Subject "Nerus" is a named Skrall, warrior-class.
"Nerus" was brought to our attention when he was apprehended by a number of Glatorian and Toa sentries, heavily injured and unconscious, just outside New Atero. Subject was suffering from both dehydration and starvation, and is believed to have been traveling on foot for about a hundred and fifty kio. Subject carried a standard Tribal Design Blade and Saw Blade Shield, both of which showed signs of recent use. Both have been confiscated. Subject was accompanied by a Skrall female. Injuries are believed to be result of bandit attacks during the journey here. “Nerus” is possibly mentally unstable, but has not displayed aggressive or violent tendencies towards his guards or himself. Antibiotics prescribed for infected foot wound, but otherwise no changes in detainment procedure are necessary.
When Tuma was defeated by Mata Nui, our empire finished its collapse and split into a hundred warring factions. We formed small bands of soldiers, guided by the named, the strong, those who had proved their worth in combat. Some of us even joined the hated Sisters, either by force or by coercion.
I, Nerus, was forced into joining them. One of the Sisters of the Skrall attacked my band of warriors with powerful, nightmarish illusions. I do not know what horrors they saw, as the Sister saw fit to spare me. Instead, she offered me a deal: hand leadership over to her, or suffer even worse than my subordinates. I agreed. Such is the life of a Skrall on Spherus Magna.
The Sisters do not usually make alliances with us, the males, but this Sister was in need of some expendable soldiers. After releasing my soldiers from her psionic assault, she explained to me what she sought: entry into the Lost Stronghold.
The legend of the Lost Stronghold is a young one, born some time after we burned our fortress in the north. A combination of conspiracy theory and half-remembered rumors has woven a tale of a ruined castle in the wastelands that held unimaginable riches within its vaults. Over the last thousand years, many have tried to seek out the Lost Stronghold, but all have been unsuccessful. There are no maps that mark it, no books that record its location. It seemed to be truly lost.
The Skrall know where the Lost Stronghold is. We do not speak of the Lost Stronghold. It was once a Skrall outpost. I do not know what happened to it, but if Tuma had tried to seal the place off and remove all evidence of its existence, it couldn’t have been pleasant.
But the Stronghold had been built and cordoned off only after we had banished the Sisters from our empire. She had only heard of the rumors. Her recounting of the tale described how the Skrall of the Lost Stronghold had dug a mine, deep into the earth, and had discovered the prison of an ancient creature beyond comprehension. The Sister believed that creature to be a being called ‘Angonce’, who could grant her power beyond her wildest dreams. The problem with meeting ‘Angonce’ was that he was surrounded by guardians and deathtraps to ensure that only the worthy could reach him. That was where I and my soldiers came in. We would waltz in, die horribly, and clear the way for the Sister to reach him unopposed.
Needless to say, her plan was not very popular among us. But we had no choice. She was very clear about what would happen to the ones who disobeyed her. And so we led her west, towards the Stronghold.
I knew something was wrong with the Stronghold as soon as we could see it on the horizon. Its angles did not flow right. There were concaves where there should have been convexes, towers that changed direction depending on where we viewed them. I could not tell if some parts of it were jutting outward or reaching upward. Its alien geometries unsettled us greatly, but still we continued up to it.
I noticed the Lost Stronghold also stood in its own personal wasteland. A sparse forest had sprouted up around it, but all the ground near it was little more than barren earth. It was as if life had refused to touch the place.
The great gate of the Stronghold had already been broken open, no doubt by some treasure hunter before us. The exsidian locks had corroded, a strange occurrence given the metal’s natural endurance. In fact, the interior of the Stronghold seemed to be in a state of decay far in advance even for a structure of its age. But despite the decay, there was no life within its twisting corridors, not even lichen. Here, the Sister took over as leader. She made no secret of her excitement as she led us into the shadows of the ancient castle. We lit the torches as we went; they were curiously dim. Still, in the oppressive darkness, any light at all was a blessing.
I am wary of recounting the following hours in detail. As we navigated the Lost Stronghold, its interior shifted in strange ways that I cannot describe, and I fear for my sanity should I ever fully comprehend how they moved. The Stronghold, in those hours, seemed almost alive, and malevolent. My band of eight soldiers dwindled. One vanished around a corner that didn’t exist. Another, following behind the group, simply disappeared, his absence only noted when we stopped to rest. Slowly and subtly, the Stronghold picked us off, one by one, until only four were left: two soldiers, me, and the Sister. The Sister cared nothing about it. Necessary sacrifices, she said.
I think I was the next to vanish. I am not certain what happened then. For a split second the castle’s geometry became even more abstract. The walls seemed to warp or close in on themselves, obscuring the rest of the group from view. When I could make sense of the corridors again, I found myself totally alone. Now I stood at the brink of some huge staircase, descending endlessly into the shadows. The darkness here was thick, almost solid; I felt that I would choke on it. Warily, I drew my sword.
