THE JOURNALS OF NEPHRAAL [Entries 45 and 82]
Journal Entry 45

The shackles and bindings placed about me and my comrades continuously attempt to constrict our free will, dampen our intellect and extinguish our wanderlust for the world outside of Umbra and the reach of the oppressive Necromantic Brotherhood. Worse yet, this nefarious prison is one built from the every day doctrines and tenets drilled into our psyche from the very moment we first step out of that gaping cave mouth and prostrate ourselves to Mardoth.

I am not the only one to take notice of the situation. A handful of my peers such as Vrae'il, Aarimahn and Admoreth have all seen the same iron walls that tower over us while we sit and recite pointless litanies over and over again. Indeed, when not mouthing the words to some forgotten bit of trite we are forced to tirelessly animate piles of bone, endlessly summon dark wisps and snakes and temporarily take the image of various undead, from the baleful wraith to the majestic lich. But they are just that! Temporary visages that grant only a slight fraction of the powers possessed by the mighty Undead.

This necromancy that we have learned and mastered under the tutelage of the Brotherhood seems vapid and hollow. Where were the mighty black magics of yore when mighty necromancers would summon massive armies of the walking dead to march upon all who would oppose them? Where were the dread Liches who had shed their mortal coil in order to spend centuries unlocking the mysteries from beyond the Abyss? What of the great rituals that would usher forth death and destruction, directed at those who embraced the Light? They are nowhere to be found. Nowhere can such power be found within the mediocre tomes of the Brotherhood, nowhere do they reside within the abilities of our "teachers" and "masters." After all… just how many of us have they sent to fetch scrolls of power to summon forth the demon Kronus? No wonder the paladins of Luna no longer fear the necromancers of Umbra. They have not displayed the proper dread and respect owed to us in centuries, not since the time of Maabu.

Ironically enough, the same "art" that we look down upon and perceive as lacking is the only avenue of potential escape from Mardoth and the guild. Amusingly, the master of the Necromantic Brotherhood, deems our small cabal of adapt necromancers as a shining example of what properly trained citizens of Umbra should embody and has, accordingly, alluded to entrusting us on missions of actual import. Perhaps the elder necromancer has purposefully kept veiled the true inner workings of necromancy from the run of the mill apprentices and adapts, only to reveal such macabre marvels when the worthy are culled from the cattle. While I harbor a dim hope for such a truth, the others and I find it an unlikely reality. If our instincts prove to be correct then drastic actions must take place. We must free ourselves from this prison that helped create. We must break free of the Necromantic Brotherhood and find our own truths!

Journal Entry 49

As expected, the web of lies and manipulations laid forth by Mardoth, continue to spread and entangle those less aware than ourselves. After determining that the necromancer was indeed stringing us along and sending us on fool's errands, just to keep us busy and under his thumb, Admoreth Nazduin, Vrae'il and I attempted to gather support amongst our peers in the Brotherhood. As a credit to Mardoth's influence, none were swayed to seeing the truth as we did. In fact, it become quickly apparent that many of the loyal maggots had informed Mardoth of our treacherous endeavors as our activities within the city became shadowed by vaguely perceived entities.

We have come to realize that if we do not soon make our move then escape will never be possible, indeed, our lives themselves could be forfeit. Perhaps the only thing staying Mardoth's hand is fear of making martyrs of us to the others. His fear of losing control over his possessions is strong enough that he won't risk harming us quite yet. I hope.

Aarimahn was not actively involved with the initial "revolt" orchestrated by Admoreth, Vrae'il and myself. He is actually one of the favored of Mardoth and still holds his trust, such as it is. This may be our only leverage in the days ahead. We must either find a way to escape, which will lead us to being fugitives from our very own home, or we must find a way to dethrone Mardoth and neutralize him as a threat. While we are too closely watched to effectively accomplish much on our own, Aarimahn can move more freely than most in the guild. He must obtain the weapon needed to take down our master.

Journal Entry 51

We were moderately successful in our aspirations to procure a weapon that would end the threat of our former master. Aarimahn had spent several nights scouring Mardoth's personal studies and chambers when the master was out teaching class, meeting with city officials or working his surveillance network that was so focused on keeping a very close eye on the three of us, not Aarimahn.

