Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a wonderful piece from Baron Drocis Fondorlatos, entitled
The Baron’s Story
I, Sir Jeffrey of Resolute, being of sound mind and able body bequeath all my worldly possessions including lands, titles, and all that which is customary to Drocis the Devious.
That is how the letter began. I was given a fortune in fictional medieval nonsense by a mentally ill Don Quixote-like stranger that I’d once played Dungeons and Dragons with over twenty years ago. I had apparently made an impression, or at least my character had.
I’d developed a persona of an evil mage known as Drocis the Devious. A villain who earned his name after making several strategic and indirect manipulations of the other player characters to achieve his own goals. He was a fun character to play because even though the other players knew never to trust him, he still always came out ahead in the end. A fact that infuriated most everyone that came into contact with him.
The letter listed out hundreds of items, many of them were very mundane sounding (artisan fishing pole) while others sounded cryptic and weird. I was now the proud owner of a tax free keep deed, over 900 bank slots, and 90 obsidian crowns? Oh, and something called a noble’s magical discourse orb. I expected there might be a 1970’s era disco ball arriving in a follow-up package to complete the joke sometime in the near future.
Then I noticed at the bottom of the envelope was a small dagger that looked like a letter opener. I removed the dagger and realized that the hilt could be detached to reveal a USB stick. Ok I thought, now we’re getting somewhere. It must be a new game.
A Malwarebytes scan said it was clean, so I popped it in to my computer to find out what was on it. It wasn’t a game; it was a bunch of PDF files. Random items that didn’t seem to have anything to do with one another. How to prepare Regicide Stovie? Sumerian Astrology? The Lost Manuscripts of the Obsidian Eye? More nonsense, this guy really lost it. There was no contact information or instructions, just a folder full of this junk.
I continued to open the files to see if I could find a clue. I can’t really explain what happened next.
As I acclimated myself to a new world, I noticed the changes incrementally. The lack of necessities that I once took for granted but could never forget, eating and sleeping were no longer required and almost seemed impractical. The effects of weather no longer caused me to seek shelter and I had lost the ability to feel physical pain. My strength and reflexes had increased along with my overall health. Gone were the aches and soreness associated with aging. I had become something other than human. I had become an Avatar.
I was sustained by the world, free to explore where I wished or reflect on my thoughts for as long as I needed. It was so relaxing I quickly lost all desire to return to the world in which I had lived for the last 41 years.
Time moved much faster than I was accustomed to, as day became night and night returned to day with suspicious regularly. Sometimes I would catch myself waiting for the cycle to reset as if someone were manually pulling up the sun and lowering the moon using a series of complicated ropes and pulleys.
I was alone but for a few other inhabitants that either shared my perspective or appeared incapable of sharing it. There were the others, Avatars much like me. Travelers from different worlds, though I had not met anyone that had not come from Earth.
There were also the locals, native to New Britannia, static husks compared to Avatars. They spoke, they walked, sometimes they even fought, but they were not like us. They moved and reacted slowly or often not at all. Calling them zombies would be too kind, they were not that sophisticated. The Novian Peoples Collectives, or NPC’s as I would later call them, were born of the same mind. They travelled a path devoid of free will, and they were unaware if not incapable of seeing it.
This was the land I found myself in, New Britannia, home to medieval looking villages, towns, and cities. With a seemingly endless background of myth, legend, and adventure. I had been transported to the central isle of New Britannia called Novia, and it was here that I learned of magic, as well as the three principles of truth, love, and courage. But most importantly, I learned that Avatars are immortal.
I watched in horror as the pack of wolves devoured my lifeless flesh. I had been caught up in my own hubris and paid the price for thinking I could beat them all. Incorporeal form and hovering above the feast, I wondered what would happen next? I had never before stopped to consider what Avatar death would entail. Perhaps it was similar to death on Earth for which I had no experience.
One of the wolves howled in delight as another ripped one of my arms from its socket, a sobering reminder that not feeling the pain was not complete protection from the byproducts. My Avatar superiority was lacking in that department.
Still hovering out of body, I began to look beyond the gruesome scene in front of me and towards a shining light. In the distance I could see what appeared to be an ankh at the top of a small hill. As I wished to move towards it I was surprised to see that I was also beginning to move in that direction. Around trees and over rocks I eventually came face to face with this mysterious structure and then suddenly I was back. Beyond the veil of death and inside my old body as if nothing had happened.
I tested my arm, the one I saw the wolf pull off in a frenzy. It showed no signs of abuse and felt as natural as before. I was alive and standing on the same hill where I’d seen the ankh, but it was now replaced by air and in the distance I could hear the wolves growl as if they were hunting once more. Closer and closer the sound grew and without confidence I imagined the same fate befalling me as before. I ran and did not look back until I could no longer hear the sounds of the pack.
