Category:Variant Dungeon Lore
Variant Dungeon Lore is a collection of Lore entries about the Variant Dungeons. Entries are unlocked by completing various endings in a given Variant Dungeon.
|01: Whom the Silkie Serves
||What a surprise to learn that the old palace silkie was a creation of Mother's! The discovery impelled me to pursue the topic with Papashan, who, of anyone besides Father, knew my mother best of all. Naturally, I was circumspect in my inquiries, lest he become aware of my subterranean explorations.
With fond remembrance, Papashan spoke of Mother's penchant for cleaning─a habit she refused to surrender even after taking up residence in the royal chambers. Her ladies-in-waiting were positively scandalized, and hid away every brush and broom that the sultana's hands not be sullied by common grime. Denied the usual tools of sanitation, Mother retaliated by employing a Sharlayan tutor, whereby she acquired the arts necessary to manifest a massive, mouselike familiar. Ingrained with an obsessive dislike of dirt, this arcane entity would even corner the palace guards to scrub spots from their armor─to the great amusement of the household staff. Then one day, without fanfare, the silkie was simply gone. I suspect the cause of its disappearance lay in the deepening conflict with the Monetarists; with less and less time to slip away from the palace, Mother likely set her familiar to protect and maintain the secret garden in her absence. Yet what a stubborn and willful soul she was! To create a servant for cleaning is one thing, but to imbue it with such unbridled power is quite another!
|02: Pride and Acceptance
||With a mind to prepare for future explorations, I began trawling through the palace archives in search of documents with even a tangential mention of Sil'dih. For the most part, however, the shelves held little in the way of new information. The only account to snare my attention was that of an Ul'dahn soldier, who had written of his experiences fighting alongside the Amalj'aa during the zombie purge. His report touched upon the different approach his new allies took to warfare, and how those differences impeded their cooperative efforts.
It was said that the undead which flooded the waterways were beyond counting, and varied wildly in individual strength. The most effective strategy, or so this soldier believed, was to focus their efforts on the weaker zombies, and thus whittle the horde down to a more manageable size. Not so the Amalj'aa. When presented with the choice, the proud warriors would always seek to slay the mightiest enemies first. This display of superiority, they explained to the exasperated Ul'dahn, was the best way to wage war. To do otherwise─to begin an engagement with the lesser foe─would cast doubt upon one's martial prowess. 'Twould seem they learned to respect each other's reasoning, yet ultimately fought their battles as their peoples preferred. The Ul'dahn soldier returned to his former tactic, targeting the weakest undead for his initial assaults. An interesting point of culture, mayhap, but a helpful one? That remains to be seen.
|03: A Spot in the Sunlight
||He, a member of the royal family. She, the daughter of a modest merchant house. They met at a palace banquet─an opportunity to mix with the notables of commerce─and it was love at first sight. Ah, I adore that story─'tis so very romantic. Mother would go on to tell me of the secluded place her and Father would visit ere they were bound in marriage; of a sun-dappled garden at the end of a secret tunnel, where they could enjoy each other's company away from prying eyes and judgmental stares. In other words, a perfect description of the sanctuary we discovered on our recent foray.
When they did at last announce the details of their engagement, the location of this magical place where Father proposed to Mother became the subject of much rumor and debate. I am told that the city's merchants, being the same incorrigible creatures then as they are now, seized upon this furor to turn a tidy profit. They never did come close to the truth of it, but after visiting the spot myself, 'tis easy to see why it has remained undisturbed. I imagine the two of them in their younger years, whiling away an idle morning amidst the dawn-kissed petals, their haven protected beneath a barrier of Thanalan's scorching sand, and I cannot help but smile. Never until now have I managed to think of them without a pang of sadness. Have I been captive to grief for so very long...?
|04: A Key Memory
||On my fifth nameday, my parents gifted me with a key wrought in silver─but not the knowledge of what it opened. “When you are a woman grown, we will take you to the precious place this key protects,” Mother had explained. Father had nodded, saying it was “where slumbers the memories which neither we, nor Ul'dah, should ever forget.” I, a child of five, understood only that I was being forced to wait for my true present. Oh, how I had sulked and fumed back then! Yet now I cling to that fading recollection with desperate fingers, like a failed merchant to her dwindling coinpurse.
'Twas too soon after when Mother and Father were called away to Thal's eternal halls. Their sudden absence left me hollow and dazed; my ascension to the throne followed by torturous days of uncertainty steeped in sorrow. It seemed I stumbled across the desert, the sands burning one moment, freezing the next. All thoughts of keys and secret places were cast aside, forgotten. Why had they entrusted such a portentous gift to a daughter so young? Had they foreseen the “accident” which would befall them? Or had some other factor influenced their actions? Their true intentions are lost to time. There is only one thing I can know for certain: that the key was left in my hands for good reason.
|05: In Father's Stead
||The Amalj'aa constructed Zahar'ak when they came to join Ul'dah in purging the undead infestation from the subterrane. And if Zahar'ak was their main war camp, then the old fortifications we passed through would have served as a forward base. The question, then, is why did my parents gift me the means to visit these rusted defenses? In my late father's possessions was a diary which made reference to “irrefutable evidence of the alliance”─mayhap there is more to the place we have yet to discover.