During his excursions into the elder necromancer's domain, Aarimahn located old notes and journals written by Mardoth that detailed an ancient feud between the author and Maabu! The writings indicated that Mardoth had, through his network of spies - which apparently was significant even back then, found Maabu to be practicing in forbidden, unspeakable magics not too far from Umbra's city limits. Blatant entries portray how Mardoth planned to use this newfound information to remove what he perceived to be a threat to his Brotherhood and to his power base. Furthermore, insidious details were found that prove Mardoth was the one responsible in the paladin attack that resulted in the undoing of Maabu. By feeding the city of Luna sensitive information as to the whereabouts and travels of the ancient necromancer, the paladins were able to ambush and slay him. Mardoth's self appointed rival was no longer a threat.

At first, I admit, I was overjoyed in thinking that this would be evidence enough to see Mardoth tried by the magistrates of Umbra for aiding our mortal enemies in assassinating a venerated elder of our society at that time. Then reality set in. Mardoth controlled the magistrates, the militia and perhaps all of Umbra. This blemish on his otherwise pristine image and social standing would not be enough to take him down.

With that plan of attack being proven ineffective even before it had started, our cabal pursued the rest of the information gleaned from our espionage. What exactly had Maabu been involved in that truly frightened Mardoth so? From the journals it seemed that the seemingly, rogue necromancer's lair was somewhere within the gloom ridden woods of the Corrupted Forest. However as we all know, the Corrupted Forest is a vast expanse of tainted land that contains all manner of dangerous creatures and traps. It would take more than the four of us to transverse it safely enough and long enough to locate Maabu's forbidden legacy. Fortunately for us, some time ago I had made the acquaintance of a dark maiden who made her home within the deadly forest more so than in the relatively safe confines of Umbra. In the dead of night we all plan to make our escape from Umbra and the Necromantic Brotherhood, out into the Corrupted Forest, where we shall employ the services of Xinavane as our guide. With her aid we perhaps stand a chance in surviving the forest and in finding whatever terrible secret Maabu had taken to his grave.

Journal Entry 64

Thank the Abyss that we were able to find and convince Xinavane to assist us in our mission. She had no love for the Brotherhood due to her denied attempts to gain membership when she was younger. Mardoth was very particular with who was allowed membership in his organization. He felt that only purebred Umbrian natives were worthy to benefit from the lessons learned at the Necromantic Brotherhood and Xinavane, despite her thirst for necromantic knowledge, did not fit into his ever increasing elitist views for the city. Xinavane was of the Corrupted Forest and although seemingly human enough, she was shunned and feared by most of the Umbrian citizens. When I approached her and confided in her our task, she was more than willing to aid us, so long as I promised that I too sought an end to Mardoth's reign.

Through the course of several days our cabal, now five strong, searched under the dark, twisted canvas above us in the cursed woods. Narrowly avoiding countless death dealing traps and blood thirsty denizens, we finally came across a clearing that contained a ruined shrine, crumbling towers and an old burial ground. We could all feel a presence here. We all acknowledged it without even having to consult with one another. In one of these structures resided Maabu's legacy, like some slumbering wyrm of ancient power and age, something powerful and alien could be perceived. Not knowing what to expect we forged ahead.

Though there was a sickly resonance of considerable might seeping from the tainted shrine, we were quick to discern that whatever it was we sought was not to be found there. The same was determined with the derelict tower. Undoubtedly items of power and mystery were nested inside but it wasn't what we had come here to find.

Like a siren we all found ourselves walking onto the hallowed burial grounds. As we drew closer we could see an odd mix of truly ancient stonework and more modern architecture coexisting amongst a blanket of tombstones and graves. Nothing grew here except perhaps these sickly looking vines that were riddled with bones that appeared to have been dragged up from the surrounding graves, almost as if the disturbing vegetation was feeding off of whatever corpses could be found within their grasp. Even Xinavane had not seen anything quite like it in the Corrupted Forest that she called home.

To cover more ground we decided to split up to explore the cemetery. While we were all poking and prodding, looking to find any clues we could that would show us our way, I suddenly heard surprised yelling, a loud thud and the sickening crunch of bone. As I looked up through my own grave towards the night sky, I realized it was I that had fallen, into a cleverly disguised open grave and had broken a leg in the process.

