Michael Curry – “Memoriae Mori”

The steady drip….drip….drip of droplets hitting water was the first thing Amaril noticed, the sound resonating throughout whatever room he was in. When he opened his eyes, he found himself in the middle of a sewer tunnel, staring up at the brickwork roof as his eyes adjusted to the stygian darkness. The smell of the sewer, a disgusting combination of bile and rot, was muted to him, which he took that as a blessing rather than a curse. Sitting up from the ditch, he turned his head to look about the sewer, taking in his surroundings. The tunnel stopped at the far end, opening up to what he assumed to be a river or canal, but what absorbed his attention was the slumped over form of another man, leaning against the wall next to him.

The man was an elf-like Amaril, given the shape of his ears, with raven locks down to his shoulders. He was wearing a breastplate made from some kind of scale, with a short scabbard at his side, though there was no blade present. As Amaril reached out a hand to touch the other man, to wake him up and demand answers or to inquire where they were, he noticed something strange: The man’s face was bruised and misshapen, as though it had been struck repeatedly by a blunt object. The man was dead, killed by some thug or robber.

Turning away from the dead man with a sigh, Amaril caught sight of his own reflection in a puddle: Sharp features, black hair going down his face to his chin, and a breastplate, with his entire figure surrounded by an odd ethereal sheen. When he thought of it, his reflection seemed very similar to the appearance of the dead man, uncannily so in fact. Going back to the dead man’s face, Amaril studied it again: The pointed ears like his, the similar hair, the scar across his throat as though they had barely survived a near-death experience in battle just…like him. In fact, every single feature on the dead man’s face was identical to his.

“It is almost like this man and I are the same person,” he said, trying to make sense of the situation. “But that would be impossible! That would have to be some kind of faulty magic, or perhap a trick! The only way for him to be exactly like myself, except dead, would be if…oh.” He trailed off, words dying on his lips. The realization of what that meant hit him in the pit of his stomach. If this man was exactly like him except for the fact that the man was dead, that had to mean that Amaril was also dead. Dead and somehow not able to pass on to the afterlife, trapped as some remnant of his former self for all eternity. It was a sobering thought.

“Oh,” he said, because it was the only thing he could say as the metallic taste of copper filled his mouth. He didn’t know how to vocalize the existential crisis he was having. How does one rationalize or explain that they were dead, and forced to life on in the mortal plane as some kind of perversion of their former self? What did he do to deserve such a punishment? He couldn’t recall anything he did that was particularly evil. In fact, he couldn’t recall anything particular at all.

It was as though his mind was clouded by a fog, the kind that never truly leaves, and concealing everything from sight. He could barely remember anything beyond his own name. He could find flashes of memories, a smiling woman, a hearty laugh, even a dragon’s roar, but nothing solid. He didn’t know why he was in the severs, where these sewers were, or anything! He couldn’t even remember his parents. Slowly, pinpricks of tears traitorously slipped from his eyelids.

“Why me!” He screamed into the nothingness of the sewer. “What did I do to deserve this?! Why don’t I remember!?” He wailed, to no response. Until he heard some voices carrying down from one of the ends of the tunnel. As he crept closer, he was able pick up two different people having a conversation.

“So, did you hear about that dwarf that got arrested?” Said a male voice, deep and gravelly. He could see one of the figures gesture to the other, as both were sitting on a side of a bridge crossing the river.

“No,” The other figure replied, this one with a female, young-sounding voice. “I was busy cleaning the barracks all day today, and just got off my shift. What happened?”

“Apparently this dwarf priest was arrested by the royal police. They say he was with that band of criminals that destroyed Linstrana, but he was the only one they caught.” The male explained, “So the captain wants us to keep an eye out for an elf with a short sword and scaled leather armor. Whoever brings them in gets a thousand gold pieces as a reward. That’s enough to let a man retire early, and buy a new necklace for his loving wife.”

“That is a lot of gold,” the woman replied. “But I mean, these people apparently destroyed an entire village in one night. I’m not sure I’d want to find one of them in a dark alley.”

“You’ve got that right. Rumor has it, the elf is the son of this elven noble, but he couldn’t learn magecraft like his father, and was shunned because of it. So one night, the son runs away without his parents realizing, and his father disowned him.” The older man explained to his partner.

