The Vessel of Damnation
It’s evening, and most of the students of VASA are enjoying one of the few parts of the day when they are truly free to relax. Most are passing the time in the apprentices lounge, though some are not so inclined to such idleness. Valleen Waycrest and Arthur Hyperion are using the time to begin the long process of preparation and study that will be required before they undertake their final exams. For an apprentice of VASA, the final exam is the mage test that will allow them to graduate from the academy and become Entered Apprentices at one of Volanthia’s many colleges of Magic.
Others, such as Farranak Firefist, Hadrian the Common, and Shariekk of the Zilfari, had already gone to the beds for the night, exhausted from the physical exertions of their particular branch of studies. But for those remaining, spread as they are across the various apprentices lounges, the evening takes an interesting turn when a strange arcane apparition appears to each individual student and silently beckons anyone that sees it to follow.
Of those that follow the apparition, seemingly compelled to do so against all logic, they are lead through an impossible maze of shifting tunnels and hallways deep beneath VASA until, one after another, they all find themselves standing before a substantial and clearly magical vault door. Though the hallway only leads in two directions, the students gathered at the doorway could all swear they arrived here independently of one another. For Dwahain, Woggugat, Marimas, Rae’thu, Idril, and Merek, the only common element is that they all claim to have been lead here by the same mysterious apparition.
Even as they stand there discussing what could possibly be transpiring, the strange apparition walks through the vault door as if it was not even there. In response, the door hums with arcane energy as tumblers roll and bolts slide. A moment later the vault door stands wide open. Some, such as the kind hearted but impulsive Dwarven Runeweaver Dwahain, brazenly stride in after the apparition. Others, such as the contemplative and brooding Halfing Mage Marimas, are overcome with curiosity. Each of the other students seem to simply be compelled to follow or just long for the company of their fellow students at a time such as this.
Once inside, the vault lights up with soft violet light, emanating from beautifully carved runes high in the walls overhead. In the arcane glow of the vault, it is plain to see that there is no sign whatsoever of the apparition that lead them here. But by now, the students are far more distracted by the row upon row of chests lining the walls, seven of which begin to silently slide out from their place. Sprouting magical wings as they pull free, the blank nameplates on each light up with the names of each of the students, slowing floating over to one end of the long vault or the other.
Recognizing these strange winged chests as the storage units where their personal belongings were stowed upon entry into VASA, the students eagerly chase after their chests. Without a second thought, the students split up, Idril, Dwahain, and Marimas finding themselves drawn to Western end of the vault, while Woggugat, Rae’thu, and Merek are drawn to the Eastern end. Reunited with their belongings, they find strange comfort in the distraction of the familiar items.
So distracted are they that those in the Eastern wing of the vault fail at first to notice the extra chest lying next to theirs. However, once they have retrieved their own belongings, they decide they might as well open up the unmarked chest. Inside they find a single item, a canopic jar etched in a strange mixture of arcane and demonic runes and bearing a grotesque visage upon its sealed lid. To their surprise, the jar speaks to them in a soft and pleasant whisper.
“Why don’t you open me?” it says. “Aren’t you curious what’s inside?”
While Merek immediately recognizes the folly of following the advice of a mysterious sibilant voice speaking to them from a magical demonic jar, his resolve falters and he attempts to open it before anyone can stop him. At his touch, the grotesque mouth opens, stretching to unfathomable proportions. From the untold depths of the jar, a figure is suddenly spat out, tumbling along the floor. The stranger wastes no time in shouting a warning to the students. However, his voice is rasping and strained, as though he has not spoken for many years.
“Quickly, close it before they get out! There are horrors within that vessel that must never be released!”
Rae’thu slams the lid back down, but before the grotesque mouth closes once more, five skeletal figures are also spat forth. The first figure to emerge, the one who gave warning, looks upon the others in dismay: an expression of recognition and sorrow crossing his fine Elven features. Without another word he draws a weapon to defend himself. Rae’thu and the others wisely do the same.
From across the vault the other students feel the hair on the back of their necks stand up. A wild shriek from Woggugat causes them to turn just in time to see the skeletal figures belched forth from the shrinking mouth of the jar. They attempt to rush to the aid of their fellow students, but two Arcane Vault Sentinels, each no larger than the Halfling Marimas, stride into the center of their room from their previously unseen posts beside the vault door. One stretches out its animated ceramic arm to project a shimmering wall of magic, while the other takes up a defensive stance behind it, seemingly prepared to deal with whatever threat breaks through.