Despite it being an unceremoniously performed discovery, I had found the entrance to an underground lair that expanded out under the entire cemetery. I had found it! The hidden lair of Maabu!

Journal Entry 65

My fellow cabalists and I regrouped and ventured forth into the catacombs. We found all manner of arcane and ritualistic paraphernalia along with countless scattered bones, hanging skeletons and a blood stained altar. Though we felt that we were indeed in the right place, we knew we still hadn't found what we hunted after.

Hours we searched, yet to no avail. Right as I was about to concede defeat and begin preparing alternate plans, Admoreth, perhaps with his keen half-elvish senses, was able to detect a subtle difference in the catacomb walls. As he touched the wall a secret stone door rumbled open, revealing the long forgotten sanctuary of Maabu.

None of us were prepared for what we found inside.
I feel it prudent to not record too much information concerning our unearthing of Maabu's legacy, as too many journals, not of my making, have come across my hands as of late.

A summary however, through reading the necromancer's notes, is that Maabu stumbled across an artifact of great mystery and power. This relic, a ring with an engraved skull, imparted a thirst for knowledge upon him. An insatiable need arose in him to discover all that he could concerning this greater force that had imbued the ring with its "entropic" energies and its forbidden knowledge. He became obsessed with this force… this entity.. that he called Oblivion. Through is increasingly frantic note taking Maabu wrote that this "Oblivion" was the source of the negative energies that fueled the entirety of the Undead legions and that all things necromantic in nature, even the cantrips and spells taught in Umbra but certainly rituals and magics much greater in scope, were of the Oblivion's dominion.

Maabu scoured the lands of Malas in search of all he could find that had any thing at all to do with the tenants of Oblivion as he firmly believed that this incredible font of power had spawned legions of devoted followers in ages past and that when the proper relic was obtained and used by the "chosen" then the armies of the damned would rise again. In his papers he continuously made reference to a Skull, one of the secrets whispered to him from the "Ring of the Skull" that he had found. He believed that this Skull was the focal point of Oblivion's energies and that once found; the possessor of the Skull would become an avatar of Oblivion and inherit all the powers associated with such a lofty position.

This would explain the set of oddly colored human skulls that we found. Each skull resonated its own particular type of power and essence. We quickly noted that getting to close to any of them resulted in unfortunate consequences. Vrae'il and Aarimahn nearly doubled over, extremely ill and in agony when they stood too close to a noxious green glowing skull. Admoreth found a set of hastily scribbled notes on the floor near the skulls that labeled them as the skull of venom, the skull of death, the skull of power and so on. Surely, although these skulls radiate much power, they were not the Skull that Maabu hunted after otherwise he would not have succumbed to the treacherous paladin ambush. I wager he hoarded any skull that he came across that could possibly possess magical traits.

It becomes painfully apparent that Maabu reached a point where he could obtain no further information on Oblivion and this Skull. He had spent his last years absorbing all that the libraries of Umbra and Luna combined could impart. He had traveled into the deepest dungeons and ruins in Malas, searching for any piece of the puzzle he found himself faced with. His last entry stated that he firmly believed that this Skull had never even been in Malas but that it was on some other plane of existence and that his next step was to research travel to such places so that he could continue the search once more.

Now I must confess… I am greatly intrigued by everything found here. There was some heated debate with my cabal as to the validity of Maabu's claims, as it could easily be argued that his actions and behavior seen in his private journals were akin to a man who has lost his grasp on reality. Regardless of the truth behind his endeavors, the fact remains that Mardoth greatly feared the work that Maabu was conducting and that alone is reason enough to carry on Maabu's legacy. With this we have our weapon to bring down Mardoth, disband the Necromantic Brotherhood and free Umbra.

We all finally agreed to pick up where Maabu left off and to embark on the journey to obtain this Skull and to unearth the tenets of Oblivion and bring them to Umbra. To this end we have dubbed ourselves the Seekers of the Skull and we shall not rest until we have the Skull.

