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Tarsikus Ibn Meth’kultesh, The Book Binder: Baernaloth of The Demented (3 of 13)

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            Withered and blackened fingers stretched out and slipped another cord of gristle and sinew into the ragged line of punctured holes along the left border of the page, slowly and carefully adding it into the book. The smell of ink mixed with burning flesh and brimstone, an acrid haze lingering in the air from rendered viscera while the craftsman labored on its latest tome.

 

 

****

 

 

“What do you mean? What do you mean it isn’t mine to bargain with?! You stupid imp! Here I am willingly offering my soul to your master, the Lord of the 7th, and you won’t take it? Of course it’s mine to bargain with!”

 

The imp shrugged at the livid wizard that stood just beyond the edge of the summoning circle. “I’d take it and call you a fool if it were only yours to offer. It isn’t. There isn’t anything there inside your mortal shell. It’s as empty as my capacity to care. Obviously you sold it long ago…”

 

“That’s impossible! Look again!” there was a frantic tone to the mage’s voice now, a tremble spreading through his limbs and a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t possible. He hadn’t ever sold it before. He hadn’t ever even considered it before now. And this bargain from the black tome would have given him power enough to never fear the bargain because he’d never die. His fury broke, “Shut up! Shut up you lying imp! I know what you’re trying to do. Lying just to make me settle for less in my bargain with your lord. Devious little wretch.”

 

“Look idiot, you’ve got me in a binding circle. You could tell if I was lying and you could torture me for days on end to make sure I wasn’t telling half-truths. I come to expect it from your lot, so give me your worst till the circle fades. I’d happily drag your soul into Baator for whatever table scraps the Lord of Lies would deign to give you, but you’ve got nothing we’re interested in!” The imp was pressed up against the solid border of the circle and staring up into its summoner’s panicked face.

 

The wizard stood there, ready to hurl a dozen tortures at the lying little fiend but he paused and looked down at it. A cold dread crept over him as the imp looked back.

 

“Somehow, someway you let go of your soul years ago. Your shell’s been vacant for some time. Who might you have dealt with dealing in souls? Another fiend? A…” he slurred and spit out the words, “a Tanar’ri?…someone you might have traded it for for power or knowledge? You’ve been dealing in the worst sort of things for around a century now it seems.” The imp held back a chuckle before it looked back up with an honestly curious look on its face. “Where did you get the ritual to bind me anyways? Pardon me for saying so, but there’s no way in hell that you should have access to it. Who sold that to you?”

 

The mage drew his sleeve across his face to mop up the sweat upon his brow as a tremble shook him, coupled to a memory from long ago that bubbled unbidden to his mind. He was young then, rash and headstrong, full of zeal and want for more than he was capable of. It had taken him years of searching to track down a reference to a certain tome of magic called the Broken Man’s Reflections. It was said to contain the true names of certain fiends and the rituals to bind them in order to bargain with them or their infernal masters. Very powerful and long forgotten to most sages and wizards alike. The original source was nearly a thousand years old itself and had spoken in hushed tones about this other book with reverence and fear.

 

The search was long and hard and nearly two decades had stretched by with him having left a trail of dead competitors and rivals in his wake. But finally he was given the name of a senile old man, a seller of books in a far off city to the south. They said that he was once a wizard but had found the religion of those southern lands and forsaken his practice of magic. He’s destroyed many of his books but realized that he still needed to eat and so he sold off his old works and collected tomes. But only one book to any single person, lest too much knowledge of the arcane damn their soul in the eyes of his jealous gods.

 

 

****

 

 

            The hand reached out again to its right where it reached into the quivering belly of a hezrou. The Tanar’ri howled in agony as a loop of its intestines was sliced free, shredded and stripped into a set of long strings of sticky, blood drenched chord, like fiendish cat gut. Despite the pain though, the fiend had a look of dumbfounded and unquestioning ecstasy upon its face. All said it had less choice in the matter than the others who stood bound within the chamber. It at least would know oblivion eventually while they… its own mind of chaos and evil incarnate reeled at the implications of it all… yes, it was better off with the honor and privilege of death at the hands of the Great One who sat and lovingly prepared its latest book.

 

 

            ****

 

 

Long weeks of searching and traveling among the sweltering heat and zealous ignorance of those lands had led him to a small wagon at the end of a larger caravan of traders headed across the grasslands to the west of those lands. There in that small and otherwise unexceptional wagon he found the man. Withered and old, his eyes clouded by cataracts and his step infirm, the man still held a bright smile on his face as his wagon plodded onwards. Behind him the bed of the cart was covered in a sprawl of books, scrolls and tomes; the trappings of an entire life of a great wizard, all of it forsaken and for sale.

