A Shattered Ship

Date: 07/24/2013 at 01:41
From: Anonymous
To : Everyone
Subj: A Shattered Ship

Jarrod Lucoster, Shadow Matrix of Ashtan's secretive Shadowsnakes, was thoroughly sick of damp.

For centuries, the sunken but preserved ship which the Shadowsnakes had used as a headquarters and a hideaway had sat on the bottom of Lake Balaton. Magic kept the water out and the air in, mostly, but mould was a problem. Fortunately, Jarrod had an idea.

Following a letter exchange with one of Ashtan's shadowy Merchant Princes, the powerful nouveau riche who ran or owned a huge portion of the city's businesses, the Shadowsnakes decided to take a risk. With the help of certain elements of Ashtan's merchant class, they would raise their ship and move it to the harbour, where it could be safely expanded and refitted for greater comfort.

Jarrod liked this plan. His rajamala fur objected to diving into the cold water every time he wanted to visit his office or consult the Shadow Codex, the strange crystal within which rested the Shadowsnakes' vast collection of secret knowledge.

The preparations, unfortunately, were slow and plagued with setbacks. On more than one occasion, clerks and workmen privy to information about the plan were killed by a shadowy, cloaked figure. The guards were baffled, though Chancellor Lianca Bravi'os muttered to herself that she thought the figure sounded similar to the perpetrator of several strange crimes many years earlier, including a jail break which had never been solved.

At last, in Valnuary of the year 630, the day came. The Shadowsnakes gathered on the shore of Lake Balaton, joined by a merchant agent and a corps of wrecker mages, who would be raising the ship from the lake bed with the aid of a dozen metal anchor pins, which would be hammered into the ship's body.

Before the agent could hand over the pins, however, he was slain by a dark figure-- the same, exclaimed bystanders, which had killed the clerks. They quickly pursued the figure and slew it with surprising ease, retrieving the sack of anchor pins. Shadow Matrix Lucoster worried aloud that they might have been tampered with, but the wrecker mages, not wanting to delay the dangerous project any longer, dismissed his worries.

With the anchor pins hammered into the wood, the submerged ship was cleared. The wrecker mages began their eerie song, and the ship began to rise from the waters. The Shadowsnakes congratulated each other as they marvelled at the awe-inspiring sight.

Then, everything went wrong.

Dark clouds rolled in from the south, and a legion of undead figures dressed in the tattered rags of Ashtani prisoners soared upon the wind to hang above Lake Balaton. At their head flew a dark-cloaked figure, hood now thrown back to reveal her face, familiar to many of those who stood by the lakeside: the Dowager Montagenet, the necromantic noblewoman who had controlled Ashtani politics from the shadows for centuries before being exiled for her crimes.

The Dowager taunted those standing below, using her powers to raise the ship into the air and freezing it in place. The undead prisoners entered the ship, searching for something.

Fortunately, the ship had not been totally emptied. Ysvour, the hoarder, an inhabitant of the ship, threw down a rope in his effort to escape. This allowed the Shadowsnakes and their Ashtani allies to climb up to the floating ship. A lone surviving wrecker mage gave him instructions: pull out the anchor pins, and the ship would fall apart. The Dowager would not have it.

The gathered forces, led by Shadow Matrix Lucoster and Overseer Dunn Lichlord, fought through the undead creatures, pulling out the pins one by one. At last, the ship began to groan and collapse beneath them, and they escaped to dry land just as it shuddered and fell to pieces, the ancient ship laid at last to rest in the waters of Lake Balaton.

The Dowager, however, had other plans. She held aloft her prize, ill-won from the corpse of the fallen ship: the Shadow Codex. "Soon," she gloated, "I will have the knowledge I need."

The Codex was more sentient than the Dowager had thought, however, and fought against her, straining backwards in the air. Growing impatient, the Dowager frowned. "I can get what I need with or without you," she told the Codex... or something inside it. "Get out, then." With a gesture, the twisting shadows within the crystal drained away, forming into the limp form of a man, who fell into the waters below. The Dowager turned and sailed away, the now-clear crystal of the Shadow Codex trailing behind her.

The Ashtani on the beach, perturbed, began to clean up the mess. The Shadowsnakes mourned the loss of their ship until the man who had been inside the Codex, still wreathed in animate, writhing shadows that obscured his features, washed ashore. They sought to interrogate him, but found him nearly insensate, babbling madly, and were forced to lock him in the barracks. Time, they hoped, would bring his words clarity.

Meanwhile, all that remained for Ashtan and its cadre of darkness-loving serpents was to wait, mourn, and watch the skies. Another attack, for all they knew, could come at any time.

Penned by My hand on the 18th of Aeguary, in the year 631 AF.