Brand had long ceased begging for mercy. He had long since stopped flinching whenever a grub crawled over his face, its wickedly barbed legs leaving a trail of blood that dripped down his chin onto the cold flagstones beneath him. He couldn't move anyway, not even to turn his head.
He could barely remember how he had come to this place, or who the man sitting quietly in the corner claimed to be. Brand knew that others had been with him when he was captured, but had forgotten their faces and what they had meant to him. The cold knot of hunger in his belly told him that he must have been here for hours, but time, too, had ceased to have any relevance.
The man in the corner smiled pleasantly at Brand, putting down his book. Picking up a polished wooden box, he circled his prisoner, carefully scooping up the larvae that had gorged themselves on stolen memories and fallen to the floor with a quiet splat. These he gave to an assistant to bear away, before turning once more to regard Brand. With the careless ease of long practice, Brand's tormentor picked up a bloody scalpel from the low table and slashed it down Brand's arm, letting the blood drip into a bowl of tiny, charcoal eggs before binding the wound roughly with a piece of dirty cloth. A faint crackling began within the bowl.
Tragedy stalks the footsteps of those gods who dare to love mortal men and women. And so it was when Myr, Keeper of Memory, fell in love with Hilde, a young priestess in his service. Their courtship was sweet, their time together happier than any Myr had known, but Myr could never completely remove the sadness that he saw in Hilde's eyes. Hilde was tormented regularly by memories of an abusive past, and though Myr was intimate with the inner workings of memory he was powerless to actually remove them. For help he turned to Valdis, goddess of death, known as the Dark Lady.
Myr should have known better.
It was no great secret that Valdis had feelings for the Memory Keeper, and that she had long desired to make him her own. This, then, was a great insult to the Dark Lady. Valdis was a cunning goddess, however -- clever enough to sense the opportunity in his request -- so she hid her ire behind a smile and agreed to help. They decided that they would use a living creature as the base for their experiment and so chose a common moth. With Valdis's guidance, Myr gave the moths the ability to chew through the fabric of memory as easily as they chewed through clothing. Unbeknownst to Myr, Valdis also gave the moths several gifts of her own: a paralyzing touch, a voracious appetite, and the irresistible pull of death itself.
Myr brought the finished larvae to Hilde, and used them on her himself. Due to Valdis's treachery, however, the moths worked entirely too well. They stripped Hilde's memories away like acid on paint, pulling them savagely from her mind. When Myr realized what was happening, he frantically tried to pluck the larvae off, not yet guessing at the terrible danger they posed for him. Blinded by love, the Memory Keeper had forged a creature that was to be his own undoing -- a creature capable of destroying raw memory itself.
The second Myr's hands fell onto the grubs they broke off from the hapless human girl to turn on their creator, the richest source of food available. As their paralyzing touch began to disable the god, Myr's divine essence gave him a few last desperate moments in which to act. Moving quickly to alter the moths before he forgot how, Myr drew his dagger and slashed open his own palm, flinging droplets of his own blood over the insects. To ensure Hilde's safety, he then bound the moths to him alone with the divine spark in his blood, making them unable to feed off the memories of one who's blood they had not tasted. Though he could not remove the larvae's voracious appetites, he managed to tweak them slightly so that they grubs would consume the strongest memories first, hoping to sate them quickly and allow some small part of him to survive. And with that, the Memory Keeper succumbed to the attack and knew no more.
When he came to, the caterpillars were gone. The darkly beautiful woman who sat by his side greeted him with a kiss and a smile. Telling Myr that she was his wife and that she had tended him after he was assaulted, Valdis led the Memory Keeper back to her Queendom. Before he left, however, Myr witnessed several servants bearing away the body of a young mortal woman, her face pale and drawn. She looked vaguely familiar -- something about her pale locks struck him as important, if he could only remember what it was . . . Myr shook his head. It didn't matter; he had his life and he had his Queen.
"Do you have a wife, Brand?"