I wish I did not go down those steps, that I could have found the strength to turn away and search for the others, but some ancient force was pulling me downwards, deep into Spherus Magna. I went blindly, slowly. The torches had rotted away in their sockets and could not be lit, leaving me in utter darkness. I felt my way down that long staircase, driven by a will that was not entirely my own.
At the very bottom of those stairs, I emerged into a vast room. It was not of Skrall design. The chamber was enormous, the size of the Arena Magna if not greater. Hexagonal in shape, it had a pillar in each corner, and each of the six pillars was decorated in the circular script of the Great Beings. They shone brightly, illuminating the room with strong golden light. But what truly awed me was in the center of the room: a massive stone sarcophagus, larger than a Skopio. Its onyx surface was covered in chains and indecipherable symbols, not those of the Great Beings’. I could not fathom what kind of creature was entombed within. Sheathing my sword, I reached up and laid a hand on it, trying to imagine what was inside it, and why it had deserved such an elaborate tomb.
The sarcophagus began to open.
The glowing pillars extinguished themselves, leaving me in total darkness. A cold chill passed over the room. I heard a roar from within the sarcophagus, a deep, distorted sound that inspired in me such fear that I fled in mindless terror, groping in the dark for the exit. I found it—crawled up the stairs on all fours—something curled around my foot, piercing me with thorns through my armor—I shook it free, continuing my frenzied ascent.
Behind me, I heard the gigantic room collapse with a quake that I thought would bring the Stronghold down with it. I heard the thing roar again, sending my terror to even greater heights. I could feel that abomination chasing me, hear its thorns scraping on the stone floor as it dragged itself out of its tomb. I shot from the staircase in a panic, not caring where I went as long as it carried me away from the thing. Its presence had warped space even further. I could not be certain if I was on the floor, the walls, or the ceiling; I could not tell if I was ascending a sheer wall or crawling across a featureless floor. The Stronghold twisted my sense of direction. I encountered an intersection; I ran left, but was carried right. The halls lengthened as I fled through them.
And all the while I could hear it, that abomination, scraping the ground as it pursued me. I heard the hissing of torches extinguishing themselves as it passed. It navigated the alien geometry as naturally as a Sand Stalker on a desert. The only reason why I could escape from it was because of how slow it was.
Eventually, blessedly, the sounds of pursuit faded away as the beast wandered off in another direction. Partly from relief, partly from exhaustion, I sank to the floor. All creatures have limits, and I had just reached mine.
I passed out.
The first thing I noticed when I awoke was how much my foot hurt. The second thing I noticed was the Sister crouching down beside me, urging me to wake up. After bandaging my foot with a scrap from her robe, she helped me to my feet, explaining how she had lost track of the others as she did so. Apparently, when I released the abomination from the sarcophagus, it let out a psychic shockwave that she had felt quite painfully. When she had regained her faculties, the remaining soldiers had vanished. It was the awakening of something far older and more powerful than Angonce, she said with a shudder. In turn, I explained my role in unleashing it, describing the dark staircase and the sarcophagus. To her credit, she only nodded, and said that we needed to escape before the beast did. We needed to warn them, she said. Everybody.
Being forced to rely on a Sister of the Skrall was not exactly what I would call a good thing, but her skill with psionics and all things related to the mind allowed her to navigate the Lost Stronghold’s interior better than I. Fortunately, the two of us shared a common goal, which must have been a first in the history of the Skrall. The maze of halls and corridors seemed unending, and I could find no trace of the abomination. This worried me; what if it had found a way out? The Sister assuaged my fears, assuring me that she could still feel its mind within the Stronghold.
I heard it first. There were footsteps behind us, the sound of armored boots on stone. I turned, and saw a Skrall behind us, framed by the torches behind him—one of my missing soldiers! I moved to greet him, elated, only to be forced back by the Sister. She was fearful—the Skrall was, indeed, one of my men, but she could not feel his mind!
As if on cue, the soldier lunged at us, and I could see his features in full. Black, thorny tentacles had sprouted from his body, rupturing his armor, weaving through his flesh. They disfigured him, twisting his body in a manner that was not noticeable from a distance; up close, I could see how the structure of his body was simply entirely, nauseatingly wrong. But the worst part was the head. His neck was bent at an odd angle. Something black and oily flowed from his mouth and his eyes. Those eyes! I did not know if they were missing, or destroyed, but now they were little more than writhing masses of tendrils, extending from the sockets like feelers. It was a sick parody of a Skrall, and I refused to believe that it was once one of my soldiers.
I was caught off-guard by the lunge. It tackled me to the ground and raised one thorn-infested arm to end me. The Sister intervened. She kicked it in the chest, knocking it off. It fell back, retreating a short distance on all fours. It snarled and choked and laughed. It leapt forward again, but now I was ready—smashing it in the face with my shield and stabbing it with my sword. It fell again, vomited a thick black tar, and then attacked once more. With a desperate cry, I brought my sword down on its head with all of my strength. It moved no more after that.
