Tessa felt the freshly sprouted cat ears atop her head. They responded to her touch while she wondered how long they’d be up there. She doubted they were a permanent edition to her body, but Torgrak was difficult to read. At the least, they didn’t impact her negatively. They mostly moved in response to her own body language, but didn’t grant her any additional benefit to her hearing.
Relenting with a sigh, and not knowing any easy way to get rid of them, Tessa turns her attention to the books at her bedside that Torgrak had put there before leaving. They were all fairly thick looking, with pages easily numbering in the hundreds by sight alone. Yet they all also were pretty worn, with the leather faded and cracking away in places.
Curious what they are exactly, she picks up the one on top and looks it over. The Starting Recipe. Compared to the other two, this one was easily the oldest. The leather binding it is severely damaged, with cracks and part of it peeling, but had stitches marking plenty of repairs. If not for what she assumed to be Torgrak’s care, it may have very well fallen to naught but loose sheets of paper. Turning the book to see the pages, she saw small tears and damages from use. The entire edge was a filthy brown color, while the pages looked more like dried noodles than actual paper.
With her curiosity about the exterior sated, she flipped the book open to its first page and noticed something unusual for a book this old. While the pages were old and damaged, the ink looked brand new. The text was clean and easy to read, kept in immaculate condition, when it should be faded or smeared at the least. Remembering back to the ink Torgrak used during his demonstration, she thought whoever wrote this may have used something similar. Some kind of ink that would never, or at least not easily, age.
Flipping through the pages, she eventually came across a page marked with a thin piece of red fabric. Looking at the text, Tessa stared at a strange recipe for “Birthday Cake”. There were no instructions anywhere on the page, just a few lists of ingredients. The “cake” was to be made of some things that made Tessa wonder if Torgrak was an alchemist or a crazed baker.
THE BIRTHDAY CAKE:
- Baking pan
- 0.1g Rotten egg yolks
- 0.75g Fertilizing salt
- 0.15g Extra black pepper
- Leftover cake dough
Skipping back through the book, Tessa landed upon what looked like magic circles. However, unlike anything she’s seen the students in the magic division at Unity Academy use, these looked incredibly strange. More a mish-mash of shapes with mathematical formulas all over the place. Where magic circles normally looked arcane and relatively simple, these were asymmetrical messes. The only ones simple enough for her to understand were a triangle, a square, and a circle. Each one having simple math formulas written into their lines.
Closing the book for now, Tessa moved on to the next book. It wasn’t as thick as The Starting Recipe, but it also didn’t look nearly as old. Also, it’s bound in some kind of black, scaly leather. It’s not nearly as worn when compared to the previous book, but still fairly damaged from use. Turning to the cover page, the title read: “Torgrak’s Guide to Monsters: Vol 1”.
Immediately after the cover page was an index with the monsters given a number from zero to four. There were plenty of names she recognized: Ghoul; Imp; Harpy; Werewolf. But then there were also monsters she didn’t expect to be in something like this: Chuul; Succubus; Manticore; Grick. Tessa could only wonder what adventures Torgrak’s been on to have so many monsters, both familiar and unfamiliar, recorded in a book like this. And if this was volume one, how many other things has he encountered?
As she looked at the contents of the book, she smelled something weird. Sniffing around a bit. It was actually the book itself that smelled unusual. Besides its black, scaly leather, it also had a faint acidic smell to it. And not just from the outside. The ink itself smelled acidic.
What is this thing made from?
Shaking her head for a moment, Tessa resumed looking through the book’s contents. Wondering about how detailed this book is, she flips to the entry made for the “Dire Wolf”. The moment she opened the book to it, she met face to face with the most lifelike depiction of the monster she’d ever seen on paper. It was so perfectly drawn to the point Tessa expected it to leap off the page.
To the right of the drawing, and continuing below it, was a series of notes. It was all written in what looked like three different languages. Skimming over the notes made about the Dire Wolf, there was a creepy level to how much detail Torgrak had written about just this one monster. Everything from its diet, to its dung, to its mating habits were all recorded with a disturbing level of accuracy. This was probably more information than necessary for anyone. If not for witnessing Torgrak’s destructive side, she’d think he was some kind of freak-monster-researcher who got closer than most anyone else in pursuit of knowledge.
