After Kami healed Jacob and put him to bed, he went down to the library to discuss things further with Hunter.
Kami greeted Hunter and then got straight to the point. “Hunter, you said you came back from the dead. Could you tell me a bit more about that?” Hunter had never been very talkative about his past, and Kami hadn’t wanted to pry. However, it seemed that now was a good time to get some information.
“Before all of this, I still served the dead. My job was to care for their bodies after this life, and sometimes to welcome them to a new existence. I knew some basic rites, and I saw to embalming, burial, and cremation, as each family wished.
“Sometimes I was the one to welcome newly arisen ghosts. This was an honored duty, since these ghosts would join the ranks of the Skullstone bureaucracy or military. Some lesser ghosts arose who were too weak to serve, as well as too crazed with rage and hunger. I took to arming myself so that they would not rampage against the living.
“One day the Silver Prince’s newest lieutenant came to the graveyard, eager to collect these maddened ghosts. I suspect that he shared their temperament, perhaps even in life, and had deliberately murdered people as cruelly as possible in order to produce these single-minded minions. As the keeper of the dead, I found this barely tolerable.
“What was even less tolerable was the way he looked at me. I quickly realized that he planned to end my life in pointless agony. Somehow, perhaps because he did not want to throw his full force at me, I fended off his attacks, with my sword in one hand, shovel in the other. In the end I lay bleeding, but I had split his skull with a desperate strike.”
Kami nodded, listening with interest. “Then what happened?”
“That’s when the Silver Prince offered me a chance to take his place. I could have bled to death that day, but I believed I could go on serving the dead somehow, if I accepted this gift. I found my way to my master, who set about training me to serve in that maddened killer’s place. Somehow word spread – true or not, I don’t know – that I would soon be the Silver Prince’s right hand, in charge of keeping others like me in line.
“This news was received poorly. Training with my new comrades had been rough before, but the rumors had them nearly trying to kill me, stopping short only because they feared our master.”
“Sounds like a very tough situation. Why did they take the news so poorly?”
“I was the newest arrival, and already derided as merely lucky. If my predecessor had not wished to toy with me, I would never have defeated him. So I begged my master for power over the others that would keep them in line. He said I was not ready yet, and that I needed to both show them my strength and break them of their petty jealousies. He noted that my isolated life had made it easier for me to serve loyally.
“At first I tried to be stronger, to show them that we could discard our old lives. Servants of the dead need not bicker over passing glory, as mortals do. They laughed. They mocked and beat me. So I went to our master again, asking how I could truly break them of their old ways. He gave me the names of the villages where three of my tormentors once lived. I went there hoping to learn who they had been, but everyone denied ever knowing them. Enraged, I put an end to every life in those villages.”
Kami tried to hide his shock. He knew that Hunter’s past was very different from his own, but he couldn’t imagine such destruction. Thankfully, Hunter seemed more occupied with his story than with Kami’s reaction.
“When I returned, the Silver Prince had departed to tend to other matters. The others were waiting for me. They congratulated me: I had rid our master of a few hundred villagers nearing rebellion. Again I could not control myself, and I slew two of my fellows before they realized what they had done.
“The Silver Prince probably wanted me to do that though. Maybe he had started the rumors, and maybe this was his way of making sure I would keep the other deathknights in line. But it didn’t stop me. I turned my little group of soldiers, swollen with new recruits from the freshly slain, against his unprepared servants. In the chaos, I made off with the artifact that he had used to offer me this existence.”
“What kind of artifact is it? I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I don’t know much about deathknights.”
“It is a sort of sarcophagus, though the living can be placed within. In fact, I think it is designed for one like you, as a device to break your body and your will, trapping you in servitude.”
Kami shuddered. “And how was that used in your case?”
Hunter smiled, “My own acquiescence was easily obtained. This device gave the Silver Prince the power to offer me another chance. What I don’t know is how. Nor do I know if my connection to it can be broken. If it can, maybe your genius can divert its purpose and give you some protection against slipping away.”
“Interesting,” Kami said. “Could I see this artifact?”
Hunter nodded, “I keep it hidden away on the island. Even those Wyld creatures in my service do not know where. We must also keep our merchant ally from finding it, or else her power may grow even faster.”
“I understand. I think you know me well enough to know that I will keep my word when I say that I will keep this a secret. She seems like she might take advantage of such an object.”
Hunter slid closed the door, after one last glance at the secret passage behind him. He gestured towards the opposite wall. Kami glanced at the crumbling fresco depicting First Age glories before his eyes were drawn to the sinister creation: an open coffin of gleaming bone and dull soulsteel. On top of a heavy, waist-high marble altar to forgotten gods lay a Monstrance of Celestial Portion. It lay open, its insides like a gaping mouth in the dim light.
Kami took one look at the artifact – the torture device – and stopped in his tracks, looking paler than Hunter had ever seen him. “This is… this is horrible. So much pain and suffering.” Kami steeled himself and took another look. “It’s hard to believe anyone would make something like this.”
Hunter laughed faintly, “Those who made it are infinitely cruel. They made everything, after all.”
“You say this is connected to you. May I examine that connection?”
Hunter nodded, his eyes still fixed on the Monstrance.
Kami gathered his nerve and focused intently. “This is interesting. There appears to be a thin line of death essence between you and the object. That death essence – which is the same type of essence infecting Jacob and the man powering The Moral Ambiguity – must be the key.”
Kami ran Hunter through a few more tests and watched as the vein of essence went through every object he put in its path. “I’m interested to see what would happen to that link if I healed you. Would you mind?”
“If only it were that simple. Still, learn what you can.”
“It looks like nothing happened. Let’s see…” Kami trailed off for a moment, and then suddenly turned to Hunter. “I’d like to try that void essence suppression field I created. I know it isn’t the most comfortable feeling when I use it…”
Hunter held still, grimacing slightly as Kami’s device took effect. “I feel different – worse, even – but I’m not sure this will last. A beginning, perhaps?”
Kami tried several other ideas, but he made little progress. The void essence suppression field seemed like a partial answer, but it wasn’t enough to make any change in the essence linking Hunter to the artifact.
“I’m sorry, Hunter, but I’m out of ideas right now. Thank you for letting me study this. I’ll continue doing research and thinking about it, and perhaps I can someday find a way to help break this link.”