As it is, I'm confident in the fact that we are already a few paces ahead of where Maabu came to a screeching halt. Two centuries ago when the last quest for the Skull failed, there were no known planes of existence for him to continue the hunt. Much has changed since his demise, necromancers from far away lands dressed in black and blood red robes visit our fair Umbra, stories and rumors travel upon the winds of gigantic land masses in a realm named Sosaria and it is said that if you master the magic of the moongates you can travel to numerous other realities within a blink of the eye.

There will be no shortage of areas to unearth this time Mardoth. We shall bring Oblivion crashing down upon your doorstep. Make your peace now while you can.

Journal Entry 82

A substantial amount of progress has been made in the last several days, if what we have learned from the frequent inhabitants of Hanse's Hostel is accurate and not just drunken tall tales and fanciful ghost stories. The Seekers have met with varying degrees of cooperation from the patrons there and even obtained a chest full of tomes that reportedly came from beyond the odd moongates. The crate contained writings concerning rituals of necromantic origin detailing the creation of destructive entities called Death Knights as well as lesser undead such as zombies and skeletons. Additionally, I read historical accountings of mysterious beings with foreign names and purposes like Kabar, Ezerak and Aragothias. Perhaps most peculiar of all were the works describing the Seals of Oblivion and the existence of the Horsemen of Oblivion.

It is almost too much to absorb! Indeed, I will require several more days to pour over this treasure trove of knowledge so that I can truly understand the contents within. My brethren Seekers are as excited and as overwhelmed as I currently find myself. Perhaps together we will be able to take this knowledge and glean further leads towards our shared goal of obtaining the Ebon Skull.

At least we have narrowed our lofty goals to that one particular relic. Too many references of this most evil relic have been found in the books that have found their way into our possession and from the words spoken to us by the strangers from beyond the gates. As of now our tracks lead us onward to beyond the moongates and into the foreign lands of Sosaria. We must collect any and all lore relating to this Ebon Skull and the Order that named itself after it. It would seem, according to the rumors at the Hostel, that there are old surviving members of this mysterious Order that still travel the land. If only we could obtain a meeting with one of these living, breathing fonts of knowledge.

I admit I am being naïve in believing, hoping even, that these bygones of dark ages past will be willing to assist us and not hinder us. In the same vein, the Oblivion followers must have had many enemies. I believe that it is only a matter of time before our questioning and investigations attract the wrong sort of attention. I hope that we will be ready and able to deal with such situations when they arise.

Of more immediate concern, we are all acutely aware of the Brotherhood searching for us. The few stealthy trips into Umbra that some of us have taken since our less than friendly departure from Mardoth have shown us that his necromancer watch dogs continuously search the city streets and borders. Fortunately for us the dangers of the Corrupted Forest outweigh Mardoth's desire to see us punished. However we cannot continue to rely on this line of defense. Soon he will begin to push into the Forest, regardless of the casualties suffered, for each day we are allowed to remain free, it is another defiant and pointed attack upon his authority.

With that in mind we have had to focus our energies, temporarily, to securing our location within the Forest. The catacombs under the cemetery provides adequate shelter from prying eyes but they also drain the very warmth and life out of our bodies if we linger too long. Dark energies swirl and eddy in the depths of the catacombs and have on more than one occasion, when I nearly lose myself reading in various tomes, come close to claiming my life. Suffice to say, the living, cannot take up residence in the burial grounds.

Thankfully, Vrae'il took notice of the structural foundations surrounding the decaying shrine we had found in the same clearing as the cemetery. My comrade has a keen eye for architecture and under his instruction we have begun to gather the materials needed to build upon the ancient foundation surrounding the shrine. Progress will be slow I fear for we lack the numbers and strength to be proper masons.

Where some of us may lack such physical prowess we make up for it with our mental awareness. We have all felt the sickening, yet intensely potent, energy rippling out from the shrine and have all taken notice that our necromantic spells have taken on a greatly enhanced range of power and scope. This alone is worth our efforts to secure the shrine from the Necromantic Brotherhood. If they were able to lay claim to it then it would be all the harder for us to undo their strangle hold on Umbra. In our possession however, we should be able to hold the clearing for our very own and repel any advances Mardoth may attempt.

How ironic is it that our own stronghold would be so close to the enemy, in the very shadow of Umbra itself? That is, if we are able to finish the reconstruction of the shrine and the creation of the tower Vrae'il has drafted designs for before the Brotherhood locates us.