In life, Father was a staunch opponent of the edict to banish the so-called “beast tribes.” Arrayed against him were the Monetarists, who sought to preserve their special concessions and privileges by ousting their competitors. 'Twas with the backing of the Syndicate that they overruled the sultan's will, and forced their proposal into law. Unwilling to concede defeat, Father intended to take the battle to the court of public consensus. His weapons would not be easily forged documents or records, but physical proof of the Amalj'aa contribution to Ul'dah's continued prosperity. Then the “accident” happened, ending his plans to appeal for harmony ere they could truly begin. Which brings us back to this mention of evidence. I know not what form it might take, or indeed, if it yet even exists, but should a thorough search of that forgotten base provide us with clues... We are on the cusp of brokering a lasting peace with the Amalj'aa─if I can but discover this elusive proof, then the aspirations Father had for our nation may finally become a reality.
|06: Ul'dah's Sin to Bear
||When that Amalj'aa champion burst forth from his casket, the blood nigh froze within my veins. He must have suffered injury during the purge, the zombie corruption finding its way into his flesh...
The Traders' Spurn was concocted by Ul'dahn thaumaturges, and employed by the reigning sultan during our war with Sil'dih. Sasagan III even knowingly propagated the fiction that it was the Sil'dihns who devised this abhorrent alchemy in an effort to turn their own citizens into undying soldiers. An accusation from the House of Thorne saw Sasagan III later punished for his heinous acts, and thus ended the first Ul Dynasty. His lies, however, would live on to become accepted history. This deceit was upheld by a desire to preserve not only the Ul Dynasty's authority, but also the standing of the Order of Nald'thal─an institution deeply entwined with thaumaturgical practices. And it can be said that few Ul'dahns would wish to accept that their home was built upon the corpse of a city so brutally slain by their forebears. Yet without a clear view of the past, we cannot be sure of our course for the future. The sight of that rotting Amalj'aa hero was all too stark a reminder: as a sultana of the House of Ul, I bear responsibility for my ancestor's atrocities. And though we suffer for the truth, even as Ishgard did for hers, the time has come to set the records aright.
|07: To Learn More of Myrrh
||I wished to consult with the Amalj'aa over a certain facet of our expedition, yet I could hardly bring up the subject during one of our regular councils. Should it become known that the royal person had been slipping out of the palace to conduct secret investigations, then my trusted escort would be caught up in an unpleasant storm of repercussions. Nay, I must be discrete.
As such, I approached the Amalj'aa war chief at meeting's end, and engaged him with the usual empty pleasantries─eventually steering the conversation to tribal custom. I explained that the coffin of a zombie-cursed warrior had been discovered within Ul'dahn territory, and wondered at the traditional rites one might perform to send his kin's unfortunate soul on to the afterlife. Somewhat taken aback, the war chief advised that it was of paramount importance to avoid disturbing the warrior's undead slumber. “Leave the coffin untouched,” he warned. “Stand facing the valorous spirit, and perform a single bow. Offer your respects for a life well lived, celebrate the warrior's greatest victory, and then kneel in a moment of reflection.” Thus did the Amal'jaa mourn comrades fallen on the field of battle, burning myrrh incense at the culmination of the ritual to guide their sanctified souls unto the everlasting flame. In receiving his answer, I was suddenly struck by a cavalcade of questions I had never thought to ask. I felt ashamed at my ignorance, and am now resolved to learn more of this proud people's culture.
|08: Ul'dah and Sil'dih
||When Belah'dia splintered into Ul'dah and Sil'dih, the division only deepened with time. The history books tell the tale of escalating hostilities; of how the advent of the Traders' Spurn devastated the Sil'dihns, and brought the conflict to a horrific end. Ul'dah would later migrate to the site of the fallen metropolis, where even now the ruins of the past dot the landscape, or lie hidden from view deep underground. Such remnants proved useful when routing the municipal waterways, and so did they refer to this section of the subterrane as the “Sil'dihn aqueducts.” Given that the war turned savage over water sources, it seems to me a designation of particularly ghoulish sensibilities.
Distasteful naming aside, it should have come as no surprise that these old tunnels fed into other vestiges of Sil'dih. And yet I was wholly unprepared to set foot in the royal palace itself! Had the structure been exposed above ground, the wind-driven sand coupled with the heat of the Thanalan sun would have led to extensive erosion. But cocooned beneath the earth as it was, its chambers have been perfectly preserved. How rare it must be to encounter ruins in such an unspoiled state. It will provide our historians with a wealth of material to study...assuming they can navigate the intervening passages. We must clear the way, first and foremost, and secure a safe path through.
|09: Raising the Flags
||When we came across the banner of Sil'dih, so alike to our Ul'dahn flag, I was reminded that the first sultans of those warring nations were twin brothers. Yet the reason behind the design's similarity has naught to do with sibling imitation. In Belah'dia's time, 'twas the Flame of Magic and the Fruit of Knowledge which sat the scales of judgment. Ul'dah took the Flame as its own, balancing the scales with the Gem of Affluence, whilst Sil'dih claimed the Fruit, and set it against the Helm of Might. Each thought himself the rightful heir, and thus did both raise flags depicting the bounties of Belah'dia.
