LORE ARCHIVE – Bestiary Series: The Ichorspine

Excerpts from Volume IV of the Research Journals of Erwin Krell, the inventor of Rift jumping and the co-founder and first High Guardian of the Riftkeeper’s Guild in the years following the Calamity.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 76

At last, a breakthrough! The most recent Rift portal has been open for seven hours. The connection appears to be stable. If it remains so, we should be able to learn a great deal about the properties of the Rift itself, as well as whatever lies on the other side.

For the moment, I will only make a few key observations. The Rift is obviously a gateway of some kind, but we don’t know where it leads. The interior is a dense cloud of swirling purple mist, and it seems to be giving off a strange and potent energy. My fellow Scions may scoff at my methods, but their own experiments lack imagination, and I think it’s likely that their unenlightened tampering is responsible for whatever is happening to our world. The Rift is so much more than just a well of power. It’s a vast ocean. We could transform Summit, possibly all of Axia, if we can find a way to harness it.

That, however, will have to wait for another day. The Rift is in an empty cellar vault beneath the old Stonemason’s Keep. The small group dedicated to its study have accordingly called ourselves the Riftkeepers. The door is sturdy, so we’ve set a watch outside the room and will be leaving the Rift open for the time being. For the first time in many months, I am excited to wake up and continue our research.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 77

We need to determine what happens to matter on the other side of the Rift, and have accordingly begun experiments with non-living objects. Ione tossed a rock through the portal and it vanished without a trace. We progressed through many other items and achieved similar results.

Next, we tied rope around the objects before sending them through. The tether allowed for easy retrieval, suggesting a degree of spatial continuity between this world and the Rift.

So far, the Rift doesn’t seem to have any effect on ordinary physical objects. We used rope with books, rocks, metal, and cloth, and each item seemed perfectly normal when we pulled it back. Based on these findings, I am ready to proceed to the next phase of our trials. There must be a way to send a living thing through unharmed.  

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 78

Ione volunteered to enter the Rift, and I saw no reason to dissuade her. I would normally start with animals before moving to human subjects, but we will eventually need to send someone that can report back, so this will save us a great deal of time. I’m sure her magic will protect her.

Ione took a broadsword and a day’s worth of food with her when she went through. Unfortunately, the broadsword cut through the rope we tied around her waist, so I will have to trust that she can find her way back on her own.

Day 78 addendum, Evening

We are still awaiting Ione’s return. I will try to get a few hours of sleep, but I have instructed the team to notify me if there is any sign from her. Today brought more questions than answers, but I choose to be encouraged.

 Research Notes, Year 144, Day 79

Still no sign of Ione, and I am beginning to lose faith. I have asked Rolf to be my new assistant. The Rift is plainly dangerous, so we will use beggars as test subjects until further notice.  

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 99

I am frustrated with our lack of progress. The Rift has been open for three weeks now. Thirteen people have gone through since Ione disappeared, yet we still have no conceptual understanding of its properties, and are no closer to discovering where it leads.

We have learned a bit about its effect on the human body. The subjects describe feelings of intense nausea and disorientation, as well as difficulty breathing, as if they are being squeezed by something on the other side. The few who manage to keep their eyes open have only seen an indistinct purple blur.

So far, no subject has survived more than a few days. Twelve of them seem to have died from miasma poisoning upon returning. The last one we were forced to terminate when he came back with four extra legs.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 100

Perhaps I’ve been looking at this from the wrong perspective. We sent so many things into the Rift. We should have given more consideration to the possibility that something might come out.

Today was our most exciting day in weeks. The action began shortly after we dropped a mule into the Rift. Rolf was holding the rope when it started to crackle, and we heard a strange clicking from within. Then something on the other side pulled with such force that Rolf was yanked off his feet and dragged screaming into the void.

A moment later, a monstrous creature crawled out. We don’t have a name for it yet, but the thing is large, long, and low, and has entirely too many legs. It clatters as it moves, and also leaves a trail of black slime as it slither-scuttles along the ground.

