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Greetings, exiles of Puddleby. I am Argh, and I bring you words.

I wish to add my voice to those who have commented, dissembled, and even ranted on the subject of the curse which, until of late, prevented me from healing, and cast me into a dark shadow of despair.

To those who comforted me, and to those who aided me, and to those who gave me hope through this long joyless draught of the spirit, I offer my thanks and deep appreciation. Without you, I could not have suffered such a blow and lived. I shall remember.

To those who, cynically, accused me of refusing to heal, and considered me worthy only of your curses and malign despite, I offer my sorrow. Your spirits are far more damaged than my own; and this is no small amount of damage.

To those who cried out against Game Master tyranny, and demanded limitations on Game Master powers and authority, I offer my incomprehension. In the lands I know, there are only mortals, and creatures, and elders, and ancients, and gods (though if the truth be known, I am uncertain as to the nature of the last three). Is it elders and ancients to which you refer, when calling upon Game Masters to behave thus and so? And to you, is life but a game? If so... what you hope to gain from such tactics of complaint is far beyond my poor ability to grasp. One might as usefully decry that the Sun refuses to shine in the dead of night, and threaten drastic action if it does not change this behavior immediately.

To those who hunger for knowledge about the elders and ancients, know that I, too, am driven by great curiosity. If these potent beings were unfailingly aloof from mortal affairs, my own curiosity might well diminish; but it is only too painfully clear that many of them are quite interested in us, and seek to interact with and influence us. Some even wish us harm. Knowledge of them, if we but possessed it, could be a shield against powerful malevolence, and a path towards our own enlightenment.

It is most of all to those who hunger for such knowledge that I address this scroll. It is for you that I have scribbled an account of events surrounding the curse of my moonstone, and its lifting.

Yet there are mysteries that I cannot plumb, and questions that I cannot answer, for I am, too, merely mortal. I have done my best; you must judge whether, after reading my account, I have added useful information to the pitifully inadequate fund of knowledge we now possess.

Proceed now, I invite you, to the attached scroll, wherein lies a tale of ambition, conflict, devastation, humiliation, triumph and defeat. As do all who submit their written words to public scrutiny and criticism, I await with anxiety your approval, your apathy, or your scorn: it shall be as you wish.

Respectfully submitted,

-- Argh, a healer


Some of you know me, but have not seen the written word that flows from my quill. Indeed, I have not posted scrolls in this forum before.

You might be startled. Can this verbosity originate from the Thoom you know, whose crude pronunciation of the Common Tongue reeks of merchant patois and rough sailors? It can, and it does. If given time to compose my thoughts, I can write far more fluidly than I can speak in casual conversation - as is often the case with a second language.

I see no reason to inflict upon my writing the seeming of a wretched speaker, when I am capable, at least in writing, of better.

-- A.

The Cursed Moonstone

Presented to the Puddleby Public by Argh, a Healer

Ah, where to begin?

This story could begin with the birth of a homely Thoomish child to proud merchant parents, long ago. We could tell you of his pre-adolescent shenanigans, the toy boat he lost on a swift-flowing river (he cried for half a day), his contraction of s‚pox and its eventual cure, or his schooling, where his grades whipsawed from best to worst and back to best, as though several children inhabited the same body. But no, I sense my readers will have no patience for such distant details as those.

This story could begin with his coming of age, for it was sailing and captaining in his parents‚ merchant ships that taught him the virtues of deliberation, and caution, and planning. The sea is a harsh taskmaster; it harbors fools for no great length of time. But this is another tale altogether, and has no place in this one.

Alternatively, the story might begin with intrigues at the Court of Emperor Mobius, where rival merchants orchestrated the destruction of his parents, appropriated their holdings, and caused our Thoom to be exiled in shame for purely imagined crimes. Aye, the story might be begun here, but so many of my readers have such tales of their own; truly, the telling of it does not appeal to our current interest.

Or perhaps the story begins with a now-humbled Thoom, flotsam cast ashore in a hostile land, one of many such exiles whom the Court of the Emperor did not expect (and did not desire) would long survive. It was in this land that our Thoomish agonist first heard the calling which would utterly capture his heart and soul, for there were many in need in this land, and he could not turn away from them. He would become a healer.

Of these beginnings, we could say more, but we shall not, for I sense a restlessness among my readers: you wish to hear of the curse of Argh‚s Moonstone, and of its lifting. Thus we brush all such precursors from our path, and proceed to the telling of this tale as it should be told. And in any event, this is not truly a story about a Thoom after all.

