Lozan, perhaps the wisest of the Guild Mages of the Free Cities, peered sidelong at the ancient volume on his lectern. A veteran of his hazardous magical trade, as he rifled through his cabinets and drawers his voice rang through the empty room, I have kenned thy secret, thou perfidious volume! Now, thy secrets shall lie bare to the brethren of my guild! I need but only find my vial of powdered Dragons Liver, and I shall shatter thy wards and enchantments like glass!
An hour later, he gave up. The Dragons Liver was nowhere to be found.
This strange volume of esoteric lore is bound in rough and scaly hide, with strange sigils and runes deeply engraved into its surface. The patterns suggest some sort of meaning, especially after one has perused its forbidden pages, but none have ever solved the cipher of the mysterious runes and patterns. Two massive puzzle locks take up nearly half of the covers surface, each crafted from sky-iron, plated with age-tarnished silver.
These puzzle locks can only be solved by one who has mastered the ancient lore of sky magic and the secrets of fire magic, and shift every time the book is opened. One who desires to read the volume will be faced with a different puzzle combination each time. A prudent magus, who wishes to simply leave the text unsecured, will discover that this is nearly impossible. One way or another, the book will be locked when he returns to read it again. Sometimes he will realize that he absently closed and secured the volume. Other times, a helpful apprentice will have tidied up, and closed it. If the book is left untended, it may simply close and lock of its own accord.
The tattered and dog-eared pages within hold many secrets of ancient magic, a surprising trove of eldritch lore. The text is laid out in no particular order, and finding the information within can be a maddening exercise. Adding to the difficulty is the barely legible nature of the text itself. Some pages are clearly preserved, with carefully-drawn diagrams and legible text; these pages are rife with coded phrases and allusions to other portions of the volume. Other parts are more comprehensible, but are so damaged and watermarked that they may only be read in full sunlight. A few pages have additional layers of meaning that only show when the page is back lit by candlelight, so that tiny scratches in the battered parchment become visible. Entire chapters of the text are written in a hideously sloppy handwriting that can only be deciphered with heroic effort, with illustrations that make no sense whatsoever. Despite these problems, it is clear that the author was a master magus, a wizard with few, if any, equals. Awesome secrets and forgotten lore await the one who deciphers the whole treatise.
Adding to the difficulty of using this maddening eldritch volume is that when one is searching for a particular portion of the text, it never appears where it was expected. Someone flipping through the book will discover that numerous pages stick together and can only be separated by careful manipulation of the delicate parchment. Other sections just appear where they werent expected, as if the wizards mind is playing tricks on him.
The Origins of the Perverse Text
Many decades before, the Archmage Zoldering had given his soul and most of his sanity in his quest for the ultimate secrets of the elements he had attuned himself to, Air and Fire. Filled with regret as he sensed his approaching death, he summoned forth two of the mighty spirits that were bound to his service and poured their chaotic energies into the final volumes of his journal, binding them to become the guardian forces that would ensure that none but his most worthy successor would be able to use the volume.
Since his death, the book has passed from hand to hand, through the collections of nobles and wizards, guilds and cathedrals. It has never been in one possessors hands more than five years, as if it has a mind of its own and has grown restless. Whether sold, lost or stolen, it goes from one owner to another within months or (at most) a few years.
The Virtues (or Lack Therof) of the Book of Zoldering
This book contains the culmination of a lifetimes study of esoteric lore, but the elemental magics guarding it have a massive drawback. They are designed to make the volume as difficult to use as possible. The angry elementals whose power was tapped to shape the guardian magic of the volume were bound to serve, but used every bit of leeway within their power to ensure that no one would ever successfully use the volume. It is surrounded with a field of chaotic energy that causes maddening and perverse ill luck to befall the possessor whenever he tries to use it. As an example, if a mage is hopelessly incapable of understanding the lore within, he will easily unlock the volume. Were a brilliant master of Air and Fire attempt to open it, he will find that the mystical puzzles have reset themselves to require hours of trial and error before he can get the locks open. Preparing to copy some important passage, the magus will discover that his pen has broken and he needs to grab a new plume from the next room. Returning to the volume, it will have locked again. Of course, if he wished to merely glance at the volume, rather than actually use it, he would find the puzzles simple to decipher.
The enchantment on this volume has driven ambitious wizards mad with frustration, as the text that they easily understood when they were casually glancing at it becomes impossible to deal with the instant that they actually need the information. This effect has been so pronounced, that Zolderings name has become an epithet used by those in extreme frustration. Despite this, the book still finds its way to optimistic mages who hope that they can somehow solve the puzzle posed by the perverse volume.
As he walked by the burning ruin that was once the tower of Lozan, supposedly the wisest of the Guild Mages of the Free Cities, the apprentice reflected sadly that the man’s reputation was clearly unwarranted. There he was, raving like a loon, while his tower burned unchecked. Noting a battered volume that the maddened magus had apparently flung into the street, he stopped to pick it up. "Hmmm. This old book looks valuable. I’ll show it to my master," he decided as he headed home.