The two figures, city guards, continued their conversation, but Amaril has stopped listening. The man had mentioned a short sword and leather armor. That was what his body was wearing when he died! Did that make him a criminal, some evil anarchist who destroyed towns for his own amusement? He didn’t think he was an evil person, but his memory had been unreliable as of late. Amaril needed answers, but he had no idea how to get them. So far his only ideas were to either find this imprisoned dwarf and ask for answers, or to wander the continent and hope something returned to him. And to be honest, he really didn’t want to try and meet this criminal who might’ve known him as a fellow criminal, so he decided to sneak out of the city at night, and try to find something in the world to jog his memory.

That night, Amaril exited the city under the cover of darkness. His escape, if you could call it that, was not difficult at all, due to his newfound ability to move through solid surfaces such as walls and gates. Now, he stood on a small hill, about half of a mile from the city’s outskirts. From here, he could see airships help afloat by large balloons and riverboats slowly cruising along the river, all leaving the city proper, headed to whatever destination they wished. To Amaril, it was oddly poetic, if that was the correct word. Like the ships, he was headed out of the city into the unknown. Perhaps he was being too sentimental, after all he was simply a dead man stuck on earth, who chose to wander instead of haunting people. Did that make him some kind of “good” ghost? From what little memories he had since waking up, Amaril didn’t know anything about ghosts besides the base concept, and certainly hadn’t encountered one, unless he counted himself.

“Well then,” Amaril said, his voice sounding oddly layered and echoing, “let’s find out the best direction to walk then. I suppose it is a benefit that I don’t seem to get tired, or fall through the ground similar to how I move through walls.” He looked around, observing the well-beaten path that led to and from the city, looking for some kind of sign, perhaps a divine light or phenomenon in the stars, to tell him where to go. But there was none; even the gods had forgotten Amaril it seemed. Perhaps he deserved it, in some sense. From what he saw of his…corpse, he didn’t carry a symbol of worship of any kind on his body, unless he worshipped a god who didn’t have a symbol. Maybe that was why he was stuck in between life and the afterlife, because he didn’t worship any god and therefore didn’t have an afterlife to go to. That was a chilling thought, stuck between life and death for eternity until he went mad or was killed again by some overzealous paladin looking to “destroy all evil, regardless of form,” and decided that a harmless ghost was clearly the biggest threat available.

“Time to switch topics,” Amaril said to himself, shuddering at the thought of dying again. Once was enough for him. “I suppose I’ll just follow the road then?” He said, questioning himself at the same time as choosing a direction to walk.

Amaril walked for hours, time seemed less noticeable to him now that he didn’t get tired. Eventually, the morning sun began to rise, and that was when he found his first setback. As he was walking in the early morning shade of a tall tree, he made the mistake of stopping directly into the light of the rising sun.

Immediately, he felt the most odd and most horrifying sensation he had ever felt before. The light seemed to burn his skin like he was being lit on fire while simultaneously being drowned in ice cold water. As he screamed, he could feel his entire being slipping away the longer he stood in the light,  words cursing the light spilling from his mouth in a multitude of languages. It was a terrible pain, feeling his soul being torn away from his body by this…purifying force. Retreating back into the shade of the trees, Amaril consulted his options. Unfortunately, they all came out to the same result: wait until nightfall and continue from then.

The recent development regarding his strong aversion to sunlight meant that Amaril could only travel at half the pace he wanted, at least until he found some way to hide from the sun. Perhaps he could get a large cloak or something to cover his body. Regardless, Amaril could do nothing but wait until sundown and then continue traveling, so he resigned himself to attempting to sleep, if it was even possible for him now. Leaning against the tree, he closed his eyes, thankful he couldn’t see through them like he could other parts of his body, and attempted to clear his mind.

He had a dream that night, or rather, a nightmare. He could remember seeing himself running through the sewers, heavily injured, fleeing from something. For some reason, in this dream he was clutching a handful of ashes desperately as he ran. Then, as he turned a corner, he ran into something, and was knocked to the ground. Looking up, he saw a huge mass of flesh, an ogre, leering down at him, before the brute brought its fists down toward his face. There was a sickening crunch, and everything went black. Then he woke up, gasping for air, holding his arms out to defend against a killer that wasn’t there. Amaril didn’t sleep much after that.

Amaril’s travel slowed, due to only being able to travel at night. He didn’t sleep anymore either, preferring to lay awake doing menial tasks such as counting starts for hours on end until the sun set. Eventually, after nearly one month of traveling along the road, he reached a place where the road passed by by a small wooden building with two stories, and a wooden sign reading “The Screaming Prince” held above the door.