Lurking in dark-filled caverns and tree-shrouded forests is another outcast of sorts. He calls himself Zonk; but this is probably not his true- name. He is thousands of years old. He is more than a little mad.

This Zonk is known to be a Darshak, of the race that spawned foul and heretical religion, conspiracies, murders, and piracy. It is said that the creation of undine, death brought to foul life as a plague against the living, is a product of Darshak sorcery. Old as Zonk is, we cannot know to what extent he descends from these ancient evils, or perhaps even caused some of them. He calls no person friend. Those who are as powerful as he, or more so, he avoids; those less powerful, he seeks to dominate, or destroy. His only virtue, if virtue it be, is his unfailing politeness; or at the least, it does not fail unless he grows angry.

He is often angry.

He is a sorceror, a seeker of dark knowledge and awkward truths. With his magics, he commands the elements; he goes where he will at a whim; he summons undine and arachnoids and dread-inspiring spiders, and sets them to the tasks he imagines.

He delights in causing pain; he is a sadist. Causing pain in others, hearing their cries, soothes and calms him, as though he were listening attentively to a fine orchestra playing a masterful symphony.

He views with alarm the growing strength and success of exiles in their hostile environs. The Court of the Emperor has miscalculated. The exiles thrive; they consistently defeat the worst threats thrown against them. If unchecked, where will this lead? Who can say what mysteries they will plumb, what powers they will gain? Might they, in the fullness of time, become a threat even to one as old and as powerful as he?

The focus of his attention is upon events surrounding arachnoids. Half- beast, half-humanoid, this hybrid race, hidden deep in caverns, represents an investment to Zonk. In the fullness of time, they will erupt from their caverns, wielding frightful weapons, and deliver to him great power, even as once did Mobius‚ legions of mechanoid sentinals. No doubt the fearsome power of the sentinals keeps this furtive plan locked deep in the bowels of the earth, for now; but one day, Zonk expects to know how to defeat the sentinals, and on that day, he will rouse the arachnoids from their furtive caverns, and take what is rightfully his.

But the time is not yet ripe for these events. And, impossible to think of it, exiles are _hunting_ arachnoids, slaying them by hundreds upon hundreds, and the experience gained thereby is strengthening exiles at an unheard-of pace.

This cannot be allowed. He takes it upon himself to scour clean the islands on which exiles have been abandoned. He will complete what that foolish Emperor has only begun, and left unfinished: extermination of exiles for all time.

He must be discreet. There are greater powers than he watching these events. Gaia, in particular, is a source of his concern and his fear. He despises these powers, knowing them to be weak-willed and inferior in all respects, save one: he is not yet ready to challenge them and cast them down. He needs time to gather to himself the powers he will need to destroy them.

Hence he must intervene... but he must do so delicately. Always with an eye to escape, should the attention of Gaia or others of her ilk be attracted. He must keep his interventions brief, no more than an hour or three. He must be elusive as the arctic fox on the glacier; seldom seen until the moment it bursts upon its prey.

It would be best if he could simply intimidate the exiles into leaving the arachnoids alone. This would accomplish two things: it would fatally slow the progression of the exiles towards mastery of their islands; and it would permit uninterrupted breeding of arachnoids towards the day when they may serve as his tools, and deliver him unchallenged power.

First, to increase the dangers to these puny exiles, he summons arachnoids in places where they do not normally spawn, but still within the caverns. This minimum intervention should not be seen as a challenge to Gaia or the other despised powers of the land; the exiles, after all, are trespassing. He flanks the exiles, cutting off retreat. He walks among their fallen bodies, reasonably pointing out to them that they cannot hope to win, that this is too dangerous an undertaking. He speaks patiently, almost kindly, to the fallen exiles, as though dealing with not-too-bright children, to whom he must impart a difficult lesson. He causes many to depart, which slows their advancement nicely. But it is not enough.

Exiles, fighters and healers, and now, surprisingly, mystic apprentices, flock to the scene of carnage, and slay the arachnoids he has placed there, and heal the dead. They resume hunting as if nothing had happened.

A quirk? He repeats the experiment, again and again, with the same result.