Leaving her thoughts about how unusual Torgrak is aside, she continued to read. And as she did, things turned dark. The descriptions got more accurate, but now there were drawings of the monster’s bones, internal organs, layers of fur and flesh. It was turning from notes on a monster to a full autopsy of the creature. The student in her was fascinated, yet the rational side of her felt queasy. Just as she started to turn the next page over, she saw what appeared to be cubs of the Dire Wolf.
Letting the page rest, instead of looking at more, Tessa closed this book. Setting Torgrak’s guide atop the book of recipes, she took a moment to recover her sanity. All the while wondering just how far Torgrak would go in pursuit of more knowledge. And if he has volumes of knowledge on just monsters, how much has he experienced? The dwarf said he was 400-years-old. Even for a dwarf, that was beyond the natural life span of both his own kind and elves. Did he find some way to live that long or longer through his research? Even if he was bluffing about being 400, he still had to be incredibly old by normal standards.
Eyeing the last book, Tessa took it in her hands. Hoping that this one wouldn’t be nearly as confusing as the first one, but not nearly as in-depth as the last. If it surpassed that level of detail, she might actually get sick from the drawings alone. Just like the others, she flipped it over in her hands, examining its outward appearance. Where the recipe book was ancient and the guide is black and smells of acid, this one was weirdly normal. It had metal fixings on its corners, as well as a metal-reinforced spine, but the leather it’s bound in is just worn. The metal had dents and scratches all over, but overall the book’s condition wasn’t that bad. Opening the cover, she looked at the cover page and read the title, “Equipment for Simpletons: Vol 1”.
Turning the pages beyond the cover, she finds a table of contents. Whereas the guide had things sorted by an unusual numbering system, this one had everything categorized by type of equipment. Dedicated sections for weapons, armor, tools, potions, and more. Tracing a finger down the columns of text, she recognized some names of the listed equipment. Just like how there were familiar names in the guide, there were equivalents here like “longsword” and “plate”. And for every familiar name, there was at least one other thing she didn’t recognize; such as “gaundao”, “khopesh”, “brigandine”, and “tatami-do”. Tessa’s eyes had a small glint of light in them as she wondered where such things came from. How does such an encyclopedia exist and remain unknown to the world?
Deciding to go with something simple, she flips the book open to the section dedicated to chainmail. Much like the guide, there were more drawings and diagrams. Along with notes that detailed the chainmail’s resilience when tested against different weapons and attacks. The notes here, however, are written… differently. Formatted to ask a question first, followed by test results and an answer.
- How does long the armor last under severe stress and heat?
- When subject to freezing temperatures, does the armor become detrimental to the wearer?
- What are the exploitable regions of the armor?
Torgrak’s notes asked nearly any question someone could think of about the journalized equipment and receive anywhere from one to multiple answers in response. The lectures Aavron gave were detailed, but this book alone would have that dwarf on his knees begging to read a single page. Flipping through pages quickly, Tessa skimmed over several bits of information. Trying to get a grasp of an idea on how detailed Torgrak is with his own research. But like with the guide, the notes grew dark. Repeatedly she saw the phrase “test subject” come up, prefaced or followed by the words “living” or “dead”. And the deeper she got into a piece of equipment’s notes, the more grim it became.
Hoping not to see something like the Dire Wolf puppies again, Tessa turned back to the table of contents in search of something familiar to her. Something that wouldn’t become vile easily. Looking through the table, she quickly sought something she recognized in the “potions” section. Finding it, she turned to the dedicated section covering healing potions.
Just like the other entries, this one started off fairly plainly. Detailed drawings of potions varying in size and appearance. Notes asking and answering the effects of each kind simply. A table of ingredients and expected outcomes when combined. It all was fairly similar to anything she’d read in a textbook at Unity Academy, but with a much higher level of attention to detail. Once she’d read both pages of notes and looked at every diagram before her, she began to lift the next page. Hesitant to see what things Torgrak has reached, she paused and wondered if it was even a good idea to delve further into the dwarf’s notes.
