The Butcher's Tapestry

Here within find recorded those words of the undead Bard Ha’er’Dalis DaggerSong, Ancient Knight of the Undead Lords of the Realm

Upon a blood-stained tapestry of crosswoven linen measuring one femur in height and not quite one hundred forty six femurs in length, a legend was wrote in embroidered sinew. Hair and flesh, teeth and bone woven not to words but macabre images of conquest and subjugation. This artifact of Aerynth came into my possession by way of a particularly unlucky dwarf. Where he acquired it, I cannot yet guess. However, to my Strange and Deathly Eye, it is indubitably a craft of our Guild. Alchemical Magiks have confirmed my suspicions that it is authentic to the Age of Strife and was woven shortly after the events it describes. Further analysis may prove out my suspicions that the bodily fluids and viscera used to craft it are from the victims of these events. A Ghoul Can Hope.

The Tapestry is backed by a supple leather of stitched skins from various races. Though time has taken its measure, one can still distinctly trace the separation of delicate thresholds between human and aelfborn, centaur and minotaur. When rolled into storage, it is no more burdensome than a quiver and is secured by leather straps very clearly made of long elven fingers and secured by a buckle of polished bone taken from the nasal cavity of a human teenager. This unorthodox casing is no doubt responsible for the preservation of this artifact, though one cannot doubt that darker Magiks have been used to seal this Butcher’s Diary. An Autopsy of the dwarf suggests he may have attempted to or even successfully opened the Cursed Vellum, which drove him immediately into utter madness. That would explain the manic way in which he gave me his life. Having long ago secured my study with the myriad Arcana collected from across the realms of our conquests, unfurling the full length of the tapestry was less of a challenge than finding the desk space to do so.

In what one might call the opening Passage, The Day of Woe and the Turning are depicted. The World Tree, struck by Shadowbane and stained red with the blood of Betrayed High King Cambruin, turns to stone. The Roots become Ruin and the Undead are unleashed upon Aerynth as destruction is wrought across the land. The Gods themselves have died in these lands, and so they are in Mourning. The gates to Heaven and Hell, to all realms eternal are closed, and the dead wander the land unable to transcend. Though the Dead could not leave this new place of Mourning, it seems their entrance into it was not so forbidden.

Following this is the image of a large tree, its many branches bare, its roots striking down into the earth and securing their ends to a skeletal form which appears to be formed from the skeletal remains of gnome or perhaps a kinder, obviously an artistic choice given the scale of the form. In his right hand is clutched a lightning bolt that ends on either side in spearheads. In his left he appears to be holding the Rod of Asclepius, however it is inverted suggesting a perversion of this element. Asclepius being a god of healing and medicine is often at odds with our own Hallowed Lord, so this element intrigued me. Finally, the Skeleton’s brow is adorned by a Golden Crown with a very curious sigil emblazoned upon its crest. ʞk It is my strong suspicion that this symbol identifies the Lich who orchestrates many of the events as it appears on one and only one skeletal form in any given scene throughout the work. My own studies uncovered that this time is largely lost to the people of Aerynth but our own libraries record a series of similar events, and I believe this crowned Skeletal Form to be Lord Kanien, though as no names are recorded, we will always be left to this best guess. Audiences with His Grace have allowed me to identify and confirm the events depicted herein, however the tapestry’s origins are as mysterious to Lord Kanien as to any of us.

The following scenes depict a world brought to strict order by a group represented by A Balanced Scale. Minotaurs, subjugated by the Elves, were forbidden from raising a hand against their masters. Dwarves who warred over caverns found themselves both entombed by these Armies of Balance. Lord Kanien identified them as a guild called Lex Talionis, fittingly “An Eye for an Eye.” As keepers of Lore, they forbid any from breaking the social laws which they had mandated across the realms. The tapestry depicts those who violate these mores being subjected to multiple forms of punishment from the removal of eyes, to summary execution, and it appears that in some instances that Lex Talionis would go so far as to destroy entire guilds for deserving transgressions.

