In the Trophy Room of Shyka the Many, among the infinite treasures that the Eldest has plucked from time, there sits a plinth of banded bone and gold.
Upon this plinth is a stone of red agate veined with spreading black. It resembles a large baroque pearl, but it is more precious than any oyster’s prize, for this is the heartstone of the lich-king Darocath.
It sits on the plinth by Darocath’s own will, and it commemorates how Shyka the Many defeated the lich without striking a single blow.
This is how it was done:
Illustration by Igor Grechanyi. For more information on Shyka and the Eldest, Lost Omens: Gods & Magic!
Long, long ago, in a small and forgotten corner of the Immortal Principality of Ustalav, there lived a girl named Krisalla. She was a child of uncommon patience, and this drew Shyka to her, for the Eldest knew the value of a mortal who could let time unspool properly.
One evening, as the brief summer moths were flying thick through the twilight, the Eldest appeared before the child. “Do you wish to touch your hand to destiny?” they asked.
Krisalla looked up at the blue-gowned figure, who appeared to her an ageless woman with light brown skin and a silver-capped braid, at once human and unearthly. “How?”
“You will lay low a sorcerer of terrible power, an unliving monstrosity who will come to grip all Ulcazar in his bony fist. You will end his reign of cruelty and will become a hero to those who survive to remember your name. But this will not come without cost.”
“What cost?” Krisalla asked, for she was a child of Ustalav and knew the grim ways of its curses.
“One life,” Shyka answered. “Not yours.”
“I accept,” Krisalla said.
From a hidden sheath in their sleeve, Shyka drew out a scroll bound by a white ribbon figured with cracked hourglasses. This scroll came from Shyka’s Archives, where the records of the future were penned in the past. They held it out to Krisalla, and as the girl took it from Shyka’s slender fingers, the Eldest flickered and shifted to an androgynous youth in the same garb, but now with a different symbol at the neck.
Krisalla showed no surprise at this, for why should one be surprised by the transformations of a god? “What shall I do with the scroll?”
“Read it if you like,” Shyka said, “though most mortals are happier without knowing their futures. Otherwise, hold it safe. When the time to do more comes, you will know.”
Then the Eldest was gone, and Krisalla was alone.
Decades passed. The girl became a woman, married, had three daughters of her own. Her husband fell ill and died; her children became mothers in turn.
And in this time, at first from afar, a cold and withered shadow began to stretch across Ulcazar. Bones and wraiths rose up from the dark places in the mountains, and they gathered into an army of the hateful dead. Rumors of the lich-king at their head grew ever closer and more urgent, until finally Krisalla, now an old woman, knew that the day for Shyka’s gift had come.
She opened the scroll. With fearful eyes and trembling hands, she read what Shyka had written, long ago or long before. Then she rolled it up again, and closed her eyes over her tears, and sent for her youngest daughter.
“You must flee Ulcazar at once,” Krisalla told her daughter, “or it will mean your life. The sorcerer-lich Darocath is coming, and it is written by a god that he will kill you in Ulcazar. Therefore, you must go to Amaans with all haste, because if you stay here, you will surely die.”
“Yes, mother,” her daughter said, and fled.
But neither mother nor daughter knew that Darocath had already come to Ulcazar. The lich’s armies held the border village of Borsov, and there they caught Krisalla’s daughter. Darocath’s creatures killed her, but not before their master heard of the woman who had tried to flee Ulcazar to escape a god’s prophecy.
Struck by curiosity, Darocath ordered his forces to Krisalla’s village, where they seized the old woman. From her he took the story and the scroll, and then he left her weeping with her family as he swept off to study the Eldest’s message. He scanned impatiently past the tale of Krisalla’s life, and he saw the words written for him:
“You will come to the House of Eternity,” it said, “and you will die.”
Darocath laughed, amused as he had not been in centuries, as he read the instructions Shyka had given him for finding his way in. “I am dead,” the lich said to his lieutenants, “and I do not fear time’s watcher.”