He observes the exiles carefully. He notes that the fighters are sore pressed by arachnoids in battle; if they are left without healing, they must needs flee or fall. The healers themselves are weak, pathetic creatures, easily slain; surely they should prove to be easy to intimidate.

He selects one of the healers who is often seen aiding fighters at arachnoids. He is a Thoom, as many exiled healers are. He has won several healing contests, and is perhaps influential; therefore his intimidation might serve to strike fear deep in the hearts of the other healers. Zonk formulates his plan, and executes it.

He stages another of what has become routine ambushes of exiles by arachnoids. In the confusion, he grasps this Thoom with his magics and whisks him away. He is proud of his collection of flaying knives, and resolves to acquaint this Thoom with each of them, in grisly detail.

Exiles swarm the lands, searching for their lost Thoom healer, to no avail. His powers keep him ahead of the search. He tortures the Thoom at his leisure, interspersing agonies of the flesh with lessons for the mind: leave the arachnoids, they are not for the likes of you.

The Thoom, though weak in the flesh, bears these tortures stoicly. He seems immune to his persuasions. And then the thrice-cursed Gaia appears! Why? He has kept a low profile, surely the fate of one pathetic Thoom healer has no interest for the likes of her! He is forced to flee.

He watches subsequent events with trepidation. It soon becomes apparent that he has failed. The Thoom healer returns to arachnoids to heal fighters there as if nothing had happened. Not a single exile has been swayed to leave his arachnoids alone.

He feels a rage building in himself. He has been thwarted; they defy him He could not have believed that he would find himself feeling anything but distaste towards any exile, as he might feel distaste towards a loathesome slug which has crawled from beneath a rock trailing noxious slime. But now he feels something stirring within his breast that is alien to his calm, carefully calculated plans of future conquest.

It is hate.

It clouds his mind, clogs his clarity of thought. He can only think of this: he has the powers he needs to punish this Thoom healer. Pain was insufficient to the task. He must hurt the Thoom, deprive him in a way that strikes to his very soul, and serves as a caution to others who would defy Zonk.

There is an answer. The Thoom cares most in life about healing exiles in need. He will deprive the healer of the only thing that matters to him.

The curse could be done in a matter of moments. He could craft it and fling it across space to utterly block the moonstone of the hated Thoom. The only drawback is that it will take a considerable portion of his powers to inmpose and maintain it. But he calculates that sufficient power will remain to keep him safe from Gaia, and still permit some modest interventions on behalf of his arachnoids.

Intimidation would be better, perhaps; the threat alone might deter the hated Thoom, and achieve what he desires without costing him power. He resolves to intimidate, first.

He finds the Thoom at a crude temple to Gaia that has been erected in the stinking, puddle-infested mud town of Puddleby. He takes pleasure in trampling ground consecrated to Gaia, knowing he can escape long before she is able to respond; she is even older than he is, and unlike himself, her wits are dulled by her extreme age. He demands of the Thoom, and those with him: obey me, or terrible things shall befall you!

The Thoom is unswayed. He dares Zonk to do his worst.

So be it. Zonk releases the curse; it strikes the Thoom‚s moonstone in mid-heal, and renders it impotent.

The Thoom is devasted, Zonk notes with malice. Deprived of healing, he is nothing, less than nothing. The Thoom now dons a tan robe, not the white of healers, and he haunts the land like an impotent ghost. He notes with interest that, although some exiles express solidarity and even go so far as to adopt tan clothing themselves, at the urging of another weakling healer named Healery, few share with him; Argh can gain little in the way of ranks, and no training he can seek will alter his weakness. Zonk is pleased by this.

He is less pleased by the other reactions of the community of exiles. Not only do they continue hunting his arachnoids, they actually step up the pace of those hunts! And screech defiance of Zonk to each other through their sunstones!

Other healers, ignored by Zonk before this, step forward to fill the vacuum left by the Thoom. Though individually not able to heal quite so quickly as the Thoom had been, there are many of them, and they gain ranks and improve their speed as time passes. Zonk does not have enough power to spare on more curses; just one curse drains him. Zonk tries ambushes again, with no more success than before. The exiles continue to defy him, and thrive.

How can this be? Can it be that the Thoom healer, though the winner of contests, has no influence among the exiles? Do they, too, perceive him as weak and impotent, of no consequence? Why do they not fear the fate that has befallen him? Can they guess that Zonk cannot, dare not, curse more of them?

He dithers. Time passes. His breeding plans are set back, and set back again.

