The fog of the events that unfolded days past eased further away, inching past the grasp of memory (see here: The Battle of Honor Shrine). The stranger in the grey robe threw Richard through a moongate and he found himself alone in this place. With the daemon Baerron Jael but a mere buzzing in the back of his skull, Richard found himself in control for the first time in a long time. Using his wobbily arms to assist, Richard stood on his bone-thin legs which threatened to splinter. His joints creaked and groaned with the movement, but he shuffled one foot in front of the other. This house was old and in disrepair. The plaster of the walls was thin and crumbling, revealing the stonework beneath. Black mold grew around the edges where water from many years of rain had slowly wormed in. Books with mildewed pages and a veneer of dust covered the floor and warped wooden table. He shakily climbed the stairs and explored the surroundings. Without realizing what he was doing, Richard found himself stumbling through an explosion of blue sparkles. The light blinded him. When his eyes could refocus, he found himself surrounded by fieldstone walls and some sort of rudimentary alchemist station. Cobwebs covered a large portion of the room. This place had not been used in a long time. Richard stumbled his way out of the small tower and noticed that in every direction he looked he saw large, thick hedges. The scent of demons was heavy in the air, the foul stench of sulphur and copper. Richard found another large building nearby. He shuffled through the rooms, leaving behind a thin trail of dark blood behind him. His horse was there, grazing in a fenced enclosure. How did the horse get there? Richard pondered a moment and continued sifting through the mold-covered items of this long-forgotten building. While stepping along the hillside near the entrance, Richard felt his ankle give out and the weight of his body snapped the joint. He stumbled and fell face first into the ground, only he didn't hit the ground. He found himself nose-first against a thick metal door. The stench of rotting flesh emanated from beyond the rust-covered door. The sound of slow dragging feet could be heard just beyond. Richard clawed his way back to his feet, using the rough stone of the walls as grips. His foot dangled helplessly, severed from the joint connecting it to the rest of his leg. Using the wall to aid him, Richard pushed open the metal door and hobbled inside. In the darkness, two yellow orbs peered at Richard. There was no hatred, malice, or ill-intent in them, but perhaps curiosity. From the shadows a tall, ragged figure came forth. His clothing fell from his tall figure, tattered, old, and grey. The creature's skin was cracked and dark, rotten and dry. It stank of decay and death. "It is not often I get visitors," the creature spoke, its lips cracked and broken. "Especially not a visitor from the Stygian Abyss." Richard didn't know what the creature was talking about. His memory faltered and he could scarcely remember more than a day or two previous and that was it. The daemon, Baerron Jael, was that who the creature addressed? "You speak to... the daemon?" Richard questioned the creature. Its lips curled into a grotesque smile. "Oh, no, I speak to you. I have been waiting for you for so long. Must have been since... Oh, who can count the years once they turn into decades and those turn into centuries?" "What do you mean?" asked Richard. "You couldn't have been waiting for me that long." The creature folded its knobby rotten fingers together and peered down at Richard like a stern parent. "You sent me here long, long ago..." the creature said. "Look at this, right here." It leaned down exposing the top of its head where straggly thin hair dangled from the rotten scalp. The creature pointed to a large gash in the top of its head. "This I got while waiting for you. Some crazy living guy came in here a few years back, or maybe it was a dozen... and I said hello and he just went crazy and buried a hatchet right into my head. If it were silver, I would be dead... well, not dead, but... you know." the creature shrugged its shoulders. "I had to put up with a lot of crap waiting for you so show some gratitude, Rich." Richard looked at the creature more closely. Its face was sunken and its eyes were hollow save for the two pointed yellow orbs. "I still don't understand what you mean that I sent you. Who are you?" The creature rolled its orbs in its head. "That daemon made rat-food of your brain. Don't you remember anything from the Abyss?" The creature sat on a small thigh-high stone pillar. It crossed one knobby leg over the other. Richard attempted to recall memories that simply would not come to him. Somewhere deep in the recess of his mind hidden in a dense fog of obfuscation was his past, and no matter how hard he tried to reach into that fog and pull something tangible free, he could not. "You said," the creature said matter-of-factly, "when the great Stygian Abyss was sealed, you said to me 'Kyle, there will come a time in a few hundred years when this crazy wizard named Relvinian will go nuts with some magical hedges and I want you to wait for me there.' and I did." Richard was confused. "Why would I say that?" Richard asked. The creature grinned a little. "Ah Rich, I made that crap up. Look, I heard some crazy daemon guy was running around cutting people's limbs off, spewing black nonsense everywhere, and it got me remembering the days in the Stygian Abyss after we were trapped there and the colonists left. That wacky daemon that had an affinity to you... I just knew it was you running around with the daemon. So, you might look around here and ask yourself 'why is there a single lich in the hidden basement of a crazy mage's house surrounded by demons?' Well, the answer is simple, I knew you would eventually come here. The daemon has quite the panache for rituals and demonic symbolism and all that." the lich gestured to the arcane symbol on the floor. "But," Richard began, "what are you talking about, us in the Stygian Abyss? How do I know you?" His confusion settled on his brow. The lich gave an exasperated sigh, as if waiting years was a trifle but this conversation taxed its patience. "Rich, it's Kyle. Remember me? Kyle? We were Knights of the Crux Ansata? Ringing any bells in there? Hellooooo?" The lich tapped Richard's skull a few times. Richard swatted the lich's hand away. "I don't remember any of that. If it were true, how is my body still here? I can't recall... How long ago was the Abyss sealed?" The lich held up his hand and counted off