Both included a symbol of strength, but the difference lay in its interpretation: Ul'dah believed in the potency of its magicks; Sil'dih, in its military might. The gladiators who train in our Coliseum are mayhap the closest embodiment of Sil'dihn philosophy. In fact, reflecting on the encounter now, the fierce gladiator construct lurking in the palace depths could not have been a more apt incarnation of their beliefs: from the exquisite embossment of grapes upon its formidable helm, to the way its gleaming form─the same silvery hue as Sil'dih's scales─illuminated the subterranean gloom. Through all these years did it stand patient guard, faithfully serving a master centuries dead, and a nation long since fallen into ruin. 'Tis enough to turn one's mood melancholy.
|10: My Mother's Eyes
||How, in the name of the Nald'thal, did that burglar manage to creep into a treasure chamber sealed off from the outside world for generations? Aside from the gate only my key could open, I saw no other means of entering the ruins. Although considering the prevalence of secret doors and passages in its construction, the remnants may very well have other entrances of which I am simply not aware.
Yet in spite of this mystery, I find myself lingering most on the scrawled note our thief left behind. The first item was an obvious reference to “Nashachite,” which must somehow relate to one of the ruins' many riddles. 'Tis how it relates to me, however, that truly has my thoughts in a jumble. Nashachite was the name Ul'dahn jewelers gave to the high-quality malachite excavated from the reopened Copperbell Mines. This was after the Calamity, of course, and thus I took umbrage at these merchants using my late mother's name as a means to promote their wares. And then I was presented with a sample. 'Twas as if the gentle sparkle of Mother's eyes was captured within the stone. Much to my chagrin, I found myself forced to agree that “Nashachite” was the perfect fit for this gem of exquisite green.
|11: The Thorne Legacy
||“Sil'dih aqueducts. Thorne. Vault.” I noticed these words scribbled on the back of the burglar's note we found, but was too preoccupied to give them much thought at the time. Did the intruder believe that a secret cache of Thorne riches was to be found somewhere in the waterways? An odd notion, given that the House of Thorne was well known for its honesty and integrity. After all, 'twas a sultan of their dynasty who willingly transferred power back to the House of Ul, and there was nary a peep to imply any wrongful withdrawals from the royal treasury. Assuming they had secreted wealth in some hidden location, it would have been done with the full cooperation of the Ul family─with the particulars passed down to successive sultans.
Father would have known of the arrangement, and he did speak of slumbering memories which should not be forgotten. Was this one of those things my parents wished me to see when I came of age? I have considered a hundred potential scenarios for what they might have meant, each more fanciful than the last. And although the Sil'dihn palace was indeed an eye-opening discovery, I sense that Father alluded to a matter of even deeper import...
|12: In Parchment We Trust
||Deep beneath Ul'dah, beyond the twisting tunnels of the Sil'dihn aqueducts, we have discovered a vault in which slumbers a precious legacy. In its center, a catalog of evidence emblazoned with the words: “For coin, country, and comrades-in-arms, we bequeath this trust to the House of Ul.”
This solemn declaration, signed by the last sultan of Thorne, was followed by several pages of florid signatures─a procession of Ul'dahn rulers which ends with the name of my own father. And wedged there, betwixt one page and the next, a faded missive penned in his distinctive hand. Addressed with the hope that the reader be “our darling Nanamo,” the letter describes the purpose of the vault. 'Tis a place known only to the royal heirs; a secure archive wherein evidence of Ul'dah's alliance with the Amalj'aa is preserved. And though tradition dictated this trust be passed on by word of mouth, Father felt that, should worse come to worst, 'twas safer to have an explanation committed to parchment.
“Dearest Nanamo, we wonder what manner of woman you have become. We know the role of sultana will challenge you in myriad ways, but no matter how your rule unfolds, remember that you shall ever be our greatest achievement. Seize what happiness you may each day, for joy is worth more than all the gil in Ul'dah.”
Mother. Father. Be assured that 'tis not sorrow which causes these tears to fall, but overwhelming pride. Now, in this moment, I am simply happy to be your daughter.
|13: Gift of the Onmyoji
||Once upon a time, there lived a brilliant onmyoji. His enchantments were famed far and wide─yet the man was cursed with a poor memory, and often misplaced the tools he had imbued with such awesome power. Well aware of his foibles, the onmyoji resolved never to let his pieces escape him again, and wrought enchanted strongboxes to safely store them.
This strategy was put to the test when, one evening, a thief attempted to steal his most valuable tools away, boxes and all. Alas, though the vessels faithfully returned to the onmyoji's side, the poor man was distraught to discover that none of the works within had done the same. Tokimori tells me that several such strongboxes were once present at Shojo Temple. Their magicks inhibited the spiritual powers of the objects sealed within─objects including a bloodthirsty sword and a dogu figurine. I myself managed to claim the box with the aforementioned sword, though the dogu must have been lost in the chaos that claimed the mountain. While “bloodthirsty sword” rather speaks for itself, I was curious as to why a simple clay figurine should need to be sealed away. It transpires that the dogu, too, is a powerful tool, once used to ensure the temple's sacred trees flourish. Through the simple ritual of bowing before a small shrine and placing the dogu on the altar within, the monks could coax it into enlivening the surrounding greenery. Similarly, disregard for its care may prompt the dogu to wreak havoc on its environs...in which case, it may be best to enshrine any dogu we encounter.
|14: The Crimson Sword
||Long ago, in the days when war and strife plagued Hingashi, there lived a man who built his legacy upon a mountain of enemy corpses. Fiercer than a mad tiger, Moko the Restless emerged victorious from every skirmish─but his might would be his undoing.