The twisted trees of the Tangle Wood swarm with myriad creatures. Birds twitter from stunted limbs. A feral circles, sniffing the air, detects only the unpleasant scent of orgas, and moves on. Vermines dart among the roots, hungry for prey - and they are not fussy about what they will hunt.

It is here that an unusual encounter occurs. We may not know its details, for a curtain of mystery surrounds it. But we do know that it involves a mystic, Starfury, and a unicorn: Moonshimmer.

Unicorns cannot talk, it is well known. They may stamp their hooves, toss their heads, snort, and hence indicate „yesš or „no.š But it is indisputable that they are highly intelligent. And they may sometimes answer a mortal‚s question, if it is put to them respectfully, in a manner in which it may be answered.

In some fashion, using means unknown, the mystic Starfury puts her question to Moonshimmer. And is answered.

Zonk resolves to appear once more to this pathetic, ruined Thoom. He must know why the exiles have not been swayed.

He finds the weakling Thoom in east forest. Argh holds his useless moonstone in his hand, looking lost and alone. It has been long, and long, since he could use it. Zonk smiles to himself. Approaches.

The Thoom looks up. Smiles (smiles!) in return. Holds up his moonstone. Pain flares!

Zonk is shocked, nearly paralized. It has been millenia since he has felt such sensations! Agony! He tries to escape, but his powers fail. He can run... physical exertion, after all the years and centuries! But the hated Thoom pursues.

He falls. Helpless at the feet of the hated Thoom.

He will have to \depart. He cannot remember the last time he did so. It is not to be borne! He curses, promises retribution. And \departs in a fury.

His powers return to him in Purgatory. He rages. The Thoom has not moved... other exiles have joined him. Good. He will use them as shields, and destroy the Thoom. He‚ll destroy the others, too; he must needs inflict pain to sooth his own spirit.

He appears to them. His powers fade. This cannot be! He runs, but the exiles block his escape. He \pulls desperately to escape the awful moonstone Argh holds against him. The exiles shift, permit Argh to harm him. He falls.

His rage leaves him incoherent. He \departs, and returns to crush the impudent weaklings.

This time he lurks invisible, from a distance, and throws lightning to smite the Thoom. But his powers are so weak, this close to the cursed moonstone. They do little damage. He attempts to summon dark creatures, black widows, to fight for him, but the gateways refuse to open. Impotent hate fills his soul; he is driven by his need to hurt, to kill. He appears among them to wreak havoc.

His powers fail. He falls yet again.

Helpless, it finally occurs to him what must already be known to the weakling Thoom. The power of the curse itself, malevolent magic, has been turned against him.

The Thoom is demanding that the curse be lifted. Zonk finds it easy to agree - promising himself that he will find another, far worse fate for the Thoom and his puny allies.

Though fallen, though he cannot summon fresh powers to himself, his is an ancient lore of arcane secrets. He knows the way to command the curse to dispel.

It is done.

He \departs, he thinks, for the last time. His rage is boundless; he has been humiliated.

He plots an ambush. Now the Thoom can hold no power over him, he is certain. He watches, cautiously, as the Thoom and his friends make their way through the forest towards Puddleby. He awaits them in the East Field.

He strikes swiftly, brutally, with lightning. But his bolts are weak, as weak as before! And now the exiles search for him. He cannot use his powers to escape! He runs, is cornered. And here is Argh once again: and the pain flares! But the curse is lifted, this is impossible! Zonk twists in agony, and falls. Again.

Self-preservation overrides his fury. He \departs, and vanishes into the forests and the caverns, far from the hated Thoom; he tries to imagine what has caused this humiliation, and he thinks dark thoughts of vengeance.

Is this an accurate account of a cursed moonstone, and its lifting?

I freely confess that it is not. First, there are omissions; some of you may know of events connected with this tale that I do not, or have seen fit not to address. Second, there are speculations; for I cannot truly know what is in the mind and heart of other beings, most particularly Zonk's. And third, there are obfuscations, for I would protect the secrets of those whose secrets should be protected. Together, the omissions, speculations, and obfuscations cry out: Fraud! Untrue! Deception!

And yet, let it be said, this tale is surely as true as any other that might be told of these events, and more true than most.

It is this paradox which is my gift to the readers of Puddleby: that the truth should come to you thus, in the guise of a lie.

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Page last modified on March 12, 2009, at 10:35 AM