“Hostile presence detected in the vault…” it drones. “Headmaster notified… containment protocols activated…”
Unable to see past the wall of Arcane energy, Dwahain, Marimas, and Idril can only hear the sounds of battle erupt along with the frantic cries of their classmates. Always prepared to act first and think second, particularly with his fists, Dwahain slams his fist into the ceramic head of the Vault Sentinel, crushing it into a fine powder. Realizing a new threat which could prevent their containment protocol, the Sentinels immediately engage the students in battle, all the while attempting to keep the undead creatures sealed away on the far side of the vault.
Battles rage on both sides of the magical containment wall. By the time Dwahain and the others overpower the Sentinels and drop the wall, the other students have narrowly defeated the undead threat. There is little time to process what has just transpired, though at the very least, they learn the name of the strange young Elf that was trapped in the mysterious jar. He refers to himself by a simple and decidedly non-elvish name: Dindle.
Even as they attempt to pry more information from him, which he seems either reluctant or unable to share, Merek once again hears a voice.
“Come now friend, we’ve only just begun. Open me and I will show you such wonders.”
Merek is inexplicably drawn to the canopic jar and is about to lay his hand on it once more when there is a bright flash of Arcane magic that sends the jar flying across the room. It hits the wall with a dull thud, but does not break.
“Students! Back away from the Vessel of Damnation at once,” the stern voice of Headmaster Octavia Grant calls out from the doorway, “You have no idea the dangers you could unleash upon us all!”
She demands an immediate explanation for their presence here, for she claims that the magic safeguarding this vault should have made it impossible for them to enter, let alone find. They explain how they were led here by an apparition, which causes the Headmaster a great deal of consternation. She scolds them for their foolishness in following such an obvious bit of mischief, and says that they have all received another strike in their permanent record. That puts Dwahain, Marimas, and Merek one false step away from being expelled from VASA, and exiled from Volanthia.
Merek tries to excuse their behavior, pinning the blame on the instructors at VASA for not knowing that a strange apparition was leading their students astray. This causes her anger to boil over.
“I will remind you Apprentice Merek,” she rages, her words dripping with derision, “outside the walls of Volanthia, you are little more than the abandoned son of your orc-loving fugitive father. You would do well to remember your place, lest you find yourself at the mercy of the common folk of Tolgatha.”
Her anger cresting, she turns her attention towards the previously unknown mage called Dindle, demanding to know how he became trapped within the Vessel of Damnation, and what he knows about it. He claims to know very little, and wonders where exactly he is. He claims his memories from before emerging from the vessel seem distant and unrecognizable. The Headmaster notes that the Vessel of Damnation predates the founding of Volanthia and has little to offer Dindle in way of explanation, but avoids any questions regarding how VASA came to possess it. She changes the subject by offering to hear Dindle out and even perhaps granting him enrollment into VASA.
For as she says, “Volanthia does not turn away its own kind without due process.”
The more clever among the students note that Dindle does not seem to possess an apprentices pendant, and yet has not been teleported away. They begin to question if the pendants are just a trick to keep young spell casters in line. The Headmaster quickly stamps out their speculations, claiming that it is simply due to the powerful wards placed in this vault that the city-wide field of teleportation magic cannot reach them. After ordering the students to place their personal belongings back in the winged chests, and as if to prove her point, the Headmaster orders everyone out of the room. The moment Dindle crosses the threshold he finds himself in a holding cell in the Volanthian customs office with a spell blade pointed at his throat.
Back at VASA, the Headmaster warns each of the students that if they wish to remain students here, they will exclude Dindle’s release from the Vessel of Damnation from any retelling of their ordeal in the vaults. It seems she wishes to hide only this small part of the truth, and most assume that they will never see Dindle again.
However, several days later and much to the students’ surprise, a cheerful Dindle walks into their morning “Origins of Magic” lecture with Grand Magus Allerion the Violet. To the class, he is simply introduced as a new Apprentice, freshly arriving in Volanthia from the lands of the Solastaris High Elves. Most of the student body accepts the explanation without question.
Among those who know the truth, they wisely choose to heed the Headmasters warning, at least for now. But none feel the discomfort of this burden of secrets more than Rae’thu. Being from the Solastris Refuge himself, he knows better than any of them, Dindle is no true born Solastaris Elf.
So who is he really?