Fearing that the warrior would rebel against him, Moko's liege lord ordered him slain in the dead of night. The deed was carried out with Moko's own blade, which, having cleanly severed its master's head, soon began to burn red. None could say whether this crimson aura was begat by the warrior's lingering fury or the ire of his victims, but it resisted all efforts to remove it. In a last, desperate attempt to purify the sword, the lord's servants carried it to a sacred peak and plunged it into the holy waters...only for the weapon to devour the font's spiritual energies. From that moment on, any soul who attempted to wield the blade was consumed by murderous rage. Tokimori claimed that the holy waters in the tale might be found on Mount Rokkon itself, where a lake of particular spiritual power lies concealed. A small shrine allegedly graces its banks, and I cannot help but wonder if treasure hides within. Unfortunately, the path is a closely guarded secret known only to the highest-ranking monks, so we are left to fumble in the dark.
|15: A Tale of Dead Men
||Moko was a warrior of peerless skill: a boon to his allies and a scourge upon his enemies. After his death, his armor was returned to his kin, who would preserve it as a treasured heirloom for generations to come...until one fateful morn.
As the sun bathed the eastern skies in gold, Moko's descendants rose to find the armor not in the storehouse where it had been secured, but on prominent display in the gardens, stained black with cooling blood. Next to it lay the corpse of a man─a would-be thief struck down by a righteous spirit, most were quick to believe. The family, however, was less than certain. Who was to say when Moko might rise again to sate his bloodlust? Thus, though it pained them to do so, they placed the armor in the care of Shojo Temple, hoping that its hallowed halls would bring the restless general some semblance of peace. Far Eastern folklore speaks of myriad kami, and of the spirits to be found in all things. One may assume this concept arose from the countless strange creatures found on our star: from voidsent to auspices, and soulkin golems to elemental sprites, nature's capacity for oddity is boundless. Was Moko's armor, then, an unusual form of a known entity, or did it truly play host to the soul of the man that once wore it? Whatever the case, we can be certain that its exposure to Mount Rokkon's aether only emboldened─and enlarged─it. I find myself thankful that we did not share in the alleged thief's fate.
|16: Forging a Legacy
||Though Hingashi has its fair share of celebrated artisans, few tales stoke the flames of a journeyman's ambition like that of Nanakusa, whose blades in the image of the Four Lords saw him rise from humble village blacksmith to renowned forgemaster. Having been on the business end of the swords representing Suzaku and Seiryu during our confrontation with Moko the Restless, to their fine and fearsome quality I can attest. Though I have not yet had the pleasure of an introduction to the Byakko-inspired Hakutei, it in particular is oft spoken of as a weapon to rival one of the greatest the star has to offer: the Swell.
Following his rise to prominence, Nanakusa established a forge near Mount Rokkon. According to Mistress Tsubaki, many an aspiring smith followed in his footsteps, and northeastern Shishu has become something of a haven for these masters of forge and flame. Naturally, they revere the kami of fire, and celebrate their god by way of various spectacular matsuri. In the most prominent of these─its name roughly translating to the “Festival of Three Lanterns”─local blacksmiths seek to imbue the works of past, present, and future with the fire kami's power through lighting a trio of specially crafted lanterns. Of course, this temporal symbolism is only one aspect of the number three's significance to Far Eastern tradition at large.
|17: The Luthier and the Songstress
||Once upon a time, there lived a nameless luthier, who poured his heart and soul into building a beautiful biwa. His efforts were not in vain, for the biwa's craftsmanship was immaculate─so much so that he found he could not bear to see it in the hands of a common bard. Season upon season passed as he searched for a soul befitting the biwa's brilliance.
It was not until the luthier's twilight years that a worthy songstress at last entered his workshop. The young woman played for him a song as breathtaking as the autumn moon, and he gladly entrusted her with his life's work. Her ephemeral ballads would capture hearts across Hingashi─until the eve that the luthier's tale came to an end. Neither she nor the biwa have been seen since, leaving her audience to wonder if she was the tsukumogami of the biwa all along. I have come to learn that tsukumogami can take many forms. Depending on how they manifest, they might bestow a thousand blessings or a thousand curses upon the world. If a tsukumogami is rumored to reside within a prized vessel, its value rises exponentially...but only should it be as benevolent as the songstress in our tale. Were a treasure possessed of a spirit more malevolent, one would do well to exorcise it ere putting it to market.
|18: Lost to Avarice
||Long ago, in a remote village, there lived a devout young woman. Though her fields were barren and her rice stores lay empty, she honored the kami at every opportunity, decorating their shrines with what meager offerings she could until, one fateful evening, a divine being appeared to her in a dream. She awoke the next morning to find a wooden hammer next to her pillow. In offering thanks to the kami that day, she swung her newfound hammer, and where it fell, rice gushed forth from the ground like water.
The gods had saved this woman from hunger and granted her endless wealth, but as time passed, she forgot her humble origins. She grew complacent in her prayers, and lost herself in excess. Eventually, rumors of her extravagance spread across the land, and reached the ears of a wicked oni. He stole the hammer for his own selfish purposes, prying the divine gift from the woman's cold, dead fingers. As a merchant, my first thought upon hearing this tale was of gil, though one does not require divine intervention to make a profit. I am reminded of my first encounter with Chairman Lolorito on the backstreets of Ul'dah: “I hear tell that you are not entirely bereft of wit,” he said, placing a heavy sack of coin before me. “Take this gil and double it─I shall return in one day.” I knew very well who I was dealing with. I turned that profit with pride, handed him two very heavy sacks of gil the next day...and found my fortune, as it were. Had I squandered that coin as the young woman did her own gift, I fear I would have been dogged by much worse than demons.
|19: Beyond the Lanterns' Light
||It was a moonless and cloudy night... A small patrol of samurai was treading a shadowed path when, in the distance, they sighted the warm glow of a lantern. Knowing no honest man would be skulking about at this hour, they approached with caution─to find no man at all, but a single lantern, lying lonely and unattended. With some thought of preventing a fire, one of the samurai reached down to claim it.