For some reason, this location seemed familiar to Amaril, and he decided to investigate. Entering the building, the first thing he noticed was the innkeeper was a half-orc, dressed in an odd combination of a pointed triangular hat made from blue cloth and emblazoned with tiny yellow stars, and clothes made from leather and stained with multiple different substances.

The second thing that Amaril noticed was the presence of some kind of…animated box standing in the corner. The box was made of metal, and had two spindly arms and two thin legs, with a small pair of metal wings on its back, and a large unblinking eye in the middle of its body. The box stared at him, before making a very unnatural waving motion with its hand. Confused, Amaril walked up to the orc, and cleared his throat, prompting the orc to turn around.

“Welcome to the Screaming Price Bar and Grill, how can I help you-“ The orc began speaking, before he turned around and saw who Amaril was. “Ah, it’s you. How’d that treasure hunt go? Did you bring me back my share of the gold?”

“I’m sorry? Do you know who I am?” Amaril asked. “Because I don’t rememb-“

“Of course I remember who you are!” The man interrupted. “You’re that elf who I sold a treasure map in exchange for a share of the treasure. But you’re a ghost now, so I guess that didn’t work out for you, unfortunately. Excuse me, for a moment.” The orc rambled, before turning to the box. “Boxy! Bring me the tub of water for the dishes!”

“So you do know who I was, then,” Amaril asked, intrigued by this man, but confused as well. “Because I’m afraid that somehow I’ve lost my own memories. Perhaps you could help me?”

“Hm.” The orc seemed to consider something for a moment, before shrugging. “No.”

“Excuse me!? What do you mean no?!” Amaril yelled at the man. Clearly this man knew him, but why was he refusing to help him remember?

“I mean no, I can’t help you.” The half orc replied. “Mainly because I don’t know anything besides what I just told you. You stayed at my inn for one day, then ran off with your friends the dwarf and the other half-orc. Mentioned Linstrana too, if that means anything, but I can’t see why anyone would want to go there, especially after the blight hit.” The innkeeper shrugged, before beginning to wipe a dish clean.

“Linstrana?” Amaril perked up. “That sounds familiar, but I don’t remember why. Do you know where it is?”

“Yes actually, it’s near the southern coast, across the severed hills. Most don’t go there, town had a horrible blight nearly half a year ago. Do you need a map or something?” The half orc offered, before noticing what exactly he said. “Right, ghost. Nevermind.”

“It’s fine. I’ve had some time to come to terms with it.” Amaril sighed. “Thank you anyway, mr..?”

“Klaatu. Just Klaatu,” The cheery bartender replied. “Are you sure I can’t get you some magmin flambé before you go? What about some roadside-side salad?” He offered Amaril, trying to sell his food and goods, but Amaril had already rushed out the door into the moonlit night.

Walking to Linstrana took Amaril nearly a year, due to the pure distance from the middle of the continent’s west coast to the near-bottom of the landmass, and needing to seek cover from the harsh rays of the summer sun for a portion of every day. However, beyond the sun threatening to burn him out of existence, the weather didn’t bother Amaril at all. Apparently rain and cold didn’t bother ghosts, and neither did the violent winds of the mountains called the severed hills. But soon, Amaril approached Linstrana, and he was able to smell it before he saw it.

Only a few miles outside of the mountains, Amaril’s nose, however muted, caught scent of something terrible. While before in the sewers Amaril had faced the smell of waste and rot, this stench was that of death itself, and soon he discovered why. The entire town of Linstrana was a burnt and destroyed shell of itself, sitting in the middle of rotten fields of wheat, and a swamp that might have once been a forest.

As he walked through the ruined village, Amaril began to feel….hazy. It was almost like something was tugging on the back of his mind, but he couldn’t tell what it was exactly. The tug only became worse as he approached the center of the ruins, what used to be the town square, and soon it was a dull throb in the back of his non-physical skull. Suddenly the pain became too much to bear, Amaril’s vision grow darker, and he felt himself pass out.

When Amaril came to, he felt….different. He was heavier for some reason, and warmer. He was also hungry, which was odd, as he didn’t have a stomach anymore since he died. He opened his eyes, and came face to face with the upside-down top half a woman’s face.

With a cry of shock, Amaril tumbled backwards, off of whatever bed he had been laid down on, and slammed his head into the floor. Pain rocketed through his body, and he let out a soft groan of discontent before he realized what happened. He was able to feel pain again, and it was euphoric. His death and being a ghost must have been a terrible, terrible nightmare, and one he was happy to wake from.

