How to even summarize the events of the last day or so? I suppose I could mention that I'm writing this while seated at the foot of The Panther King's throne while my half-brother, The Monkey King confers with this realm's guardian about where to inter the corpse of my mother, Leanne, goddess of secrets. That phrase alone suggests a sequence of events bewildering in its implications.
My four other-worldly companions, who I have become increasingly aware are the embodiments of some of this world's most fundamental secrets, have been of enormous aid to me. I feel… better than I have in years, even prior to my near-death. I feel… consequential.
I am familiar with the theory of the soul as espoused by Black Guild necromancers, that the soul isn't a "thing" so much as the measure by which the world recognizes your significance. When a necromancer consumes the soul of another, they are consuming that person's cosmic potential, their significance to the world, everything that person is and could be. This is why soul-consumption is so very dangerous. If you eat a soul more significant than yours all you have done is give them your body as a gift.
I mention this because I can… almost FEEL my soul growing with every passing day I spend in their presence. I have to say, for the first time in my life I'm giving serious consideration to climbing the Godspeak someday. Maybe even someday soon.
Anyway, I'll get to the point. My companions and I discussed the dilemma I outlined at the end of my last journal entry and I mentioned I was increasingly interested in learning my mother's fate, and that discourse with the cultist in the mirror, while possibly dangerous, might give me the answers I seek. Eventually the others agreed, and we strategized on our approach. We decided that James Dean (JD) Miller and I should stay out of sight. The cultist might recognize me, and JD is too… paladin-like for casual deception. The others would play up being disinterested mercenaries and looters and seek to enter an exchange of information with the cultist.
This actually went quite well. The cultist was, as I suspected, a priestess of Leanne turned traitor. She was wearing the vestments, still, probably for infiltration and confusion purposes. Her right eye and right arm had been replaced by artifacts of magical artifice, however, of a cunning make far greater than the Artificer's Guild can accomplish. This cultist was, as I suspected she might be, thirsty for knowledge of the world in the aftermath of the Godwar. We traded her information that's common knowledge in exchange for information about her and her purposes. This is what we learned.
She was a traitorous priestess of Leanne who had entered into the service of the Primordial Theia, creator of the moon and "mistress of artifice," a title I had never heard applied to that Primordial, but apparently explained the eye and arm. This priestess knew a number of secrets, including the method by which to open the back door of Leanne's godrealm. Apparently it requires a mortal to whisper in the ear of a priest or priestess of Leanne a secret that would harm them if it got out. This cultist grabbed the first cleric she could and whispered "I'm in service to a Primordial" which opened the door allowing Theia to enter Leanne's realm whereupon violence, theoretically ensued.
The cultist herself, and her team of assassins, used the divine chaos rippling through the ranks of Leanne's priesthood to murder all the clerics and monks in the monastery before the high priestess successfully trapped them in the mirror.
In the back and forth the cultist revealed a surprisingly deep knowledge of the Jewelled Cities, and Primordial tactics over epochal cycles, but I learned the information I most wanted to learn from her, and we ultimately banished her back into the mirror, her fate to be decided some other day.
Having learned how to access the back door to Leanne's Realm, we pondered if we might whisper a secret in the ear of the high priestess, who was lying perhaps-dead here in the room. We had established that her mind and soul were trapped in the realm of The Nightmare Child, which implies she was still capable of sleep and dream, which would further imply she wasn't actually dead, just on the brink of it. We tested this proposition, and after some ominous rattling on the part of the Child's statue, a door appeared. We opened it and passed into Leanne's Realm, which had been torn to chaos.
I've been to my Mother's realm once before. It was an immense labyrinth of stone, forested hedge-mazes, mountainous passages, and crystal palaces with mirrored walls. The objective was to find the heart of the maze. What we saw was all of that but torn into countless pieces, floating and spinning in a vast, eye-bending void. Apocalyptic violence had torn the substance of my mother's realm asunder. As soon as we took in the view Foley made himself known. The thoroughly annoying caretaker of my mother's realm was… slightly less annoying than last time I was here mostly because he badly wanted something from us, namely his own extinguishment. My companions inquired into the Book we were here to find and he revealed that petitioners of Leanne could, in fact, navigate the maze to the heart of the realm where they could gaze through a crystal lens and look upon the Book of Secrets, but that the Book itself was not actually here.
This… made sense in retrospect. My mother was nothing if not needlessly convoluted. Of course she wouldn't keep her relic in her own realm. This prompted much discussion about where the book may actually be, which I am almost certain tripped the Nightmare Child's curse on all of us. After all, there must have been a reason that Mr. E was so careful never to say where his mysterious door actually goes to. We decided not to sleep until we had uncovered the mystery, although Cameron Murphy came close to doing so on purpose under the theory that he might try to bargain with the Nightmare Child for the Book, theorizing that the Book was in the Child's realm.
