Let me tell you a tale of the Cloth of Souls, known by the intolerant Fasceti as the Leech Cloth.
A score or more miles to the east, deep into the wastelands, lies the ancient road to the City of Savagery. There is no other way to reach the city than by this road, and no way to return except by its rocky and meandering path. They say that it never winds the same way twice, and I believe it. I would know. I was born in that city, and I will miss it every day of my life. Perhaps I shall return one day, though it would cost my life to do so.
But that is not the tale you are asking to hear. You want to know about the Cloth. You want to know how to speak to the dead. I will tell you, for I can see the pain that wells up deep within, behind your eyes. Your beautiful eyes, full to overflowing with obvious pain. I’m sure it was someone close you lost. A sibling, a spouse, or a child. It does not matter to me. I will tell you what you wish to know. I will also tell you what you need to know, although most refuse to hear it.
Many years ago there lived a man. He was a true savage in his younger days. A more vicious and bloodthirsty criminal you will not ever see nor hear of, as long as you live. However long, or short, that may be. What drove him to that savagery is unknown. Who cares? What matters most is that he was a true scourge of the countryside in those days. Acting alone he caused more mischief than any band of thieves ever could. He performed the most vicious murders, violated his victims in the worst of ways, tormented the survivors in ways that drained away all semblance of sanity. I will not share the details. They are not important to my tale, in any case. It is only important that you understand that this is the path Geraint followed for more than two decades.
He eluded the authorities for the length of his career. When they finally caught up with him, they were ready to execute him on the spot. Lucky for us they did not, but instead dragged his despicable self back to the city of Holsten. From there he was jailed, tried, and sentenced to death; no surprise to anyone, of course. Many clamored for a more painful form of execution than that required by law.
Upon the day of his execution most of the city showed up, ready to cheer as the headsman cleaved the neck of that most hated man. But before he could, there was a surprise: a man appeared, quite similar in appearance to Geraint, though obviously a few years older.
“I am Tiber,” the man said, “brother to Geraint. I come to claim my right as kin to be a blood duelist.”
You can imagine the shock which rippled through the crowd. I don’t expect you’ve ever heard of a blood duelist, of course. It was an old tradition, nearly forgotten even in that day long past. But it was still a right of law, and the magister’s hand was forced to recognize it. A blood duelist is not at all what it sounds like. It is a barbarous affair, where a direct blood relative agrees to face what amounts to torture for the slimmest chance to save a condemned life.
Tiber was chained to a post and the courtyard was cleared. The Hounds of Blood were gathered. The magister’s trembling hand held the hourglass. The hourglass was flipped over and the hounds were let loose upon Tiber until the last of those grains fell through. The gist of the situation was this: if Tiber lived, so did Geraint. There is a tale as to the origins of the blood duelist; some of the old wise women still talk of it, if you are curious.
Tiber lived, to the amazement of all. His wounds were bandaged, stumps were cauterized, and he left town on the shoulder of Geraint.
For a little while the city feared that Geraint would return to his old ways. Some even formed a search party to hunt him down again before he could do more harm. He was not found.
Only the inhabitants of the City of Savagery know the rest of the tale. Tiber and Geraint headed off into the wastelands. Geraint, confounded as to why anyone would work to save his life, tended to Tiber as best he could. Despite his best efforts, Tiber’s wounds became infected and he died shortly afterward.
Geraint wandered the wilds of the wastelands until he stumbled upon a strange path. I say strange because it began to dog his movements. Whichever way he turned, the path appeared. Exasperated, devoid of will, he followed it. Weeks of travel went by. He survived only by becoming a scavenger and soon looked like a wild hermit.
At the end of his trek, he came upon an abandoned city. He took up residence in this city, and painted the words, City of Savagery, Home of the Mad Orphan upon its gate. After a time, others found this city, wanderers as devoid of purpose and hope as Geraint was.
Years went by and Geraint became an old man. His brother’s sacrifice had taken the mean out of him, as they say, and he lived those years as a simple farmer in a city where few spoke of their pasts.