Sitting up again, Amaril was met again with the strange woman. She was a young human woman, perhaps in her early twenties, clad in dark leathers and with two blades sheathed at her side. Despite her somewhat fearsome clothing and weapons, her face was as non threatening as could be, with her showing concern for him after he had bashed his head into the floorboards.

“Captain, are you alright?” The strange woman asked, her voice carrying a tone of youthful vigor in it, but also strict professionalism. “You hit your head pretty hard there.”

“I’m fine,” Amaril said without thinking, still shocked that he had a physical body again. “What happened?” He asked the woman.

“Well, you and Damachos went to find our new client, some dwarf named Garth, I think is how it’s pronounced,” She explained. “After discussing payment, you took him to the tavern to meet me and explain what exactly he hired us for.”

“Yes, that sounds correct.” Amaril mused, listening to this woman recount his actions.

There was a knock at the door, and before either of the, could respond, a large tiefling entered the room. The fiend blood in the man was apparent for all to see, from his ramlike horns, rusty red skin, and cloven hoofed feet. Across his back was slung a large greataxe, itself nearly as tall as the man carrying it.

“Thola, is Amaril awake yet?” The man, Damachos, Amaril assumed, barked as he entered the small room. “It’s nearly noon, and everything’s ready for us to start going to the capital city,” Now fully inside the room, the bulky Damachos was able to see Amaril, and gave him a small wave. “Good to see you’re awake captain. Ready to get moving?” He said, with pure professionalism in his voice.

“Of course, the sooner the better,” Amaril responded automatically. “Just give me a minute to get my armor on, then let’s get going.” By the time he had finished talking, the others, Damachos and the woman he assumed to be Thola, were already gone, leaving him alone.

When he was finished dressing and made to exit the room, he suddenly felt a familiar tug in the back of his skull, and found himself feeling faint. Realizing that he was about to pass out again, and afraid of everything he had experienced being a dream of some sorts, Amaril tried to scream. But already he could feel himself being pulled out of his body, and was forced to watch the back of his own head as his body walked out the door, to meet with his companions.

Amaril awoke from his trance, gasping, and he was sure if he had a real body, he could be in a cold sweat. What had that vision been? Was that him in the past, and if so, who were those other people, the dwarf and the other two?

Before he had time to think about it, Amaril suddenly felt some kind of pulse go through his head, before he heard someone speaking.

“Amaril, it’s Garth. Glad you’re alive. Managed to escape the guards and jail. Go north to Mt. Skyfang in the heartlands. Meet me there. Stay safe.” A mysterious male voice echoed inside his brain, before it was suddenly gone. Confused, startled, and a little scared, Amaril considered not listening to the mysterious voice in its head. But the promise of knowledge from someone who knew him before he died was too much to resist.

Additionally, if he remembered correctly, the dwarf mentioned in his dream was also called Garth. Perhaps they were the same person? Without any other leads to his past, and a strong desire to leave this rotting town before he somehow passed out despite being a ghost again, Amaril basically ran out of Linstrana, heading to the north.

After receiving that strange message from this….Garth, Amaril begun traveling north, to where his contact had told him to go. Luckily, due to winter approaching fast, the days became shorter and Amaril had longer nights to travel. Unlike the long journey to Linstrana, thanks to the changing of the seasons and different climate of the heartland of the continent, he was able to reach the mountain specified in only six months instead of one year. Walking up the mountain hadn’t even taken a day, thanks to Amaril not needing food, water, or rest, until finally Amaril reached near to the summit of the mountain, and came to a small, ramshackle hut built into the cliff’s face.

The hut was made almost entirely from stone, hewn directly into the mountain itself, with the exception of a small brickwork doorway, and a simple but effective wooden door, signifying the entrance. Assuming this was the “home” that this Garth was speaking of, Amaril prepared himself to open the door and meet this man who claimed to know his past. When he reached out to knock on the door, the door suddenly opened, revealing the man inside.

The priest was a dwarf with ginger hair, a full head height shorter than Amaril, dressed in white robes and carrying a prayer book in one hand and a mace in the other. Seeing the spectral form of the elf standing before him, the dwarf looked shocked, then angry, before he opened the book, looked back at Amaril, and began shouting some kind of prayer.

“May the radiance of the holy dwarf-father Moradin, forger of dwarfkind, blacksmith of the gods, drive you from this land! Unholy foulness, crime against life, begone from this place!” The dwarf finished his yelled prayer, and suddenly a burst of light shine forth from the dwarf’s amulet.