In an instant, the samurai were surrounded. A crowd of cold, otherworldly flames hovered just out of arms' reach, as if taunting. Fiendish laughter echoed in the distance, then closer... Yet a mere moment later, the flames disappeared as though nothing had ever transpired. Darkness enveloped the path once again. There are few in Hingashi who have not heard tales of the bake-chochin. Though these haunting lanterns typically seek only to play tricks on those that wander too close, the ones we encountered on Mount Rokkon clearly had a mind to give chase. According to Tokimori, generations of head monks at Shojo Temple carried a lantern of identical appearance on their nightly strolls, so perhaps the bake-chochin sought merely to protect their masters' home, albeit in a unique way. The lantern now in my possession bears the following words in Far Eastern calligraphy: If fortune you seek Know that our light glows brightest Within twilight's reach And 'tis the kami of fire This celebration entreats I know not precisely what this poem calls upon its reader to do, but its words occupy my thoughts nonetheless.
|20: The Common Man's Courage
||Long ago, in a small village in the shadow of Mount Rokkon, there lived a young man. Few were as diligent at harvest time as he─and none so quick to leap into action on the fateful day that screams rang across the fields. Swallowing his fear, he followed the sound to find his neighbors beset by a beast of terrible countenance, its unnatural form proving it the very man-eating monster that had terrorized the people of Shishu for moons. And so, knowing lives would be lost to even a moment's hesitation, the young man lobbed his pitchfork at the creature's exposed belly. It turned tail and ran for the cover of the mountain, howling in pain. Ever since, the village has held a yearly event dedicated to tossing their tools at bundles of straw, in a form of ritual that doubles as useful practice in the event that the kami are slow to respond to future incidents.
Imagine my surprise when, having recovered that fork of legend, I discovered the famed swordsmith Nanakusa's mark upon it. Two histories for the price of one! I suppose all artisans must pay their dues, be it in humble pitchforks or those kettles that Rowena has such a tidy monopoly on, but the contrast between this tool and Nanakusa's more whimsical works is striking. One would never guess that its maker would go on to build Shishu's most expansive smithy, guarded in each cardinal direction by statues of the Four Lords...
|21: Sound of the Stone
||Given their function as a spiritual bulwark against the earthquakes that plague Hingashi, stones of protection are far from unique to Mount Rokkon. One tale connected to them, however, certainly reflects its unusual history.
Legend has it that a warrior of some renown once visited the mountain as a pilgrim. During his soul-cleansing climb up its slopes, he put his hands together to pray at a stone of protection. In that very moment, a twisted beast leapt from the shadows. It was injured, a pitchfork protruding from its belly, but regardless of circumstance, the warrior could hardly ignore its attempts to tear his head from his body. He plunged his trusty blade into the creature, which thrashed violently in response, colliding with the nearby stone. Ominous peals resounded from the earth below. In alarm, the warrior lost hold of his weapon, while the beast escaped into the foliage and out of sight. Fearing an earthquake was indeed imminent, he carefully wiped the beast's blood from the stone, and all was silent once more. There are several variants of this legend: in one, the warrior slays the beast, while another insists that it was the creature's bloodcurdling cry that set the earth to rumbling. Still other tales present natural disasters themselves as divine─or at least preternatural─entities. All contain at least a grain of truth, for the fears of a population constantly under threat by events outside its control are very real. If one theory out of the Studium is to be believed, the stones' protective power may also be more than superstition. The gist, I recall, is that stones of protection are a form of magical focus not dissimilar to nouliths, and thus can stabilize aetherial currents when placed at confluences. Alas, I remember naught of the finer details─beyond their being rather dull.
|22: The Seal of Silence
||Ascetics have long availed themselves of Mount Rokkon's solitude to train mind and spirit, and this day was no different. The breeze was still, the trees silent, and the monk of concern to our tale was deep in peaceful meditation when he heard the rustling of grass. Rousing from his contemplations, he opened his eyes to see who had business of such import as to interrupt his tranquility...and came face-to-face instead with a twisted beast. If its form left any doubt to its identity, the weapons lodged in its flesh confirmed that it was Shishio, king among nue and terror to the smallfolk. Though the thought of ending a life─much less that of a creature struggling, despite deep wounds, to survive─was abhorrent, so too was the thought of letting this devourer of men go free. He readied his holy staff, and struck at the mononoke.
The battle was a fierce one, but the monk had the upper hand. To draw the conflict to a close, he struck his staff into Shishio, turning it to stone. He would go on to found Shojo Temple, that a watch might be kept over the now-silent mononoke, and its seal remain unbroken evermore─or so the legends say. Holy staves such as the monk wielded are quite unlike those of Western mages. Not only do they hold the particular power to purge fell magicks via sound, their use as physical weapons goes far beyond unsophisticated bludgeoning. Though I sadly lack the skill to make use of such awesome power, I find myself considering more mundane applications. In climbing Mount Rokkon, even well-trained ascetics surely find themselves in need of additional support from time to time. Should we need to scale the peak once again, or should an inconvenient wall or pile of boxes stand in our way, I shall be perfectly equipped for the challenge.
|23: Seasons of the Fleeting
||Long ago and far away, an onmyoji found himself bereft of his beloved wife. Years upon years passed, the cherry tree they planted to celebrate their union bearing fewer blossoms every spring, yet still, the grief of her passing remained fresh. Though left with little hope for himself, the onmyoji prayed the tree, at least, might recover.