It was a good theory, even if it proved incorrect. My mother, of course, can be relied upon to be lay more convoluted puzzles than we could imagine. In any event, Foley, having played host to many clerics of Leanne over the years, and having access to their every secret thanks to the Realm's power to delve into the minds of its visitors, claimed he knew of the FRONT door to a realm contained somewhere in Leanne's monastery, although he claimed not to know WHICH realm that door led to. He promised to tell us which of the otherwise nondescript doors in the monastery was the one we sought in exchange for killing him.
There was some resistance to this plan, but Madeline “Maddy” Diamond advocated strongly for mercy on behalf of poor Foley and that is ultimately what we did. Foley led us to a strange machine that he claimed facilitated the worship of Leanne's followers. The machine included a jar full of green liquid in which Foley's head floated. Jamie Ortiz plucked his head out and he died, letting fall the map he promised contained the door we sought marked in red.
Perhaps Foley knew that if he double crossed us we could simply put his head back in the machine because he did not steer us awry. The map showed the door, and once we made it to the heart of the realm, opting NOT to gaze upon the Book lest it consume our souls, we were ejected once more into the monastery.
We pushed the not-quite-corpse of my mother's high priestess, her entire desk, the Nightmare Child, the mirror, and everything else important into the portable hole and then found the door. JD used the relic to "open" it notwithstanding the fact that we didn't have the proper key, and we entered the second godrealm of the day. No sooner had the door shut behind us, however, then the relic transformed into none other than the Monkey King himself. He identified this realm as belonging to the Panther King, his father. He also identified Leanne as his mother. He had turned himself into a magic item and "slept", semi-conscious, for nearly five thousand years. He was… woefully out of touch with current events, but bringing him here woke him. Apparently entering his father's godrealm was one of the things that would wake him up, and he told us he wished to find his father's throne.
As baffling as it was to travel with a god, we had no choice but to press on. The Monkey King seemed dissatisfied with his portfolio of trickery and mischief, and had effectively abdicated his role in the Pantheon millenia ago. After learning of the current dire straits, he seemed inclined to become a magic item again, owning the label of "coward." Nonetheless, I think he began to realize that hiding from the problem wasn't going to make it go away. I think he wishes to alter his portfolio for which he needs a powerful symbolic relic. At first I thought this is why he sought the throne…
Maddy and JD noticed two different things. Maddy noticed that the bas relief carvings seemed to lead toward one goal while JD noticed footprints that led to a contrary goal. We opted to follow the footprints and found ourselves "challenged" by the guardian of this realm and her two displacer-beast pets. Much to my chagrin, she was encased in a crystalline set of armor that utterly neutralized magic on contact. She also had a large axe which hurt a great deal.
The entire time she treated me as the Hero on a quest and my companions as my minions. This proved to be her undoing, for while I was essentially useless against her, my companions were significantly less so. Even without the ability to harm or affect her with magic their martial prowess defeated her handily. She congratulated us and offered her armor as reward. She was, perhaps, put out when none of us seemed to want armor that made us immune to magic, but also utterly prevented our own use of magical talents.
The Monkey King filled us in that the Panther King's divine artifact was something called the Coldforge, a relic that could forge this crystalline antimagic substance into armor and weapons. The Panther King was, apparently, not a fan of magic. Seeing that we had little interest in the armor she offered us something else in the realm, ultimately settling on "that stupid book of Leanne's". She clearly didn't think much of it or her Lord's secret wife.
She led us right to the book, which I took, carefully, and put away. The room also contained the "Door of the Hunt," an archway that can apparently lead anywhere in the world, but changes constantly to any location where a hunt is successful. Theoretically we could use it to go anywhere provided we're watching closely, and we jump through quickly. She also led us to the Panther King's throne which the Monkey King poked at for a while until eventually finding the latch that slid it aside revealing a hidden passage, presumably created by Leanne to conceal her own secret bolt-hole. The Monkey King believed our mother's true secrets lay within but when he sought to enter he was utterly frozen in time.
Maddy, experimentally, walked in as well and was not frozen. I foolishly assumed I would be as immune as Maddy and sought to follow whereupon I found myself jerked backward and informed that I had been similarly frozen. Jamie pulled the Monkey King back to his own, similar surprise. It would appear that the two of us were incapable of entering the secret passageway, either because we share god blood, or conversely, our companions are NOT affected because they are not from this world. Whatever the cause, they could traverse the passage and we could not.
My divine half-brother and I waited for many tense moments until our companions finally returned bearing the corpse of Leanne between them on a cloak. It would seem the passage held her final bolt-hole, but that the wounds she suffered in her battle with Theia were, in fact, fatal. Ah well. So much for my faintly held hope that my Mother had managed to somehow fake her death.
My companions were pensive. They said little about what they found in Leanne's bolthole. I admit, part of me wants to ply them for details, but I owe them my life, many times over, and so I will leave them their secrets.
We will inter Leanne's body here, in her secret-husband's realm. We will say a few words, then we will decide how to proceed. The Monkey King says he will stay here and do some thinking about how to rejoin the world and whether he will seek a new portfolio. I can only hope that he will decide to end his self-imposed exile. The world can use another god.