their victims' living skulls. And they twisted flesh, oh, the were masters of the art of creating Broken Ones. Horrible things of animal and man and aberration. But that was not to be Josef's fate. His was far, far worse. He could not resist the commands of his new mistress. He lay upon the cold slab at her order and wept blood as the worm-like thing crawled into his ear and began gnawing at his brain. After hours of agony, finally, there came blessed release.

Josef, the young thief from Immol, no longer existed.

Ceremorphosis, the means by which illithids procreate. Inserting their larva into the skulls of other races, transforming them, physically and mentally, into illithids. Yahiko watched as Josef's body twisted and spasmed and warped beneath the cold white eyes of The High Master Illithid and the heartless gaze of Lyssa von Zarovich. The High Master hoped that he might be able to transfer his mind into the body of an immortal, indestructible vampire illithid. Then, with all the horrible powers at his command, he would destroy his hated lord, The God-Brain of Bluetspur.

The experiment was a failure. All of them were failures. The illithid vampires were incredibly powerful and entirely uncontrollable. They tore apart the illithids and thralls who attempted to restrain them. The High Master and Lyssa were forced to destroy them all, throwing their corpses into the common grave of hundreds of thousands of thralls.

But again they failed. The vampire illithids were not destroyed. They had been created too well, they could not be destroyed. They escaped the pit through the corpse clogged sewer system, driven only by ceaseless hunger and madness. While The High Master attacked his lord and died for his hubris his creations yet lived. Some found their way back into the illithid complex beneath Mount Makab, attacking any who crossed their path, illithid, thrall or broken one. Others roamed the desolate wastes, searching for victims.

Yahiko watched as the creature that had once been known as Josef wandered the bleak and blasted land, and he lost count of the amount of lightning strikes that hit the wretched thing. Eventually the mists surrounded him and he found himself in a new world. His mind was so dim that he only noticed that the lightning no longer fell.

He fell upon any unfortunate enough to cross his path, until he attacked a tall, handsome half-oni who finally managed to reach his broken mind. It was surreal, even compared to all of the horrible things Yahiko had witnessed, to see himself, close enough to touch. He watched himself and others training 'Kuragari' in the social graces and teaching him all that his limited mind could hold.

'Kuragari' stood before The Obsidian Throne, dressed in a form-fitting red velvet uniform. He was now the (only) Honor Guard for The Obsidian Palace. A largely ceremonial title, as he had little to guard against. Should the castle actually fall under attack, there was a small standing army to defend it. He 'lived' within the castle, having his own spacious quarters and what little things he desired. He was content and at peace.

"There is an old human saying, my friend," Maanzecorian lay a clawed hand on Yahiko's shoulder, jolting him back to the here and now. "Be careful what you wish for, as it may just come true. Now you know the origin of 'Kuragari'."

It was both heartbreaking and horrifying. Yahiko felt warm tears flowing down his cheeks. After several moments, he spoke, hoarse and weary, "The High Master Illithid was destroyed?"

"No, he, like his creations, cannot truly die. He achieved immortality, but at a terrible price. He is trapped forever within the God-Brain, impotent and tormented by his master."

"And Lyssa?"

"She, too, survived. Strahd has poisoned her, however. She will sleep later and later into the night until eventually she will never awaken."

Somehow, neither torment seemed fully appropriate for such fiends

"There is another human saying, 'That which is done cannot be undone.' Josef is the land of his deity. The creature you called Kuragari is simply that, a creature, no trace of the human remains. He is a new and separate entity, you cannot Raise or Resurrect him because this is what he has always been." Maanzecorian tried to sound sympathetic, but it was not an emotion he was truly capable of feeling for 'lesser beings'. He understood its importance, however, and Yahiko appreciated the attempt.

Unlike most of his worshipers, Maanzecorian held no prejudice against the undead, save those alhoons that grew too powerful for his or Ilsensine's comfort. The existence of illithid vampires concerned him only in the threat they posed to living illithids. As Kuragari no longer hungered or fed, he was no threat to anyone. He was also somewhat fond of Yahiko. Despite his ridiculous notions of equality, Yahiko was a man who appreciated the value of knowledge and was willing to sacrifice much to attain it. A rare trait among lesser beings, and an admirable one.

As Yahiko entered The Obsidian Castle, he saw Kuragari standing in the shadows. He opened his mouth, but no words came. What was there to say?

"Are you alright, Yahiko?" The illithid vampire's soft mental voice touched his mind.

"Yes. I'm. . . Just tired."

"Then sleep. I will guard you."

Yahiko smiled sadly, "Thank you, Kuragari." He retired to his chamber, and tried to forget.

The End.