Glen managed to lock the creature in the vault, where it is now running in circles and chattering at the walls. I can’t tell if the thing is disoriented, or if it simply doesn’t have any eyes. It appears to have no difficulty existing in our environment, which leads me to wonder why it can survive on both sides of the portal while we cannot.

Either way, I plan to dissect the creature as soon as I can find a way to subdue it. Only Glen and I know of its existence, and right now we are keeping it that way. Our fellow Scions have never understood what we’re trying to do here, and I won’t let them shut us down again. Yes, the Rift is unpredictable. It is true that we don’t yet know what’s on the other side. But we’ll never get answers if we’re too afraid to ask questions, and I won’t let myself be restricted by those who lack the vision to see what might be accomplished here.

However, we have closed the Rift until further notice, if only because I don’t know what we’d do if another one of those things turns up. We’ll spend the next few days observing the creature. Hopefully it will reveal information the Rift has been unwilling to divulge on its own.

It seems that Rolf is unlikely to return, so Glen has been promoted to assistant until further notice.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 102

We haven’t been able to learn much about the creature, which is still too aggressive to approach. Its anger does not seem to have diminished since it first emerged from the Rift. I will update this log if anything changes, or if I can come up with a satisfactory name for this monstrosity.

In the meantime, the appearance of the creature has given me an idea. Though we had long suspected that there are creatures in the Rift, we are now certain that things can come out just as readily as they go in. What if it were possible to control this effect? Perhaps we could we summon our own monsters to fight alongside us?

We have opened a new Rift in one of the neighbouring vaults, and have begun experiments based on this hypothesis. So far, we have not yet managed to extract anything valuable, but I believe this will be a promising line of inquiry. The Rift could be a limitless source of goods and resources, and that alone could prove invaluable to Summit.

 In the interest of safety and to stem the loss of personnel, I have also implemented some basic security protocols. We are now closing the Rift every night, and opening a new one in the morning. My less open-minded colleagues might think me irresponsible, but I have always learned from my mistakes.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 109

Damn! Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn! The creature got loose. We’re still trying to figure out what the damn thing eats—or even if it eats—so Glen went in with some cabbages and a dead cliffrabbit, and panicked when he thought the vault was empty. It turns out the creature had climbed up to the ceiling. I had no idea it could do that.

It dropped down on top of Glen and slipped out through the open door. We’re dispatching search parties now. The other Riftkeepers were upset when Beca told them what happened, but at least they recognize the severity of the situation. We have to get this under control as soon as possible. The Scions’ Guild already sees us as instigators, but they could expel us entirely if they learn what we’ve been doing.

Sadly, Glen’s neck collapsed beneath the weight of the creature when it landed on him. Beca now has the privilege of being my assistant. She is the last member of our initial team, so I will have to interview more candidates should anything happen to her.

Day 109, Evening

There is good news and there is bad news today. The good news is that we figured out what the creature eats. The bad news is that it ate Beca. The creature is also dead. I have no idea how it escaped the keep without being spotted, but we tracked it to the aqueducts and managed to terminate it without too many casualties. It was much tougher than I expected. The thing had hard armour plating beneath the slime. When cornered, it spits a sticky, pungent liquid with a powerful adhesive quality that makes it difficult to move. My robes are covered in black gunk, and it took a squad of Riftkeeper spearmen several minutes to punch through its hide.

I’m just glad we got there before our fellow Scions. We have brought the carcass back to the keep, and will be performing an autopsy soon. A team has been dispatched to clean up the remaining bits of skin and slime the creature left behind. Through diligent work, we will be able to remove all evidence of its existence, and the guild will remain ignorant of our discovery.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 113

After much posturing and overly dramatic deliberation, the other Riftkeepers have agreed to let me continue my research. They reprimanded me for my recklessness, but believe—as I do—that this work is far too important to ignore. I don’t know why they make such a show of things when we all knew that would be the case in the end.