If someone asked Amaril before, he would have tell them that he was well-acquainted with pain. His nightmares of his own death, and the harm the sun threatened him with every day, was reminder enough that ghosts could feel pain. But he was wrong. Everything before now wasn’t pain. This was true pain, feeling his ghostly body forced away from everything and anything around him, this light of whatever  a Moradin was threatening to erase his very existence entirely with its burning power.

Struggling to speak, his words slurring from the pain, Amaril tried to reach out to this priest.

“G-arth!” He gurgled. “It..me! A-ril!” He attempted to tell the strange small man. Somehow, it worked. Apparently hearing Amaril’s labored screamed of pain and calls for reason, the dwarf lowered his book, and the burning light vanished.

“For what it’s worth, sorry I tried to revoke you,” The dwarf said, looking sheepish. “But to be fair, you never told me you where a ghost. Anyway, it’s about time you arrived!” The dwarf said with a hearty chuckle, “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show up!” He said, before gesturing for Amaril to follow him inside. Confused as to why the dwarf was acting in this way, Amaril followed. Hopefully this priest would have the answers he was looking for. When they were both inside the hut, the dwarf spoke again, “Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Garth, how did you survive?’ and lemme tell you, it’s a long story.”

“Actually,” Amaril spoke up, “I don’t really know who you are, or who I am really. I have some memories, but only of certain events or places. Even then, my memories only returned to me when I went and found those places. I was hoping you could help with that.” When he said that, that Garth looked dumbfounded.

“Oh,” Garth said, “Well then, this should take a while. Let’s start at the beginning. A long time ago, about a two years, give or take, you and your friends found me in the middle of the wasteland known as the severed hills. And then…”

The dwarf continued talking, and Amaril realized that he may have made a mistake. Hopefully, there was some truth to this Garth’s words, and he did know a way to help Amaril. So he resigned himself to listen to the story, no matter how long, or boring, it was. Garth continued either way, so it wasn’t as though Amaril could stop him.

“And then, we went to find this ‘Oceo-limo…..Oceo-limpid….Oceo…..Ocean Man’, and he took the cursed ring from me, which was good because we had to cut off Amaya’s finger to get it off her and then we met a fairy dragon named Lord Tinkle and he wanted us to fight an actual dragon and it was breathing fire and nearly bit you in half…” Garth continued talking, and by the sound of it he wasn’t even close to done. Amaril needed to do something.

“Yes, yes, that’s all very interesting Garth, but perhaps we could try something that has worked before?” Amaril interjected as his dwarf host paused to breathe.

“What do you mean by that huh? Are my stories not helpin’?” Garth asked, looking somewhat insulted and downtrodden at the same time

“Not really. I’m sure they’re very good stories, but I’ve found that if I visit somewhere of importance in my past, I can begin to remember more about it. We could try visiting somewhere important to my past self? Amaril suggested, wracking his mind for somewhere important to him when he was alive.

“Well, if you’ve got nothin’ else, I’ve got a place. Or at least, an idea about one,” Garth perked up. “There’s this manor house near a lake to the north. Apparently some old elf family uses it as a summer home when they visit outside of their kingdom. Heard the name is…Amas-something or other. My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. Being hit by a warlock’s brain magic do that to you.”

“Wait.” Something clicked for Amaril in his mind. “The name of this house, is is Amastasia Malanore?” He asked, unbelieving of the revelation he discovered.

“That’s it!” Garth brightened. “Why? Is it important?”

“I…” Amaril paused. “I think it belongs to my family. I remember…leaping out a window and climbing over the fence around the grounds. I think…if what I know is true, that was when I left my home for good, and started adventuring.”

Garth looked at Amaril, studying his face, before standing up abruptly.

“What are we waiting for then? Let’s go find your old home and maybe your family and have a family reunion..” Garth trailed off, already rushing around the room, struggling to pull a vest of metal ringlets over his head while gathering up what appeared to be a backpack and supplies.

Amaril remained sitting in the shoddy stone chair. Sighing, he stood from the chair, and walked over the the still-open door, joining his ally. Together, this dwarf was going to help him find out who he was before he died, and maybe discover why he ran away from home in the first place. Turning to help Garth get his armor over his head and his supplies packed away with what little ability to manipulate objects he had, Amaril found himself feeling excitement. It had only taken him a little under two years, but Amail had finally found someone who knew who he was, and he was on his way home. For the first time in two years, Amaril allowed himself to crack a smile.

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