on his fingers. "Uhhhhh... A few hundred years. Thankfully the mortals on this facet don't know where it is. Can you imagine the fresh hell that they would unleash should they find it? These mortals are not very bright. Really, they are not much better than that daemon you got inside your skull pan there." Kyle the lich flicked Richard on the forehead. "Look, hey," the lich continued, casually placing a hand over its cane. He stood up from the pillar he had seated himself upon. "I got lich stuff to do, ya know? I am gonna head back to Covetous, Biden is waiting for me and this circular conversation is going nowhere with your lack of memory. But before I go, I will help you to remember, with time." The lich stuck his hand into a filthy inner pocket in his tattered rags and produced a long, slithering worm. The lich then reached out to Richard's face to tilt it. Richard put his hands up to ward off the lich. The lich slapped Richard's hands away "Stop that." It scorned Richard. The lich pushed Richard's head aside and placed the worm against his ear. The worm wiggled and squirmed and began making its way through Richard's ear canal. Richard could feel the pressure of the worm inside his ear but felt no pain from it. "That little happy fella," the lich tapped the side of Richard's head, "will live inside your brain there for awhile. It'll help ya remember some things. I don't know how it works, magic probably." Richard felt the worm push through his rotten eardrum which caused a brief spike of pain. The lich grinned a mostly toothless grin. "Well, we will talk later on when you got your memories back. Try not to die until them. Well, I mean, die more... you know what I mean. Oh, the worm might also cause you to black out and force your body to go to places you have no idea where they are. See ya!" And with that, the lich vanished in a puff of magic vapor and smoke. He didn't know what to do next. Richard looked around at the empty chamber and there was nothing here for him. It was time to leave the Hedge Maze. Richard wandered the twisting labyrinthian passages of the Hedge Maze for hours, all the while he felt the worm burrowing further into his head. After a great deal of time, he found the way out of the maze. There was a house nearby that Richard went to in order to see if anybody was home. The house was derelict and in disrepair. It did not seem that anybody was there. Richard looked around at the woods. They were familiar. The Spiritwood was to the east. But, before Richard could determine a course of action, everything went black. A stab of bright light pierced his vision and Richard begrudgingly opened his filmy eyes. He was on a preposterously small island. A skeleton and a zombie were standing near a tree looking at him, as if waiting for him to give them a command. He had no recollection of how he got to this place or why he was there. The worm must have done this, Richard surmised. He was a Knight guard of the Knights of the Crux Ansata. The thought came to Richard unbidden, as if a random stone was thrown from within the fog that clouded his memories and struck him hard in the temple. The Knight Order was one of the greatest in the land... hundreds of years ago. It was to rival the Order of the Silver Serpent, even. But then the incident at the Abyss and the... the... Richard attempted to grasp at the memory just out of reach. He could not touch it, though. How did he go from guarding the Abyss colony to being co-dependant on a daemon several hundred years later? That was a huge gap of time that the worm had not yet reconstructed. Before Richard could ponder this further the world went black once more. It was as if he merely blinked and he found himself standing some place completely different. A large quantity of undead creatures stirred about him but paid him no attention. Richard was standing in front of a pair of wrought iron doors. It was a tomb. "Your tomb" a familiar voice crawled up his spine. "Go inside." It commanded. Richard obeyed. A coffin bearing the familiar symbol of the Avatar was pushed up against rough-hewn back wall. "Is that my body?" Richard asked aloud. The daemon chuckled. A flash of memory sprang to Richard. It was dark in the Stygian Abyss. When it was sealed, there was no supplies coming in. The torches, candles, and lanterns lasted for a short while, but soon everything was pitch black. The remnants of the food supply dwindled and people became desperate. He remembered that that was when he first encountered the daemon that would become known to him as Baerron Jael. The daemon was trapped in the Abyss just as Richard was, along with the rest of the Knights of the Crux Ansata, and Baerron Jael was far from alone. The tormenting lasted for days, weeks, months... it was impossible to tell time after a short while being in the pitch black. Richard remembered that once in a great while one of the daemons would cast a dull light so that the remaining Knights could see the corpses of their fallen brothers, see the teeth marks on their flesh and bones. Richard remembered what his teeth marks looked like. "This isn't my tomb." Richard said flatly. He remembered Kyle, Biden, and the others. In those grim last days when starvation was imminent, Richard remembered the sensation of a rock slamming into his temple. A daemon was cruel enough to cast light on Kyle's hungry face. "This isn't my tomb because I died so long ago and my body never left the Abyss." Richard said. That last memory was right before he died. Kyle and Biden must have suffered different fates to end up the way they did. "I have been dead for hundreds of years. I am nothing and I do not exist." Richard stated. Baerron Jael grinned a big red, malicious grin. But if that were true, then why was he still here? It was simple, Richard thought. The daemon needed a body. But why his? Richard could feel Baerron Jael's renewed strength. The chastisement from the master, who still lurked somewhere in the Stygian Abyss, and the defeat at the battle of Honor Shrine made the daemon more bent on his task. Baerron Jael emerged from his submission. It was time to break the remaining seals. ============================================================================================ ============================================================================================ The man stunk of the Spiritwood. He was perfect and his body parts would be useful. Baerron Jael chased the man down not just to harvest the body, but to send a message to that grey fool of Paws. There would be no defeating Baerron Jael. The seals that bind his master will fall.