The Riftkeepers have appointed a new assistant to me and demanded more frequent updates. I cannot say that I like the oversight, but I am willing to accept it in light of recent events. I’ll return to the vault to continue my research tomorrow.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 114

My new assistant is a clumsy imbecile. She spilled tea all over my research desk and knocked over a table covered with vital notes and documents. I spent my entire afternoon reorganizing my records. I must speak with the Keepers about finding a replacement.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 115

The Riftkeepers have rejected my request for a new assistant. I told them that I could not possibly hope to achieve results with such unreliable staff. They told me that a true Riftkeeper should know how to improvise. I would argue the point further, but in this case I believe I’m being punished. I will revisit the matter when I have something useful to report.

For the time being, I will have to make due with young Miss Brettlyn. She is certainly enthusiastic, so perhaps she is not as hopeless as she seems. I find myself longing for the capable assistance of Rolf, Ione, and the others.  

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 117

I have begun my physical examination of the creature’s body. So far, I have filled eleven buckets with the black slime secreted from the corpse. Even stranger, it shows no sign of stopping, which is anomalous for something that is supposed to be dead.

We have nevertheless managed to learn a great deal about the creature’s anatomy. Beneath the muck, the creature is much like a giant centipede. Its body is divided into segments, each of which is covered in hard, chitinous plating that creates a strange clicking sound as it rubs together. It is strong enough to deflect glancing sword and spear strikes, but it is dead of several puncture wounds, so a direct blow is plainly enough to pierce the natural armour.

The creature’s mouth is filled with several rows of serrated teeth. Keeping with my earlier observation, it does not seem to have any eyes or other sensory organs. I don’t know how the creature navigates its environment or finds its prey.

At the recommendation of Miss Brettlyn, I have decided to name the thing the Ichorspine. Even now, black slime is still forming on its scaly skin. Is it a physical reaction to our environment? Or is the slime oozing out from somewhere deep within? Maybe we’ll try draining it tomorrow.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 118

We cut open the Ichorspine and drained every segment. It doesn’t seem to have any internal organs, only more chambers filled with a seemingly inexhaustible amount of slime. We filled twelve more buckets, and still it seems to be producing more, though the rate has slowed considerably. Whatever energy has been sustaining the reaction finally seems to be fading. I am relieved, as I was starting to wonder what I would do with all the slime.  

We did find a piece of something that looks like it might have been a part of Beca, but the decay was too advanced to make a positive assessment.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 124

The strangest thing happened today. I was working with an open Rift when Miss Brettlyn came in with a lunch tray. Clumsy as ever, she tripped over a slime bucket and tumbled through the Rift, lunch and all. I closed it and started cleaning up the lab, figuring that would be the end of her, and I could finally put in a claim for a new assistant.

Then I heard her voice, faintly calling for help. At first I thought she was communicating from the void, a prospect that was intriguing and required further investigation, regardless of my feelings about Miss Brettlyn’s general conduct.

When I traced the sound, I found her trapped in a neighbouring vault—the one where the Ichorspine first appeared. The door has been locked since the Ichorspine escaped, yet somehow she was inside the room, asking to be set free.

Once I got over my initial disappointment at her survival, I noticed she was standing in front of another Rift that I certainly didn’t recall opening. Perhaps another of our number left it open. More concerning is the possibility that it was opened by residual energy from our previous experiments. Must investigate this further.

Miss Brettlyn was also drenched in black ichor. She claims she doesn’t know what happened, but she described the same feelings of nausea and disorientation that previous subjects have attributed to the Rift. The only difference is that Miss Brettlyn emerged safely, covered in black slime.

This is a groundbreaking discovery, one that opens a potentially revolutionary line of inquiry. The Ichorspine was able to survive the Rift, so its biology must hold the key. There may yet be a way to borrow its protection. I will have to keep Miss Brettlyn around for a little while longer.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 126

After two days of close observation, Miss Brettlyn is as chipper as ever, and even my spirits have been lifted. She seems to have passed through the Rift entirely unharmed. More importantly, I think I know how she did it!

