Chapter 26: Ssraeshza

For one hundred twenty years Yylis had been a slave of the Shissar. For seventy of those years he had worked on the pyramid in the middle of the ocean. Day and night for seventy years the temple had been carved by the Iksar slaves and enchanted by the Shissar warlocks. For a thousand years the Shissar had ruled Norrath, but their time on the green world was at an end. A new life would begin for them elsewhere.

Slavery was the only life Yylis knew. He felt no love, no pride, no anger. He only felt hopelessness and despair. Yylis had seen his mate die and brought back as a horrible skeletal creature to continue the work she had done in life. His children were taken from him at birth while he did nothing to stop it, knowing resistance meant death and undead servitude. He never saw his children again. There was no escape from the Shissar or their tyranny, there was only obedience.

One day the Shissar taskmasters sent hundreds of Iksar into the great temple while hundreds more were packed around the outside, crushing them against the outer stone walls. Buried in a mass of his Iksar companions, Yylis watched the Shissar nobles enter the temple, breathing their last breath of Norrathian air. Yylis felt his ribs crack as even more slaves were forced around the great temple. Through his agony he heard the chanting of the serpent warlocks, coming from around the perimeter of the slave horde. A blinding magical sphere began to form around the pyramid and slave horde cutting the unlucky Iksar who formed the outside ring of the horde into pieces as it reached the ground. Then they were gone. The green sky of Norrath was replaced with the blue sky of the Grey. The sphere of his home world stood hanging above them. Before he could comprehend the strange sight, Yylis's lungs burst in his chest as did the lungs of the thousand slaves left outside in the vacuum of the Grey. All around him the Iksar slaves fell dead with no last sound, no scream, no final plea or proclamation. Yylis knew as his eyes went dark that his servitude had just begun.

Five thousand years later the corpse of Yylis walked outside the temple of Ssraeshza. Long gone were any memories of his life, now only the three word command of the Shissar necromancers filled his head - protect the temple. For five thousand years he had guarded this temple, skin peeling away from his bones, eyes sinking into his skull, fingers cracking into horrible sharp claws. Then one day he was released. A great blast of pure light broke him into pieces. A blue armored cleric of Tunare stood twenty feet away, white wisps of holy energy drifting up from his hands. After five thousand years, Yylis had finally found peace.

Loral walked over and picked up the ancient skull of the Iksar slave. For a brief moment he felt a great weight of sadness for the Iksar. He felt the torment of millions of slaves over thousands of years. The Iksar had truly lost everything. There was nothing in their lives but horror and sadness. Loral looked up to the giant Shissar statues flanking the tunnel leading deep into the temple and understood the true meaning of evil.

Loral was no stranger to evil. He had felt the sickening blood-rain run over his face in the Plane of Fear. His mind had swam with the paranoia and rage that flowed through the air of the Plane of Hate. This tunnel was somewhere different, somewhere outside the influence of the Gods of Norrath. It was a temple of defilers and the weight of his future should he enter fell upon him. Loral clasped his hand around his warden symbol of Tunare and stepped into the tunnel.

"Good, You're here", said the Sorceress Azile as if they were walking into Tovania's Venom in Felwithe. Loral was shocked at her presence, but she seemed not surprised in the least to see him. Her small but strong hand took Loral by the arm and led him down a short finely carved hallway of the entrance to Ssraeshza. At the end stood a large set of carved stone doors. Azile closed her eyes and tilted her head, Loral noted the glimmer from the lotus symbol on her dark red robes. "They are ready for us downstairs," She said reaching into a small pouch on her belt. Chanting a quick incantation, Azile and Loral faded from sight.

The oddity of seeing his longtime friend in this horror of a place shook Loral's thoughts into a jumbled mess. It felt like the chaos of a dream forming just before falling asleep. His thoughts became clear, however, when the twin doors opened and revealed the Shissar guardians. Standing over ten feet tall and adorned with finely crafted golden armor, the Shissar protectors stood guard in the large tiered room.

Though the presence of the Shissar demanded attention, Loral's eyes were drawn to a huge stone carving above the corridor directly across from them. A sudden addition to the horror of the Shissar's rule became clear. The Shissar required slaves even when retreating to the void of the Grey, that was already known to the Elven sages. But the Shissar aparently used the Soriz tribe for more than just labor.

They used them for food.

Visions flooded into Loral's mind. Iksar families being torn apart, the strong being sent to work until death, the weak being harvested to feed the isolated Shissar masters. Surely any escape from such treatment, even at the poisoned hand of Cazic Thule himself, was not simply a choice for the lost people, but a necessity. With the trials of the Elven nation of Tunaria and the fall of Takish Hiz, Loral wondered whether the high elves could have chosen any differently.

Azile ran between a pair of the serpent beasts and Loral felt his skin crawl when one of the creatures hissed, apparently at nothing at all. Loral followed Azile through the twisting corridors and down a great floating column of thick air that led down into the depths of the dark temple. There they joined fellow members of Lotus Cult in their hunt of the undead Iksar slaves as they dug deep into a mine-shaft.

For hours they battled the vile skeletons. Azile's spells blasted through the creatures while Loral's spells of healing sealed the wounds of Lotus Cult's great fighters. Through the onslaught of skeletal slaves attacking the small raiding party one point had struck home. It had been Loral's hope to find the Shissar dormant in their sinister lair, buried under the wastelands of Luclin and no danger to Felwithe. This was not the case, the Shissar were active indeed.

The Shissar were digging.

Surely this information was critical to report to Felwithe. Surely if Norrath ever faced a truly dangerous enemy, the Shissar was it. Loral's decision was clear, he must return to Felwithe and report on this news. Rescuing the lost Paladin would have to wait until the elders could figure out a true battle plan against the Shissar.

Loral explained his plan to Azile and she nodded her agreement. He reached into his dusty ransacker pack and pulled out the Faithstone of Nature. A powerful artifact given by the Hierophant Skrabbit on behalf of Lotus Cult, the Faithstone had the ability to return Loral back to the church of Felwithe with with but a single prayer. Loral began the chant and soon faded away.

A dark magic, a millenia old, spliced into the conduit of the ethereal tunnel and pulled the visage of the Tunarian priest off track. Loral shook off the unbalance of magical teleportation and opened his eyes. Instead of the warm arms of the church Loral had spent his entire childhood in, he found himself in a dark chamber deep within the temple of Ssraeshza. Loral heard the hissing of the Shissar High Priests all around him, their red eyes looking at him as they would a dead thing. Loral pulled his blue draconian helmet off from his matted hair and let it fall to the floor. He closed his eyes and whispered a prayer to Tunare. He knew no answer would come.