After this refrain, our Crowned Skeleton reappears in a series of scenes in which it appears to be reaping souls. The Skeletal form still commands half the tapestry but his prey, elves, humans, minotaurs, aracoix, are all but a tenth the size. This suggests the enormous discrepancy in power that this Skeletal form must have commanded in order to be able to reap so many enemies without any assistance.The tiny figures flee ahead of the Skeleton but those already in his grasp have been slain, their spirits consumed like hot vapor. Notably, the Minotaurs are the largest of the tiny victims, offering more detail in their design, and those bovine faces describe more terror than any of their more humanoid counterparts. (I have admittedly found myself lingering over this part of the tapestry for longer than was prudent. There was something very satisfying about the tactile pleasure of touching those little Minotaur. The artist indubitably used a powerful Custodia charm to preserve the flesh inside the tiny sewn hides, retaining a lovely spring.)

In response to this attack, The Armies of Balance gather their forces and attack the Crowned Skeleton. They appear to drive him back to the tree from whence he first grew and the tree is burned to destruction, but the Crowned Skeleton escapes into a Realm of Flies. Following the length of three femurs, the tapestry is woven with a thick blanket of flies, houseflies, horseflies, bloatflies, and maggots. Every form of flying insectoid pest has been imprisoned in the weave. If one considers the piece within arms length, they would only see this sickening morass. It was upon chance that I stepped away from my Study and through the open door of the adjacent room saw what was meant to be seen. At a distance of twenty four femurs and one ulna, the scene comes into perfect relief. The Crowned Skeleton proceeds undaunted through this new land, planting more Trees of Destruction. And under each of these trees, ten in all, another Skeletal Form grows and awakens. They each carry the same spear of lightning in the right hand and the inverted Rod of Asclepius in the left. The flies obscure the reality of the scene just as the work of this Crowned Skeleton would have been done in secrecy. Further consideration has led me to believe that this obfuscation was purposefully included to further protect this stratagem and ensure it would only be known to those who both had the Dark Magik to force the tome open and the perspective to step away from it.

From the Field of Flies emerge the Host of Skeletal Lords. They are Eleven in Number but as I had mentioned previously, only one is Crowned. For the remainder of the tapestry these Eleven Skeletal Lords are always depicted together and bound to one another by a magical symbol which Lord Zophar identified for me as an interpolation of the Conjuration Spell Apparate. Lord Zophar further explained that the interpolation of the symbol meant that instead of transporting one’s self through space, this spell allowed one to summon another into their presence. My first thought was how amusing it would be for Lords to summon their squires and underlings at a whim, but I more quickly realized what this meant for my larger study. Originally, the symbols had led me to believe that these Skeletal Forms were physically locked together or that they used a form of Apparition to assemble as necessary. Now, it was clear that they used this summoning to assemble without the need of prior orchestration or intimate knowledge of the landscape. At a moment’s notice, each could summon the next into his presence until all Eleven had convened, and thus in this manner they never were truly separated. There was no way to corner or single out an individual, though to do so without an army of several hundred would no doubt be suicide. However, the more terrifying fact was that at any time without warning or preamble, The Skeletal Lords would be upon your hearth. And that seems to be exactly what they did.

For the length of a flayed man, the Skeletal Lords are shown to murder and reap indiscriminately all who oppose them. They march forward into a field of a hundred burning castles and palisades. Here the fabric is choked with these emblems of crumbling ramparts. The reinforcing hide behind these scenes is made exclusively of heavier foes and its center is reinforced with the carbonized ulna of a female Griffon. This sturdiness also adds a necessary rigidity to the artifact when it is rolled into its sealed form. The curious number of individual cities depicted has led me to a number of mutually exclusive hypotheses: firstly that these are a one-to-one depiction of individual events, secondly that these are an exaggeration of the events, or lastly that these are a representation of even greater destruction that was unleashed. Without the maps lost in the Betrayal of Myrkul’s Dominion, it is impossible to gather an accurate count of the number of cities which existed on Mourning during this time of Conquest. Indubitably it could have been in the hundreds, however this would only inflate the power of these Skeletal Lords and their abilities to wield Lightning and pervert the healing methods of lesser gods to mend their forms. The clear message remains that these Skeletal Lords were uncontested in their utter destruction of every living thing in their path. Though He can never be satisfied, perhaps at this time Myrkul was at least fat and happy.

