The Skull- An Ending

You have chosen the “Abyssal Reliquary” and the path of Warlock

In the eerie dark of the chamber, you recall that a single phrase, "Caveat Emptor," adorned the archway, a spectral caution to those who purchase entry and proceed to choose carelessly. You have to care - you bought your way in with blood. For this reason alone, you know you must be wise, for blood is binding. You also feel the wind tugging at your hems, pushing into the small of your back, forcing you forward. There is little time to choose. A bouquet gently sways; you can't deny it exudes an oddly alluring charm.

The petals shimmer with enchantment and seem to beckon you forward with their subtle dance. However, a nagging doubt creeps into your mind. Is the slight movement of the flowers the result of the wind in the chamber? You have no way to know, but do not think that is true. Surely, they have a hidden sentience; you watch them perform a subtle dance that whispers danger. You've read enough tales to know that beauty can mask treachery—a memory flashes of an ancient story where monsters disguised as beautiful singing mermaids lured sailors to their doom. Averting your gaze, your attention falls on the skull resting on the table. Besides the incredibly dark eye sockets, it seems inconspicuous, and at least it’s not moving.

That seems safer. "A skull," you think, " if the flowers are the monster, how could a skull be a problem? it’s the opposite end of the spectrum." You pat yourself on the back, believing you've outsmarted potential traps, and reach for the skull. Your fingers gently trace the contours of the skull's bony surface. You wonder briefly who this skull once was and how their remains ended up on this table.

“Who cares if it’s going to make me powerful! You exclaim, a little too loud.

You look around to make sure the disembodied voice doesn’t hear you. It seemed terribly judgy, and you get enough of that at home. You come from the wealthiest family in your area. Your parents are the local lord and lady. You are not altruistic or good-natured. You are a pouty, entitled brat who doesn't like to get mud on their hems. You wanted to come here in the first place to embark on an adventure to get away from your parents. That, and to bring back something so valuable, you can finally impress them.

Your fencing skills, reading comprehension, and previous courtships had yet to do anything of the sort. Besides, you are too interesting to waste away in their stinky village. Maybe you can find out who this skull was anyway. Perhaps you’re supposed to? Yes, that’s it! You are excited that perhaps this is the start of the REAL quest, and you must return this skull to its body to receive your magical treasure. Will you have to plunder the crypt to find it? You don’t think that is an issue. You are by heritage, wealthy, and you embarked on this journey to find a rare and powerful magical object to placate mummy and daddy’s constant requests for you to “do something” with your life. (ew) So a rare and powerful object, you shall have. You don’t particularly care how.

Your decision creates a sense of satisfaction, thinking you've cleverly solved the puzzle, which you deserve to have done. You can almost hear yourself boasting about your wit and bravery at the tavern later. You will have to drink and dash as usual, as you are out of funds at the moment and don’t want to write home for an allowance of more coin. You think this “good deed” may compensate for the minor future transgression.

How clever you are to have solved the puzzle! However, there wasn't one to begin with.

You place your palm lovingly and gently over the skull's forehead, thinking of all the power it could bring you. (you’re getting significantly ahead of yourself here, aren’t you?) As you do, a slow, sick shiver runs down your spine. You try to lift your hand, but to your horror, you cannot. You feel dread deep in your bones, coiling up inside your own skull. You did not, in fact, make a wise choice. (You are not very wise in general, but of course, you don’t know that. You think you are a national treasure.) The harder you try to pull, the worse the shivering becomes. You feel ill, trapped, scared. You are sweating through your favorite tunic. This is ridiculous, and you are much too good-looking for this predicament.

Even though no one is watching and you are in obvious danger, you take a second to daintily seat yourself on the floor and flip your hair over your shoulder before returning to the futile effort to free yourself. An ever-thickening smell of sulfur only makes it worse. Should you preemptively swoon and pretend to faint in case you pass out anyway? If you are freed later by anyone attractive, you want to be found sprawled artfully and not slumped over like some clumsy commoner.

Distracted yet again by thinking of yourself (typical), you didn’t even notice the table disappearing beneath the skull that is still quite attached to your hand. The stream of light begins to seal up little by little until it is gone, like a candle flame beneath a snuffer. The room brightens slightly to a strange and smoky orange. It is becoming uncomfortably hot. Are those ….cracks erupting on the floor? You feel like an ember in a dying fire. Flames dart up around you in a circle. Looking down, you wonder if that strange, red glowing pattern was there when you arrived.