To his great surprise, these prayers were answered by his wife herself, for in life she too had been an onmyoji, and had left behind a finely made dogu. At his plea, it began to shine with the power of life itself, reviving the tree's withered boughs in an instant. Understanding now that their love was everlasting, no matter how fleeting their time together, the onmyoji too was filled with newfound vigor, and happily devoted himself to caring for the resplendent cherry tree for the rest of his days. How painful, and how beautiful, that life should be so ephemeral. Upon our return from Mount Rokkon, I could not help but inquire with Tsubaki as to the nature of Mistress Yozakura, whom we encountered under such inauspicious circumstances. It seems she was heir to the Hanagakure style of ninjutsu, thus her way with flowers, and was in service to Lord Uzumibi at the time of her death. Tokimori added that she had been aiding in the evacuation of those trapped at Shojo Temple, and lost her life to a mononoke while pulling a child to safety.
|24: The Ogiseru's Fate
||The great kiseru is rumored to bring similarly great fortune or great calamity to its owner, but I have seen no sign of it possessing a capacity for either thus far. I can but presume that my predecessors sought to credit their trials and tribulations to a single simple cause in a complex and uncertain world. Still, between the power invested in it by such beliefs and the rich aether of the mountain, it would have been shocking had the kiseru not become a tsukumogami, even were it once wholly mundane. But regardless of whether Gorai was blessed to have spent his final days in the company of his beloved collection, or cursed to have suffered the grave consequences, I doubt the pipe alone was the arbiter of his fate.
Though I had what many would consider an “unfortunate” childhood, I never thought myself the victim of ill fate. On the contrary, I believe my acute mercantile sensibilities to be the product of early hardships─instructive steps along a journey that, all things considered, hasn't been half bad. I might've said otherwise at the time had I stopped to weigh my happiness against my unhappiness, but instead I kept moving, and 'tis well that I did. Whether we speak of tangible or intangible fortunes, it matters not what we have, but what we make of it.
|25: A Not-quite Deserted Island
||“Someone else was at Aloalo Island, and they commanded a wooden figure to attack us! It looked like a guhasaya, and its fangs were just as deadly. Thank the Sisters Forename was there!”
When Matsya told me of this encounter, my first thought was of the golems of the Far East, said to be driven by intricate wooden mechanisms. However, as Kalika so eagerly explained to us, the people of Aloalo were artisans of a different sort. They created arcane wooden familiars known as “quaqua” to serve as both protectors and companions, of which the creature that assailed Matsya and Forename was but one. Nor were their constructs limited to the quaqua alone─Kalika warned against recklessly laying hands upon any of the figures dotting the island, lest they be roused from their slumber to defend their home.
Practitioners of the art of arcanima, which itself originated in the southern seas, employ gemstones to act as an intermediary between the corporeal and incorporeal when summoning familiars such as Carbuncles. The properties of wood, however, make it suitable for the selfsame purpose, and there is now evidence to suggest that early arcanists relied on wooden rather than gemstone cores. The “tiresome lout” of whom Matsya spoke must have possessed intimate knowledge of arcanima to successfully adopt these methods and call upon the quaqua.
|26: The First Settlers of Aloalo Island
||“Aloalo is breathtaking, and its fish are plentiful. How could it have been left abandoned for so long?”
While neither Aloalo's natural beauty nor its various inhabitants' resourcefulness is in question, it is but a small island amidst volatile seas, prone to experiencing the full force of nature's fury. Thus is its history one of prolonged settlement punctuated by abrupt abandonment.
According to stories told to Kalika by the island's former caretakers, the earliest known settlers arrived during the waning years of the Fourth Astral Era. However, at the onset of the Fifth Calamity, otherwise known as the Age of Endless Frost, these settlers vanished, leaving behind the great shrine which housed the statue of the Speaker. Dubbed the “forgotten people” by those who came after, their mark upon Aloalo would endure, but their identity remains shrouded in mystery.
During the Fifth Astral Era, Aloalo was home to another people who became skilled at navigating the open sea. Some subsequently migrated to Vylbrand and would go on to found the city-state of Nym. However, when the Sixth Calamity brought destruction to Nym's gates, those who could returned to the birthplace of their forebears.
Later, in the Sixth Astral Era, some of Aloalo's residents again crossed the sea to Vylbrand, and their knowledge of arcanima would become the foundation of what is practiced today.
Alas, history would repeat itself when the island was abandoned for the third time a century ago in response to the eruption of an underwater volcano. Now Aloalo sits quietly, awaiting any who might start the cycle anew.
|27: God of Heaven and Sea
||“The whale we encountered was as colorful as Thavnairian weave, but as vicious as a kumbhira!”
Legends abound in the south sea isles of whales which soar through the skies, and Shockmaw may be but one of these majestic creatures. According to Kalika, another flying whale known as “Ketuduke” was worshipped by Aloalo's people as a messenger of the gods, and the countless figures carved in his image are an expression of their devotion. It is therefore within the realm of possibility that the creature which attacked Matsya and Forename was in truth this Ketuduke.