In the Aftermath, The Skeletal Lords are shown seated in a great hall across from eleven counterparts: an Aelfborn, an Aracoix, a Centaur, a Dwarf, an Elf wearing a crown marked with the symbol of the Balanced Scales, a Half-Giant, a Human, an Irekei who bore my same crimson flesh, a Minotaur, a Nephilim, and a Shade. This event I recognized from my own studies as The Ruthless Parlay. As I have written on this topic extensively I will quote from the De Bello Inmortuo Liber.

“At this point in the War, negotiations were largely perfunctory and Lex Talionis had been so thoroughly defeated in the field and on the ramparts that whatever leverage they had left surely lay in their coffers. So in desperation to save their capital city, they offered Kanien everything that could be taken away from the city in exchange for the Knights of the Undead Lords to relent in their thoughtless pursuit of abject destruction and leave the Tree of Life standing. To these terms, Kanien agreed and as the Knights looked on, those who had enslaved themselves to Myrkul’s Service began to empty the city of its wealth. The wretched creatures made their way from home to home, taking even the coin of the little people. An arsenal of weaponry, a library of arcana, a horde of unimaginable wealth was syphoned from the last bastion of the Armies of Balance and piled at the base of a barren tree, something Kanien had called a “Flycatcher.” These trees, seemingly dead, had been the portals through which Kanien had drawn the Knights of Myrkul, though the Magik is lost even to him now. During recitations I have heard him say that ‘Myrkul opened the Gate and I proceed.’ I assume we have all had such encounters with our Dark Overlord.

But this was the key to his strength. For Kanien realized that the power of Lex Talionis lay in their threat to one’s home and hearth. He realized that a castle was just a thing to lose. It is indubitably what allowed the complete domination of the era by the Undead Lords. Without cities to attack, the Knights of Myrkul moved like Ghosts against their foes, unable to be harmed by any of their weapons. Academics and inebriated knights will argue ad nauseum if the power of the Lightning specialized Healer-based Channelers would have been enough to overwhelm Lex Talionis without the brilliant stratagem behind The Flycatchers.

When the last value had been surrendered unto him, Kanien kept the only Oath that ever matters, the undying Covenant made with Myrkul. He burned the city to the ground, soaked the earth with blood, and poisoned the Tree that it would spoil every extension of root and branch. Those few who escaped to the sea with their miserable lives are said to have been Shipwrecked on a further shore.”

The final images of the tapestry depict the Skeletal Lords surrounding the final golden city and dismantling it into eleven pieces, each devoured by one the conquering Lichs. Inside the city is a Balanced Scales which the Skeletal Lords all strike with their lightning simultaneously, destroying it completely. A small handful of refugees can be seen fleeing the city by boat, three ships to be precise. These vessels are diminutive even for the scale of the city from which they would be fleeing. The artist appears to once again use size and scale to depict number and power, wherein these few ships look like toys next to the cadre of enormous Skeletons that have just eaten their city in pieces.

The macabre epilogue to this unholy annal is the stretched skin of an Elven Face. Taken from the hairline to the chin, the trophy excludes only the ears which have been removed separately and fashioned into protective corners which hold the thin fabric in place. The cuts made around the perimeter of the face are jagged to the point of suggesting that some tearing may have occurred. However, the incisions made in preparing the eyes, nostrils, and mouth for the process of mounting were made with a very delicate hand and attention to detail. This suggests that perhaps the face itself was removed by one and then acquired by the artist who made repairs as were fit. My instinct tells me this must be the face of the crowned elf from the previous scene in the great hall. Being the only other so anointed individual in the entire work, one can assume that if any, he would be of such significance to act as a trophy to punctuate this story. However, like many of our foes, they are only legends until they join the ranks of the defeated. Perhaps a celebrated lord in his own time and place, now he is a nameless face gasping for air with a mouth full of gauze.