 

The old man had smiled and insisted on lecturing him in the ways of the true gods and his beliefs. A last attempt to save the soul of the man who’d come to see him. The young wizard listened, or at least pretended to, before finally interrupting and asking the man about a dozen books, ultimately asking about the one tome that had consumed him for all these years now. They’d looked through the books but not found it. All of the other books were of mixed value, some he’d mastered their contents years before and others urged him to purchase them for their secrets. But the old man hadn’t seemed to own or even remember the one single book he’d repeatedly asked him for.

 

“Perhaps the gods seek to save your soul. Maybe it’s a sign from above that you came here looking for something that you shouldn’t.” the doddering old fool poked at a few stacks of books that then toppled across the floor.

 

“Oh as if I believe in all that rot! Listen, I’ve spent years looking for this book. I’d give anything for it! Anything!” he grew angry and sullen as he looked through the next pile of books, even though he’d already perused their titles once before. Behind him, silhouetted by the glaring rays of the southern sun the old man smiled. His shadow lurched out behind him to seem a dozen times larger than his body, elongated and withered. He smiled and for a flicker of an instant those eyes burned into the back of the wizard standing before him, unclouded by age or infirmity. Something –else- stood there in the sun and then was gone as the wizard turned back around.

 

“You’re standing in the light, I can’t read the book titles to buy any of them to feed you if I can’t see them. Still… it doesn’t seem like you have it. I might as well not waste any more of my time. To hell with you.” He stood up to leave, cursing his ill luck as a sudden voice from the senile old fool caused him to pause and turn around.

 

“Oh! Look here. I’d almost forgotten that I’d had a copy of that book. It’s the one that you’d been looking for. Well, here you go I guess. I apologize for my disorganization; I really should have remembered that it was there. But my old and flighty mind is your good luck it seems.” The old man held out the tattered, musty volume at arms length to his customer. The volume’s weight caused him to lean heavily on the gnarled cane in his other hand as the wizard clambered back into the wagon to take the tome from him.

 

“How much? Anything you ask. Name it and it’s yours. I must have that book.” The wizard was resolute, bracing himself for some ungodly price. Whatever the cost though the book was priceless, even more so from his own years of fruitless searching.

 

“The cost? Oh… well… that depends I guess on how badly you want it? Set your own price. Whatever you think you’ll do with it, whatever you think you’ll become with it in your hands. What are you willing to pay? Pay what you’re willing my boy.”

 

Almost as an afterthought the wizard emptied his pockets of coin and clutched the book to his chest as he dashed from the wagon in triumph, never once looking back as the old man sat down upon one of the chests of scrolls.

 

“Enjoy the book, I think you will. Great things in store for you. Take care now!” the old man called out as the wizard retreated into the distance. As the mortal left he chuckled to himself at his good luck in finding that worn and tattered tome. He’d gotten it for a song! Some coin but he had plenty of that! He’d have given anything for that book. Oh the name he’d make for himself with it! Cost was the last thing in his mind as he vanished into the heat of the savanna. Least of all did he feel that missing place inside his being that he’d left behind to watch in abject horror as his shell vanished with its prize.

 

“You have your wants and you have the price that your willing to pay for them. I hope you’ve enjoyed fool. It only gets better from here you see since your mortal self will realize in some number of years when he’s ready to make another bargain only to find that he’s got nothing left to bargain with.”

 

The old man’s voice shifted into a sibilant whisper that blew like a wind from some bottomless abyss. Reflected now in the surface of a bowl of water was a strikingly different thing than anyone else looking inside the wagon would have seen. The image flickered upon the liquid as the wagon moved on to a new place and a new city to peddle its books again. Captured in that blurry mirror now, gone was the feeble old man, the seller of books, the saver of souls, and the penitent caster. Sitting there in the center of the wagon was the stretched and wasted form of something unspeakably old and ineffably evil. It’s vaguely goat headed face cackled in wet sucking laughs as it looked down at the suddenly paper thin visage of the mortal he’d just acquired in trade.