But the student side of her was too excited to learn more, to know more about how to use healing more effectively. Closing her eyes, she turned the page. Once it had settled on the other side, she slowly opened her eyes. The moment her eyes could recognize what was before her, it overwhelmed her and she flung the window at her bedside open. With what brief glance she had at the contents, she saw horrifyingly detailed drawings and diagrams of what Torgrak had done with healing potions on his “test subjects”. Sketches of arms with gaping wounds and notes detailing the effects of a healing potion on it. Questions asking what was and wasn’t possible to heal with detailed results. Drawn limbs and bodies cut open to study the effects of a potion. It was all too much and Tessa vomited out the window. Retching terribly, unable to stomach the images.
To Tessa and most anyone who would ever read Torgrak’s research, they would classify it as “forbidden”. The experiments he conducted were cruel and morally bankrupt in the pursuit of knowledge. The pages may be dry, but the blood used to learn would seep eternally. Torgrak had diagrams of all kinds of living and dead creatures being used for experimentation. Living humans, elves, dwarves, squirrels, wolves, bears, and more, all with accompanying corpses to use if the living subject expired too quickly. Torgrak was the very definition of what it meant to pursue knowledge too far.
Closing the book hard, Tessa slowly steadied her breathing as her stomach acid burned her throat. It disgusted her to the very core that Torgrak would willingly collect so much information at the suffering of others. She wanted to condemn him to the very core of her being, yet she couldn’t. For as much as she hated the dwarf, he too was a student much like herself. The only difference was he will go the distance, no matter how dangerous or ethically dubious, to learn. While she only stood behind the line drawn by what society deemed acceptable and ethical. If she didn’t limit herself, would she wind up like him?
For as much as this book made her feel sick, that as much as it would give her nightmares, she cracked it back open and resumed reading. This text, this book was crafted with evil and cruelty. But that didn’t mean it had to be used to do the same all over again. All she could do was absorb it and use it for good... assuming she could develop a stomach strong enough to withstand the diagrams alone. They are, to be fair, ghastly to look at for even a few seconds.
Tessa read what text she could, passing the time absorbing the information Torgrak had written. It wasn’t easy, nor fun, retching and gagging multiple times. Her body, involuntarily, wanting to close the book and throw it into the corner of the room. Eventually, she had to stop and closed the book. Placing it with the others and laying back in bed, mentally exhausted.
Turning her head to the window, she stared outside and wondered just how much knowledge there was out there. The academy had formally trained her as a healer, and she’d learned many things during her time as an academy student. But her new teacher was allowing her to see into a world beyond what her professors could describe.
She also wondered why Torgrak was keeping such valuable research to himself. As horrendous as his means were, the results he gained are of unrenounceable valuable. And if he hadn’t recorded them, it may be centuries to millennia to get something even close to his tomes of knowledge. A country might even be willing to pay hundreds if not thousands of gold and platinum valins just to copy his notes. It could also save an innumerable amount of people. So why? Why keep it all hidden?
Slowly shutting her eyes, Tessa relaxed in her bed. It was unlikely she’d ever get a proper answer and decided to rest for the time being instead of fretting over it. She’d try to learn more from his books later, and she still had to meet with Hei for magic training tomorrow.
She drifted into the darkness of her mind. All was calm. All was quiet. All was nice. And then images flowed into her mind. What was darkness is now a growing flame accompanied by the heavy beat of a drum. Visions of an army of monsters marching as fire follows behind them. Walls lined with mortal men bearing the signs of the Twelve prepared to defend themselves. Dragons, giants, kobolds, goblins, drow, duergar, orcs, and more all marched forward to the wall. Stone walls separated the two armies, but quickly torn down by dwarven machines of war. And all while the destruction occurred on the ground, six figures stood above it all. Watching the chaos and destruction from a place of safety