Then came the all-too-familiar roar of the unnatural beast, echoing through the darkness. I almost panicked as I did while fleeing up that dark staircase, but the Sister calmed me, using her powers for my benefit: another first. The fear was still there, but now I could control it. We still ran, of course, her leading us out of the place, me cursing my injured foot, but we did so with the advantage of reason rather than instinct.
Every step I took caused pain to shoot through my leg. I gritted my teeth and bore it, but my limping did not go unnoticed. The Sister bid me to stop. She placed a hand on my forehead and dulled the pain, though it did not fade entirely. I saw worry etched into her face. I was confused—was she worried for her own sake, or for mine? Then that brief interlude passed and we were up and moving once more.
We ran, on and on, through corridors that seemed to double back on themselves, crossing stairs that ascended and descended at the same time, climbing when we could not run and crawling when we could not climb. I knew not where we went, but the Sister knew, somehow, with her psychic powers protecting her from the worst of the impossible geometries. I listened as we ran. I listened for the distant scrape of thorns on stone, of the obscene sounds of the beast pulling itself after us. To my relief, I heard nothing; only the sound of our own footsteps and labored breathing met my ears.
Then, light! Blessed light! We emerged into the vast entrance hall of the Stronghold. The glorious sun shone from half-ruined windows and crenels. I almost wept in relief, and the Sister beside me laughed in triumph. Her laugh died in her throat as we looked further, towards the Stronghold’s doors. My exultation became horror. For there, between us and our freedom, stood dozens of humanoid figures. Most of them were little more than desiccated husks, animated only by the black thorns that writhed beneath their leathery skin. But there were a small number of fresher bodies, twisted gruesomely by the beast’s corruption. I recognized them. How could I not? For they were my warriors, who had vanished one by one as we explored the Stronghold. And those mummified figures that stood beside them could only have been the Stronghold’s former garrison, as well as the unfortunate souls who had tried to plunder the Stronghold of its nonexistent riches. Oily tentacles waved from what used to be their eyes.
I raised my sword and readied my shield, preparing to charge. The Sister, too, readied herself. I felt her presence in my mind, soothing my fears and encouraging me. We would die together.
Then I heard the sound of thorns scraping on stone. The light streaming down from outside grew dim. I turned, and saw—
--tentacles like vines, like roots, covered in thorns and writhing, writhing—
--darkness, infinite darkness, cold and empty—
--a hundred thousand eyes, a hundred thousand mouths—
--The Sister screamed something at me, pulled at my arm. She forced my gaze away from the beast—though beast was not an adequate word to describe the hunger, the sheer malevolence I saw in the thing—forcing my eyes towards the door, past the army of the beast, towards our only chance of escaping this nightmarish place. She shouted one word. I heard it with both my ears and in my mind.
One last stretch. One last sprint. I ran. I ran as fast as my legs could take me, ignoring my injured foot. I met the line of distorted Skrall head on. I smashed with my shield, swung with my sword. Rusted blades struck sparks against my armor. Barbed tentacles lashed at my arms, my feet. But still I ran on, because death at the hands of these twisted soldiers was preferable to being caught by the beast behind us. It chased us, I heard it, heard it scream and rage as it pulled itself towards us. But the Sister was there, negating the worst of our primal fear, inspiring us to run, run, run!
We burst through the gates, bleeding from dozens of injuries, driven by terror and adrenaline and determination. The sun was bright on our faces. Never had its heat been so welcome. I fell. I heard the beast bellow in frustration. I turned and saw black tendrils snaking out of the gate, only to shrivel and burn at the light of the sun. The Stronghold’s impossible geometries began to vanish, one by one, as the beast retreated back into its dark depths. We had escaped.
We made our way to New Atero as quickly as we could, navigating by the sun and the stars. My lesser wounds began to heal, but my foot became infected. Still we pressed on. We supported each other, me and the Sister. We needed to survive. We needed to pass on our message, our warning. That is why we came here, not to any Skrall camp or petty warlord. Because New Atero is the only place strong enough to fight the beast. New Atero is the only place that will listen to us. This is our warning:
We only escaped the beast because it was still weak from its millennia-long imprisonment. With every passing day, it grows stronger. Soon it will be strong enough to endure the sun, and then it shall emerge from the Stronghold like a worm crawling from a festering wound. And then the beast that even the Great Beings feared shall bring darkness to all of Spherus Magna.
It must be killed before it grows that powerful. There isn’t much time left. Remember this: light hurts it. Light is the only thing that can kill it. If it lives, we will all die.
“Nerus” has been cooperative for the duration of its ongoing imprisonment. However, subject is a victim of apparently psychotic delusions of a ‘beast’ encountered during journey to New Atero. His story of discovering and escaping this beast, while consistent in repeated tellings, remains too fantastic to have any basis in reality. Delusions believed to be a result of dehydration- and heat-based hallucination, combined with fugue-based amnesia. Subject is to remain in Council custody for the foreseeable future.