 

“Anything you said? You have your book, and I have my prize. Take your place now in a book of my own, there’s a page already marked out for you.” The Baern took the soul and stretched it in bleeding, festering hands, scarred and pitted with some wasting disease. Stretching the silently screaming figure into the rough shape of a page for a book it drew out a huge black tome from out of the air to open it to a new, fresh page. With ragged string and its own razored claws it pierced and punctured the soul in its hands to stitch it into a book of its own. “You have your book, and I have mine.”

 

With a sudden, single scream from the figure now bound to its own page, the Book-Binder slammed shut the volume and cradled it to its own gray and withered chest, its bleeding fingers leaving behind a bloody trail in their wake down its blackened surface. Unheard upon the winds of that world and a hundred thousand more, the wagon moved on for its next prize, spreading damnation in its wake as the Baern cackled, consumed with its own madness.

****

 

 

In the present the wizard slumped to the ground and gathered up the Broken Man’s Reflections to his chest with the loving tenderness of a father to a child and the horror of a man who has realized just what price he placed for himself so long ago. What he desired and what lengths he would go to obtain that which he wanted. The imp could only beat in vain on the binding circle’s walls as its broken master only huddled and softly whispered to himself there in the fading light of the dying candles, “I’d have given anything…”

 

 

Details and Abilities:

 

 

            The Book Binder often takes whatever mortal form it feels would be appropriate for it to gather up that which it seeks, exclusively the souls of power hungry mortal wizards, clerics and theurgists. Normally the Baern prefers to appear as an elderly male of varied race and species, other times it may appear as an elderly wise-woman or witch, and rarely it may appear as a young child, posing as a divine touched herald of arcane mysteries.

 

            In its true form the Binder takes the traditional wasted form of a Baernaloth though its physical flaw ebbs and flows at uneven intervals. When apparent its physical flaw is that of a hemorrhagic fever or blistering skin disease that causes the Binder’s flesh to pucker and bleed from within, leaving a trail of blood wherever it moves, and especially on that which it touches. His flaw is only apparent when in his natural form however, though when assuming another form to deceive and travel incognito he appears unable to avoid his reflection taking the image of his true self, be it mirrors, water, or similar things.

 

            The Book Binder’s chosen method of action is to distribute arcane knowledge and secrets to hubric and power lusting mortal spellcasters for the sole purpose of their eventual corruption and downward spiral into evil. Most times his aid comes at little cost to them in worldly goods, but it all depends on what they’re willing to pay for what they seek. Most of those who seek him out and gleefully snatch at what he offers them in exchange for a paltry sum of gold, they rarely leave wholly in possession of their immortal souls. At his core, Tarsikus Ibn Meth’kultesh is a collector of souls, a classic image of the wandering devil who lies, cheats and manipulates the hidden desires of his clients; offering them the world in exchange for that beyond it.

 

            Given his age and origin, it seems likely that the Binder is likely the root of this frighteningly common fiendish archetype. But regardless, he tends to take more interest in mortals than his kin since he appears to spend most of his time upon the prime material though disturbing tales speak of similar persons or traveling sellers of books upon the Outlands and the various gatetowns. It may though be only similarity and not the actual Baern in all, or many of these cases.

 

            Some may speculate upon some connection or perhaps a rivalry between the Book Binder and the Chronicler, another of the 13. Rather than rivalry however there is a certain level of parity between the pair, but also a very striking dichotomy, with the Binder spending most of his time upon the Prime, and the Chronicler spending his time exclusively upon the Outer planes.

 

            Perhaps the most troubling and most uncertain rumor surrounding the Book Binder, but also the most compelling and fitting, rumor revolves around his association with certain tomes of magic, both common and rare. Tarsikus Ibn Meth’kultesh is said to have either been the principle author, or a major contributor to either the ‘Book of Derelict Magics’ or ‘The Book of Inverted Darkness’. The of the pair is a history of the Yugoloths and magic related to the lower planes, and the latter a bizarrely eclectic book of prophecy, necromancy, and scattered histories or disparate peoples and nations that is best known for one of the most complete copies of itself having belonged to Vecna, both as a mortal, a lich, and as a true deity.

 

            Another speculation lies behind rumors that Shator Gehreleths appear to have an abject fear of the simple mention of the full name of the Book Binder. When asked about this particular member of The Demented they have been known to fly into rages, display aberrant paranoia, and levels of white knuckled fear that drew them all collectively to clutch and whisper to the obsidian triangles hung from around their necks. What this means is uncertain, though it may be that there is some longstanding and ancient conflict, lineage, or connection between Tarsikus Ibn Meth’kultesh and the fallen and exiled Baern, Apomps the Triple Aspected.

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