Nearly upon his death bed, Geraint decided that he wanted to be interred in the city’s temple, a building none had dared enter. The entryway had been blocked with a large stone. Upon the stone was carved the words, Only a Seer May Enter! Feeling that he had seen the horror of his earlier life, Geraint felt he qualified as a seer of sorts and had others help him remove the stone.
Within lay the Cloth of Souls, hanging across a stone altar. It is a beautiful thing, let me tell you. It appears to be a ragged, yellowed piece of rough linen, and yet to view it is to lay eyes upon a kind of rapturous beauty. I have not touched it, yet the urge is great. I will not touch it, until I am ready to move on the next world. But that is my choice.
Impressed upon the Cloth of Souls is an echo of every life that has been snuffed out by foul means. None have discovered its history, but all have the same experience with it. To touch it is to feel that echo of any lost soul whom the participant has had any contact with. You can imagine the shock and horror Geraint experienced upon touching this thing. His screams echoed for miles around and when it was over his eyes had melted within their sockets.
I know that you think this is a good way to touch the souls of a lost loved one. To commune with someone you have lost through foul means. And you are right. You will be able to feel that person close by for the rest of your life. But you will live your life without your eyes. All who touch the cloth go blind.
Of course, the Fasceti believe it is an evil artifact and if they could find the city they would destroy it. They call it the Leech Cloth because they believe it sucks in souls and prevents them from reaching the next sphere of existence.
So, finish your tea and be certain that your pain is worth such a price.
— Lagantha, the Serenian
A Glimpse into a Lost History
The tale of what is now known as the City of Savagery has been lost to the world for more than a thousand years now. The city was founded as an Abbey millennia ago by an order of nuns who revered the goddess of the underworld. The original aspect of this goddess has been lost to time, but in the present she is known among the Rhee as Ouliana, the Shepherdess of Souls.
At the time of its founding, the Abbey was easier to reach than it is now. Many a mourner traveled to there to leave offerings for the goddess whose purpose was to watch over their departed loved ones. The nuns dedicated their lives to comforting the living and beseeching their goddess for mercy upon the dead.
The Cloth of Souls was created upon the request of the Abbey’s most devout abbess. She pled with her goddess for a conduit with which the living could speak with the dead. The goddess consented, but with the caveat that only “one who sees” could safely handle this conduit, for she feared that such a powerful artifact would sow greed once it became known to the larger world. (“One who sees” was a euphemism for the blind and a reference to a now defunct order whose monks intentionally burned out their eyes in order to see nothing but the glory of their god.)
The cloth, soft and pure white when first created, was placed upon an altar in the main temple and only a blind nun was allowed to care for it. Few of the nuns knew the proper rituals which would allow the holder to commune with any soul which had passed on. The living could not contact the dead directly, but could ask questions and receive guidance through the assistance of the blind caretaker of the cloth.
As is true in this time, there existed those similar to the Fasceti who saw such things as blasphemy against their god and put together an army to wipe the scourge of the Abbey from the face of the world.
Word reached the Abbey ahead of the army. With little time to spare, the abbess pled with her goddess to keep them safe. Her prayers were answered and the Abbey was cursed; only those who sought nothing could find the Abbey.
Effectively cut off from civilization, the Abbey eventually emptied out and was lost to time. Before the last few nuns left, they covered the temple entrance with a stone. Upon the stone they carved a warning: “Only One Who Sees May Enter!”
Additional Ideas (1)
History of the Blood Duelist
In elder days gone by, when the world still lived in barbarity, and civilization was a new word upon the lips of man, dogs were considered to be protectors sent down by the gods. Over time the idea of protector became broader until it encompassed judgements passed upon dangerous criminals.
Dogs who were no longer capable of hunting or guarding were put to use as executioners for those convicted of violent crimes. The condemned would be bound to posts and set upon by the dogs until dead.
One such condemned man was found guilty of murder, even though all knew it was in self defense against the thug of a rich man. Unable to bear the thought of his son being torn apart by dogs, the man’s father pled to be executed instead, saying, “Let me duel the gods of judgement for my son’s life.” An allowance was made, with the added condition that if he were to survive for a set amount of time, his son would be set free.
Thus began the tradition of the Blood Duelist.