We tried to recreate some of the conditions of our initial experiments. This time, we opened two Rifts: one in the first vault where the Ichorspine appeared, and another in our current lab, where we’ve been storing all the slime. I dipped a rock into a bucket, making sure it was completely coated in the black substance. Then I threw it through the portal. Sure enough, it passed through the Rift and emerged in the other vault, still covered in slime. We have since replicated the results with several other objects.

I don’t know if there’s a way to stay in the Rift for any length of time, but we now know that there is a way to pass through it, and to travel a significant distance very quickly. The ramifications could completely transform of our understanding of distance and physical displacement.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 127

We began testing the limits of the effect, opening Rifts in new rooms on opposite ends of the compound. The experiments were a complete success. The maximum range between portals is around 50 paces, but direction is irrelevant, and the distance does not seem to have any effect on the item being transported. The rock passes through the Rift as easily as it did when the entrance and exit portals were in adjoining chambers, though I suspect that a person using the Rift would need to have some sense of where they wanted to go before they departed.

It is currently too risky to go in blind. Without proper geographic attunement, the subject might end up placing the exit Rift inside a wall or above the Wound.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 131

After testing the process with every conceivable object, animal, and location, we have decided to move forward with human trials. Miss Brettlyn has volunteered to be our first scout. She’s already been through once, and it seems safer to let her go again that it does to risk exposure for the rest of us.  

We have decided to make a dye out of the ichor, which should theoretically allow us to infuse a piece of clothing with the desired properties. Our supply is limited until we can find more Ichorspines, and Rift jumping will be much less feasible if we need to bathe ourselves in black goo every time someone wants to travel to the base of the mountain. Clothing is reusable, and hopefully far less messy.

We are soaking an old cloak now. It should be ready by tomorrow.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 132

Once again, the experiment was a complete success! Miss Brettlyn donned the cloak, stepped through the Rift, and emerged safely from the exit portal. She seems to be completely unharmed, and while she again describes a sense of disorientation, she says that it is not as intense when you know what to expect. That is equally good news. It would seem that we have unlocked an unprecedented form of travel that would be unthinkable without the Rift.

When we are finally given our due, history will show that a new era of Sciontics began at this moment. Our predecessors’ lack of curiosity—their unwillingness to probe the mysteries of the arcane—will prove to be their undoing.

The Rift is a gift, and the Scions have failed to appreciate it as anything other than an engine for arcane power. They fail to understand the opportunity and responsibility before them. When the Riftkeepers rise to our rightful power, we will not be so shortsighted.      

Interestingly, the dark ichor has proven to be a very deep shade of purple. The dye turned the cloak a midnight amethyst instead of the black I was expecting. I don’t know how I feel about the colour, but it is nothing if not distinct.

Research Notes, Year 144, Day 135

We have made more cloaks and repeated our initial success. The Riftkeepers are thrilled with our results. They believe, as I do, that this ability will force the masters of the Scions’ Guild to acknowledge our research. If they refuse, it will at least give us the strength to break off and continue on our own. We simply need practice, to make sure we can control the effect in a tactical situation.  

Now it is time for me to step through the portal. I have created my own entrance and my own exit, and will report again when I reach the other side.  

The journal continues on the following pages. Today Krell is widely remembered as the first human to travel through the Rift, though his own notes cast some doubt on that version of history.

 

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Face off against the Ichorspines by downloading their free DLC Foe Card!

This week’s Archive story comes from Eric Weiss, a Toronto-based writer, performer, and media critic. In addition to his work with EMBERWIND, he is the current Associate Editor (and former Games Editor) for ThatShelf.com, as well as the writer and co-creator of the stage play Not All Fedoras.

Art by William Liu.