In the coming days and months, I would speak with other Avatars and learn that they too had similar experiences. One even told me that he had died over 1000 times, and in fact during that conversation took it upon himself to perform a jump out of a 4th story window, only to reappear moments later. He was quite proud of himself and insisted on showing me the remains of his corpse in the form of a transparent image of a skeleton on the ground below.
Despite seeing this, it was still unnerving to assume that death was so meaningless here. After all it was the fear of death that motivated humans to perform basic tasks leading to their day to day survival. Without that fear, what were we? What was left to be cautious of? I did not have an answer.
On Earth I would sometimes take comfort in looking up at the sky and seeing a star that might have also been viewed by Plato, Socrates or Aristotle. A connection through time with the first men and each generation after that who pondered the same questions. Like the ancient philosophers of Earth, I began to ask: Why are we here? What purpose does this serve? What is the meaning of our existence?
However, the New Britannian stars were not those of Earth and I felt unattached from my humanity. I was immortal, and I had nothing to fear from death, which was as inhuman as one could become. With this knowledge, I began to consider what it meant to be an Avatar.
It was clear from the moment I stepped on to the Isle of Storms that I was being tested. It was my destiny, Arabella said. Now answer these questions so that you can begin your predestined path.
Edvard was next, and seemed to delight in pointing me towards the path of truth. All the while the watchers observed my choices as the NPCs appeared on cue, recited their lines, and positioned themselves on the Novian stage.
Again I would speak to other Avatars and learn that they too had similar experiences. That we were all destined on the same path, and we were all the chosen one foretold by the Dirae Prophecy:
It shall come to pass in the long days after the fall.
There shall come one from beyond the circles of the sundered moon who shall bind the world together.
From its shattered stone and bone seas.
They shall bind together all that fly above the land.
Burrow beneath it.
And walk with purposed tread upon its surface.
In that day shall all be brought to bow.
Before the power of the one.
The world shall be swept clean of its folly.
And cleansed of its impurity.
Before the chosen one.
And the triumph of the hope.
In the darkness shall be complete.
It is this prophecy that becomes the narrative of all Avatars that commune with the Oracle. My first meeting was in Aerie. And it was here that I learned why the watchers watch, and who they watch for. A machine, a calculator, a box of wires and cables preprogramed to deliver a verdict that has only one outcome – the creation of subservient sheep.
I would follow this path of truth, and then on to the path of love and courage. The Oracle’s lies leading the way, herding me to an outcome that prejudged the results.
The Dirae in Roman mythology were demon goddesses of vengeance, also called furies, and a haphazard translation of the Dirae prophecy might lead one to believe that the chosen one was actually being guided by the Oracle to release the three furies of Cowardice, Hatred, and Falsehood on the Air and Earth of New Britannia. At least that is how I interpreted the riddle after being skeptical of a machine giving me self-help advice.
I would not allow myself to be judged in this way. If there was a fate to be made, I would make it myself. If there were lies to be told, I would tell them myself. I was not in need of the Oracles services to achieve these ends.
I had not chased after my inheritance when first arriving in New Britannia. I was too distracted and had initially forgotten about the letter entirely. But as I began to devise a plan to break free from the Oracle, I quickly remembered the assets bestowed by my strange benefactor from Resolute.
It turns out that Sir Jeffrey had a great deal of lands, titles, and all that which is customary. It was as if I had won the nerd-boy lottery. There were all kinds of weapons and armor. A crystal sword, a crossbow, a variety of tight fitting leather armor that looked more like track suits than protective gear. I tried on a few but nothing seemed to fit right so I made a mental note to find a tailor. Sir Jeffrey was also apparently very fond of hats.
I took the title of Baron not knowing or caring what it actually meant. It seemed to convey nobility without requiring leadership or responsibility, while also acting as an indication of great wealth. Could there be a more perfect title? If there was, Sir Jeffery didn’t have claim to it.
With my title selected, I had to decide on a name. Baron Drocis the Devious seemed a little too direct. Similar, I suspect if one were to call their evil plot to conquer the world something like the Goddess of Vengeance Prophecy, or the Furies of Hell Prophecy. As an alternative I chose the last name, Fondorlatos which was the Hungarian word for devious. Thus, Baron Drocis Fondorlatos was born in New Britannia.
Make no mistake, this was still me. It was just a me that reacted to his new environment and immortal abilities. Was it wrong to take a life in a world where no one dies or suffers long term loss? Would the virtues of truth, love, and courage map back to the matching constructs of Earth? I found it difficult to believe that they would.
There was also the matter of attending a memorial service for the old Knight in Brittany cemetery. It was attended only by myself as a condition of the will. Though I did feel a sense of obligation to pay respect to the old fool, after all he had made me rich, powerful, and undying.