When faced with this revelation, Matsya wrung his hands and wondered if he had brought ill fortune upon them for angering a divine messenger. Kalika reassured him that any potential calamities could be averted by making the proper obeisance, and he instructed me to write down the ritual for posterity.
First, one must trek to where the three carven deities of Aloalo await their subjects, and there stand before the whale and chant, “O messenger from beyond the horizon, hear me.” Next, they must twice circumnavigate this isle of gods: first passing before the sparrow and then the turtle before returning to the whale's auspice, then retracing the steps of their journey in the opposite direction. Lastly, the faithful must perform a dance, thus ending the ritual and securing Ketuduke's blessing.
When Kalika described this rite to me, I was struck by its similarity to certain Thavnairian practices. Although the particulars differ, both religious traditions recognize and honor the divine nature of beasts.
|28: A Noxious Gift
||“I'd never felt a fish pull with such strength. At that moment, I swore on my pride as a fisher that I would not let this prize escape!”
Due to its tendency to absorb and accumulate toxins from its prey, the draco barracuda that Matsya returned with is not safe for consumption. To be clear, the fish's flesh is not inherently toxic, so a brave soul could perhaps eat one and live─and I am certain more than a few have done just that. I know several fellow alchemists who would sample a barracuda just to experience its potency for themselves, in fact. Fortunately, I found it listed within a compendium kept at the Great Work, so I knew there was nothing to be gained from such questionable endeavors.
The toxin of the draco barracuda can be used as an alchemical agent, much like the venom of the hamsa. The island's lush environment likely afforded this particular specimen plenty of prey to feast upon, and as a consequence I suspect it is highly toxic.
Kalika informed me that draco barracuda were revered by Aloalo's people because they kept harmful seaweed and poisonous smaller fish in check. If one was accidentally caught, it was given back to the sea as a gesture of gratitude. I cannot help but wonder whether Matsya should have done the same.
|29: The Roots of Arcanima
||“We were walking through a place filled with such lush greenery that every flower was as a shining ruby in the brush. I was so entranced with my surroundings that I scarcely noticed the strange wooden doll until we were nearly upon it!”
A century ago, an undersea volcano erupted near Aloalo. Violent waves followed, and the sky filled with ash so thick that the island's inhabitants were unsure they would ever see the sun again. Their fortunes had changed overnight, and they were forced to make the difficult decision to leave their home. The evacuation was fraught with peril, for what boats survived the turbulent waters had to navigate floating lumps of cooling magma.
Prior to this disaster, Aloalo was a repository of mathematical records, grimoires, and marvels of arcanima. Those who fled could only take with them a fraction of these treasures, leaving behind their other creations─including the sculpted guardian known only as “the lala,” later encountered by Matsya and Forename. Alas, while the lala managed to survive the long years, much of the archive and its tomes have been reclaimed by nature, along with what secrets they contained.
Although none now live on Aloalo, the south sea isles are not entirely uninhabited. One can only hope that some small number of these writings made their way to these populated neighbors, where they may yet be preserved.
|30: Under the Boughs of the Great Tree
||“Thavnair has its share of magnificent trees, but this one puts them all to shame. That jewel is truly a wonder.”
The great tree which towers over Aloalo had already grown into its full majesty when Kalika was born. In its shelter gathered those who worked to unravel the mysteries of the world through numbers and equations, and over time their modest encampment transformed into a full-fledged community. Night and day they would pore over their arithmetic, that they might shed light upon the jewel held by the statue of the Speaker, which seemed to imbue Aloalo itself with unflagging vitality. In the course of their research, they carved numerous arcane geometries into the tree's bark, one of which would extract the aether from slain animals and redirect its flow to the surrounding flora. Just four sacrifices would be enough to make the branches of the tree grow, thus opening─or closing─paths through the area.
If these early arcanists were so fascinated with the Speaker's jewel, why did they not live within the shrine which housed it? This I asked Kalika, who answered that the shrine was enshrouded by an impenetrable mist─likely the result of magicks woven by its forgotten builders. And so the proto-arcanists settled at the great tree while they labored to create a tool which would win them safe passage, only to remain there even after their work was complete. I presume the comforts and benefits of a familiar place won out in the end.
|31: A Dear Friend
||“Where the branches were thickest, I wondered if I might spy a bird like Kalika perched upon them. I kept looking up, but I spied no sparrows flitting throughout the canopy.”
When Kalika heard this story from Matsya, he proudly exclaimed that he was unlike any other sparrow in the world. Although his less-talkative brethren are a common sight in Thavnair, they were revered by the inhabitants of Aloalo. Seeking to deepen my bond with the loquacious bird, I asked Kalika if there were any rituals performed or prayers offered in his kin's honor. While Kalika was uncharacteristically reluctant to teach me, he acquiesced after some prodding. I have recorded his instructions here so as not to forget.
Where Aloalo's deities lie in wait, one must stand before the figure of the sparrow and chant, “O dancer of the skies, hear me.” Then they must prove their sincerity by blowing it a kiss. After that, the faithful should circle its perch, passing both the turtle and the whale ere returning to the sagely sparrow and performing for it a sprightly dance, thus securing the sparrow's favor.
After learning this, I blew a kiss to Kalika. In response, he sighed deeply and turned his back to me. My heart sank, and it was then I realized just how much I had come to care about him. I want only for Kalika to be comfortable and safe. Perhaps I should put more effort into the meals I prepare? Or would blowing him more kisses win his favor? Or perhaps... (The following musings contain no pertinent information for those who would brave Aloalo.)
|32: Fish for the Mind
||“To think the great tree was home to fish as well. I usually cast my rod in the sea, but it's exciting to ply my trade in a new environment!”