Indeed, for years piled upon years, Darocath had sought a way into the House of Eternity, for it was the manipulation of time and the mysteries of the future that had intrigued the lich beyond his mortal span. Now all those secrets had been given to him freely, and he would not be intimidated away from using that key.
Abandoning his army, Darocath ventured through a breach into the First World, and then followed the tangled and treacherous path that Shyka had set for him to the House of Eternity.
The Eldest met him there. “Lich.”
“Many.” Darocath studied Shyka with the same half-forgotten savor of curiosity. The lich had trained his sight to see across a certain span of time, and so he saw Shyka as a figure blurred across multiple faces and heights. “You invited me here.”
“To die,” Shyka agreed. “Would you like to visit the Archives?”
“What will you allow me to read?” Darocath asked. He had no intention of obeying the Eldest’s restrictions, but he was curious.
“Everything,” Shyka said. “I will let you walk the Archives as I do.”
Suspicious but intrigued, the lich climbed the mountain stairs after the Eldest, circling around the castle’s crumbling base until they came at last to the gaping maw of its entrance, pitted with rusting spikes and shards of age-discolored wood. Inside, the House of Eternity was in equal disrepair, all dust and cobwebs and stale gray gloom.
Yet though the Archives’s books sagged on shelves of mold-spotted wood and its scrolls were brittle and yellowed by time, its grandeur awed Darocath. The lich scarcely glanced at the scholars’ books; it was Shyka’s writings he had come for. “You will let me read these?”
“Yes,” the Eldest said.
So Darocath went into the Archives.
For a year and a day he absorbed himself in the Eldest’s journals of the future, while in the world outside, his army collapsed from neglect and infighting, and the spell-wards of his tower crumbled for want of tending. The lich forgot his own experiments into manipulating the strands of time, for why should he labor so arduously to uncover the secrets that were already laid out for him?
All that the lich wanted to know was his. Any question he could conceive of was answered and had been answered before ever he imagined it. In the Archives of Shyka the Many, he saw the map of time laid bare of its mysteries, and so Darocath came to realize a terrible thing.
To live this way, in all moments at once, was to exist without curiosity. It was to realize that all his efforts at mastering his own fate came to a nullity, and that the illusions of choice and control were just that, and that even he, a creature of unfathomable brilliance and magic, could not escape the slow snares of fate.
All was known, and all was written, and nothing was left to wonder.
The lich sat with this truth in silence and turned it over in his mind for a day and a night. Darocath could see no flaw in his conclusion. The answers were written in the Archives; the outcome was foreordained.
And so he plucked out the stone that held his unliving heart, and placed it on a plinth in surrender, and let himself collapse into dust and despair.
And in a dusty corner of the Archives, on a page buried in an unremarkable book that the mighty lich had never thought to open, the lettering changed minutely. But only minutely. Because, in Darocath’s story, the ending did not change.
About the Author
Liane Merciel is the author of the Pathfinder Tales novels Nightglass, Nightblade, and Hellknight, and a contributor to other books including Nidal: Land of Shadows, Faiths of Golarion, and the Lost Omens World Guide. She has also written for Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two dogs, and an adventure toddler who is extremely into Spider-Man.
About the Windsong Testaments
On the northern reaches of Varisia’s Lost Coast stands Windsong Abbey, a forum for interfaith discussion tended by priests of nearly twenty faiths and led by a legacy of Masked Abbesses. At the dawn of the Age of Lost Omens, Windsong Abbey suffered as its faithful fought and fled, but today it has begun to recover. A new Masked Abbess guides a new flock within, and the Windsong Testaments—parables about the gods themselves—are once again being recorded within the abbey’s walls. Some of these Testaments are presented here as Golarion’s myths and fables. Some parts may be true. Other parts are certainly false. Which ones are which is left to the faithful to decide.