I had asked the banker in Resolute for information on how Sir Jeffrey died. Seeing that both the NPC’s and the Avatars were immortal, I couldn’t figure it out. The banker had no more of an answer to my questions than any other NPC I had talked to.
It was later explained to me by another Avatar that Brittany cemetery was home to those who died in the “old world”. Presumably that meant prior to the cataclysm which occurred after the two moons collided. Unfortunately, there are not many records or reliable histories of that time. Still I suppose that was a step towards defining when the ability to avoid death first began.
I would use this fact as my primary lead towards researching the origins of Avatar power, and eventually this led me to seek out the ancient history of the Obsidians, a fallen empire built on dark sorcery.
I call it the veil of the dead. A fog that removes the natural fear of death from Avatars as it clouds their minds and corrupts their hearts. It is known by others as the Protection of the Oracle, which prevents Avatars from attacking one another. The need for this protection is unknown since we are immortal, but many avatars seem to prefer the ability to hide behind the Oracle’s gift as opposed to being subjected to the inconvenience of justice and accountability. Or maybe they just prefer being told what to do and where to do it. Regardless, we are divided between this world and our own, distributed across New Britannia on the Oracle’s network of deceit.
To counter this, I searched Novia for areas where the Oracle had no presence. I found many places that had remained unconnected and removed from her mainline. There were a number of ruins but most interesting to me were the Shardfalls.
The Shardfalls were the remains of a catastrophic event that left three massive craters in Novia some 400 years ago. To the far west sat Verdantis Shardfall, a swampy island filled with the corruption and power of obsidian shards. It was on to the east of the Shardfall that I would found a new city that would be known as Rats Nest.
Here the Oracle would have no power, and its protection would be refused. We that lived there would pay no tribute to her and she would have no influence on us. We would be free, separated from the oppressed fools that followed her advice and adopted her counsel. Exempt from the Dirae Prophecy we would live to answer our own questions and to create our own meaning.
This should not be confused with the religion of Chaos. An incoherent practice in always being right even when you’re rarely within shouting distance of correct thinking. Chaos is by definition disorder and confusion.
To be free to choose does not mean you have not made a choice. It simply means that your choice was your own. To be unethical is a choice. To be immoral is a choice. To be evil is a choice that all Avatars make or do not make. To be self-reliant, like all these choices, is not anymore chaotic than it is orderly.
The purpose of Rats Nest is not to be chaotic or even to celebrate free will, the purpose is to maintain freedom of choice without being judged for the choices that are made.
The guard towers were built first. With the protection of the Oracle revoked, there would be an immediate need for self-sustaining security. I’d used my inheritance from the good Sir Jeffrey to contract out a full platoon of NPC guards. They were relatively cheap at the time considering there were so few places in Novia that Avatars could openly attack one another. I remember the guard captain telling me that he’d never been paid so well. I’m not sure if he’d ever been paid at all.
The city was so large however, the guards were unable to patrol it in full. To remedy this, a single path between the main entrance to the bank was designated as “Vendors Row”. The guards were instructed to focus on this area as a way to promote trade and provide minimum stability to the city’s residents.
Next came the walls, which were important to the long term success of the town. Most people didn’t understand that, it wasn’t so much that the walls kept people out, although they certainly did a good job of that too. It was that the walls needed to keep people from out flanking the buildings of the town which provided a maze like effect.
I had decided that Rats Nest needed to become a place where a single Avatar could escape through the streets, or hide around corners to avoid larger groups that would almost certainly form into gangs or guilds or whatever they wanted to call themselves. The world had a history of people joining up with one another for safety, but it also seemed to promote behavior that encouraged Avatars to attack or harass anything that wasn’t in their group. I didn’t want that; I didn’t want individual Avatars to break away from the Oracle only to have a new tyrant to swear fealty to in Rats Nest.
In an attempt to avoid that I created a maze of buildings that combined with the natural fog of the region, helped prevent ranged weapons from being as effective, and allowed the true residents of the town to have a noticeable advantage over anyone foolish enough to enter the briar patch.
I decreed but two laws. The first was that I was never to be attacked by an Avatar that lived in Rats Nest. This was to provide me with the ability to manage the town without unneeded distraction. The second law was that all residents would pay me a modest tax for the privilege of living in the town. In return, I would offer residents a reasonably safe place to buy and sell goods (vendors row), and a viable life away from the judgement of the Oracle. The remaining actions taken by the residents of Rats Nest did not concern me.
Lastly I commissioned a tower for myself to be constructed in the old architecture of the Obsidians. From this vantage point I could monitor the town, and see Avatars as they approached my property. With the town fully constructed, and the Oracle in stalemate, my intent was to study the history and the art of magic in New Britannia, unobstructed and in relative peace. So that someday I might answer the questions, why are we here? What is the meaning of our existence?
Now when I look out into the sky I ponder if I will bring comfort to some future philosopher that feels connected to the first men of Rats Nest.