You've summoned something, and It is much too close, but the skull won’t move from your hand OR the floor. Whoever, or whatever it is… is so tall it is currently blocking out all the light from the flames behind it. You lose your pride and begin to feel truly afraid, staring at the illuminated marks on the floor.

"Hello, my little mortal darling," it purrs. The otherworldly presence kneels to meet your trembling, downturned face. You feel something sharp under your chin. As this being gently uses a very pointy-nailed hand to lift your face, you now see a handsome, crimson-skinned man with large horns (not unlike the ones on the head of your local tiefling, whom you secretly have a crush on). He gazes at you with a penetrating intensity that permeates to your core. You are you; thus, you still have the wherewithal to notice he is wearing the most opulent robes you have ever seen. Your fear begins to dispel as your hungry recognition of power pushes it firmly aside.

You hear the lovely, hushed voice again. "I see you have made a fine choice. The Abyssal Reliquary. In doing so, you have the opportunity to become mine."

"Mine?” You scoff, unfortunately, out loud. Does this devil mean to make you WORK? A JOB? Absolutely not.

He smiles sweetly, “Oh, but of course, my child. I am no lowly creature. I bear offerings of unparalleled power. No other can give this to you. I am Asmodeus, the Lord of the Nine Hells, Prince of Nessus. Become my ward and gain the power you so desperately seek.”

He raises an eyebrow slightly in your direction, the words slithering, coiling around you like jeweled serpents. You know the danger in making a pact with an archdevil…but this is THE archdevil, and he sounds so….nice. His presence is suffocating, all-consuming, but comforting, like a heavy cloak of shadows wrapped around your mind.

The power he promises is still what you came here to collect. A ridiculous vision of returning home bearing strange and potent magic enters your head. You see yourself becoming a famous warlock. Your parents are clapping for some reason? The tiefling (whose name is Thara; you are so self-absorbed you never bothered to ask them) is asking you on a date. The whole town is clapping as you bow. (Why are you bowing?)

You look Asmodeus in the eye, and even though you know it is an awful idea, you say feverishly, “Tell me, what can you give?” “You will carry out tasks and deeds that further my infernal goals, and in return, you shall wield the dark magic granted to you by this pact. You will gain ability beyond your comprehension” “and” Asmodeus continues, flashing a VERY toothy grin, “my eternal favor.” Hearing the lofty promise of power, still lost in your weird reverie, you blurt “YES!” without thinking and clap your hand over your mouth in horror. “I mean..”

Asmodeus lays a finger on your lips to shush you mid-sentence. It's too late. The skull is glowing brightly, a tendril of ensorcelled flames crawling up, no, into your arm.

"It is decided. In exchange for power, from this moment forth, you are my servant, my agent in the mortal world.” You make an odd, strangled noise, still trying to revoke your agreement. He continues, “ I do not grant power lightly. Know this, bound one,” he whispers, as the magic stops seeping into your body and coils into ropes that tighten uncomfortably around your wrist - “My gifts come at a great cost. If you disobey my commands, your very soul is forfeit."

Asmodeus grins again and walks toward an open portal. Is that lava in the distance? You decide you don’t want to know. You've bound yourself to a being of pure malevolence, a creature whose name is whispered in terror across all the realms. You shrug; at least you can get your parents to stop nagging you. You think of home again, longing for the incredibly strong local ale, dreaming of the tavern.

A realization strikes you. “Wait!” you call, “Was the stranger I received the map from ... also a warlock in your service?” Asmodeus turns to face you and steps disarmingly close to you again. Taking your face in his claws again, but not gently this time. “Of course they were; they knew you would pick up the reliquary. It’s the only reason you were given the map at all.” The charisma dripping from his voice disappears as he snarls impatiently, “That’s also your first task as my servant; now go find someone else to give it to.”He steps through the portal, which closes immediately behind him.

As you begin to understand the grave implications of your choice, The room around you seems to warp and twist. You find yourself suddenly in a back corner of your hometown tavern. Looking at your belt, where a chain now affixes the skull. You know it was all too real, and it now serves as a permanent reminder of the dark powers that Asmodeus bestows upon you. As you flag down the barkeep, sorely in need of a drink, you can't help but remember the bouquet, with its deceptively enticing dance, and muse about what kind of monstrosity it might have summoned. Maybe you got lucky after all. You feel for the map shred in your cloak. It’s still there.

The bell on the tavern door rings, and a young, clueless-looking (but gorgeous) lad walks in. You smile and motion for him to sit down next to you.

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