Kalika informed us that the fish Matsya returned with is a “wholokailo.” Its hard scales were dried, polished, and repurposed as components in a calculating device. The meat was also favored for its succulent flavor and supposed ability to enhance intelligence. As an alchemist, I was eager to put this claim to the proof. Could the meat actually sharpen one's mind, or was it merely superstition born from the wholokailo's association with arcanima?
I investigated the fish's properties as soon as I heard Kalika's story, but regrettably found nothing extraordinary concerning its nutritional benefits. That said, the scales do appear to have value as alchemical agents if they are properly stripped from the body and dried. I then thought perhaps grilling the fish and eating it whole might produce the desired enhancing effect...but I found the scales to be much too hard to chew and displeasing to the tongue besides.
To use the fish to its full alchemical potential, I believe the best method would be to grind the scales into powder, then knead them into a shape that can be easily swallowed. Whether or not the resulting product would measurably improve one's intelligence remains to be seen, though.
|33: A Familiar History
||“That faerie almost spoiled the whole experience. I hope we've seen the last of her...”
The faerie that tormented Matsya was a forgotten familiar by the name of Statice. Kalika was no stranger to her antics, and he recounted stories of Statice wielding bizarre tools in her many attempts to capture him. She seems to have no purpose but to engage in mischief, and her traps litter Aloalo.
Given that scholars from the city-state of Nym settled upon Aloalo after the Sixth Calamity, the presence of a faerie is hardly surprising. They were favored as familiars by Nym's mages, but such minions disappear upon the death of their master, when the supply of aether sustaining them is cut off. The fact that Statice has endured for so long suggests that she draws upon a potent source of aether─perhaps the selfsame jewel which is responsible for the remarkable vitality of Aloalo.
As an aside, the techniques used to control these faeries would later be refined by modern arcanists who command Carbuncles. Tracing the evolution of the art further back, we can see a connection to the wooden familiars left behind by the forgotten original settlers of Aloalo. The tapestry of history is vast and intricate, and these expeditions have done much to add new threads to the cloth.
|34: The Remnants of Faith
||“We arrived at a place that looked long abandoned but retained an unmistakable air of divinity. Whatever gods watched over Aloalo, this was surely their home.”
Matsya's description called to mind Thavnair's Purusa, and Kalika confirmed that it was indeed a sacred site for the people of Aloalo. It contained a ritual chamber where figures of the gods awaited to dispense their blessings, among them that of a sea turtle. As a fisher, Matsya is bonded to the sea, and Kalika suggested that he perform the proper rites before the turtle upon his next voyage. For Matsya's sake, I shall record the instructions here.
First, standing before the turtle, one must chant, “O wayfarer of land and sea, hear me.” Then the supplicant must journey around the isle of gods twice, each time passing the sparrow then the whale before returning to the turtle. Bow before the wise traveler to earn its blessing.
Figures of the divinities could also be found throughout the ruins of old settlements, and I wonder whether their arrangement held special meaning. Regardless, it is plain that religion was of great importance to the people of Aloalo, much like it is to the Hannish.
|35: A Lalafell or a Fish?
||“I've never seen such a fish! It almost resembles you, Pasasun─quite adorable, if I say so myself.”
I respect Matsya and his opinions, but I must strenuously beg to differ. To simply look at the fish he brought back from Aloalo sends a chill down my spine. Birds like Kalika could be described as “adorable,” but a fish with the face of a man...well, we shall have to agree to disagree, and consider this a minor hitch in an otherwise harmonious friendship.
When I asked Kalika about this odd specimen, he said it was called a “lalaulusu” by Aloalo's inhabitants. They had a legend of an unlucky Lalafell who was cast into the ocean during a storm, whereupon they found themselves transformed into a fish. Parents told this story to their children to discourage them from wandering near the shore during rough weather. While it was likely no more than a cautionary tale, I cannot help but hesitate to render the lalaulusu into alchemical materials.
|36: Wellspring of Golden Memories
||“I caught a fish with striking gold scales─it's unlike anything I've ever seen in Thavnair. This may be the most precious treasure of Aloalo Island!”
Long ago, a fever raged among Aloalo's infants. In a desperate bid to save their young, the islanders made soup with fish from the waters of the great shrine. The infants' fevers broke, and all who partook of the soup grew into hale and hearty adults who were never again touched by sickness. Thenceforth it became custom to feed all newborns soup made from the golden coelacanth. Whatever inherent nutritional benefits the meat possesses seem to be enhanced by the fish's proximity to the statue of the Speaker and the jewel it protects. Needless to say, the golden coelacanth holds high value as an alchemical specimen.
Although Matsya and I have known each other since childhood, the separate paths we took in life have afforded us scant opportunity to work together. Since the day he found Kalika washed up on the beach, however, we have never been closer─and the adorable bird has been a welcome addition to our fellowship. What is more, I have been able to advance my study of alchemy thanks to the rare fish Matsya has brought back.
I began this conservation record in the hopes that Matsya and any who would follow in his footsteps might benefit from it, but it has become a journal of sorts for this most joyous time in my life. I am forever grateful to Matsya and Kalika both for setting these events in motion, and to Forename for keeping my dear friend safe from harm in his journeys.
Pages in category "Variant Dungeon Lore"
The following 39 pages are in this category, out of 39 total.