Not her! Anything but her! Brand tried desperately to keep the memory from surfacing, concentrating instead on the flickering of the torch that cast light on his small prison. The crackling in the bowl intensified, and the man placed it down onto Brand's chest, stepping back. Finger-length caterpillars of smokey, translucent gray began to slither out onto Brand's body, where they paused, swaying. They could sense the strong emotion of the memory that lay just under the surface of his mind, and they hungered for it.
Ruthlessly, his tormentor continued to probe. "Your silence betrays you, Brand. I imagine that she's a very lovely person. How did you two meet?"
Unbidden, Kalyn's face flashed before Brand's eyes, the warmth in her smile a balm to his bruised and battered mind. Too late, he tried to suppress the image, tried to shove it back down in his head, lock it away. But the larvae had already gotten a hold of it. Brand felt them tugging at it, pulling it to the the surface so that they could feed, and though he fought them to mental exhaustion, it was a losing battle for Brand. The gentle green of the summer's day -- the blues and yellows of the wildflowers in her hair, the color of her eyes, her lips -- all began to bleach away. Still he fought them as the colorless scene began to blur, his wife's face fading from all recall. With desperation, Brand clung to the bright spot of happiness in his mind, all that remained of the memory, until it, too, flickered out.
“On Memory Moths”:
- an excerpt from the healing manuals for advanced students at St. Cathana's Hospital
Memory moths are multi-colored, moth-like creatures of unknown origin, easily identified by the curious skull-shaped marking on the thorax of the adult. While adult memory moths are generally harmless, the grubs are capable of causing immense damage to a patient's mind, and should be treated with extreme caution.
Victims of a grub attack are characterized by severe memory loss, though the extent of the damage varies greatly. Some have forgotten all but the most basic skills, while others have lost everything pertaining to a particular person, place, or time period of their lives. Additionally, patients may be identified by the long, bloody tracks that crisscross their body, left by the larvae's many hooked claws
There is no cure for the memory loss inflicted in this manner. The wounds, however, may be treated with a light poultice and clean bandages, and a sedative may also be administered to keep the patient calm. Isolation may prove necessary, as memory loss can lead to poor impulse control and possible short-term insanity.
Brother Jonas watched as his prisoner writhed on the blood-specked ground, covered with dozens of blessed larvae, and idly wondered how Brothers Silas and Mattew's captives were coming along. Catching that party of mercenaries had been a stroke of good fortune, and Jonas thanked the Dark Lady that there were no fatalities. The prisoner gasped, writhing as he fought the inevitable, and Brother Jonas smiled. He was very good at what he did. Memory eradication specialists of the Church trained for years to perfect their art, erasing the memories of the practice "patients" over and over again. Jonas smirked as he recalled torturing and raping one subject then tearing those memories from her mind, leaving her trusting and docile once again. He had probably repeated that experiment over a dozen times.
The man moaned and passed once again into unconsciousness, the larvae weaving bloody tracks across his naked flesh as they tore into his mind, even in sleep. Jonas frowned. He didn't want the grubs to destroy the fighter's military capacities. Though extractors like himself could use guided questioning to help bring the targeted memories to the front of a victim's mind, one could never guarantee that the maggots wouldn't get hold of an important bit of knowledge. The goal of the Church was to create pliable soldiers, not adult-sized children. If done right, memory moth extraction as practiced by the Church should rid a subject of most of his personal history, up to and sometimes including his name, yet leave all desired skills intact.
Jonas decided to pick the maggots off for now -- no telling what they would consume while his prisoner was dreaming. Settling back down in his seat to wait for the man to wake, Jonas thought about what he would name him . . .
"Life-cycle and Habits of the Memory Moth"
- excerpt from the field notes of Ruben Weiss, entymologist
Month of the Ox, day 12: Memory moth infestation discovered at the local house of healing today. Unsurprising, as the eggs seem to require blood to hatch. My guess is that the adults will try to conceal their eggs in places with a ready food source and ideal hatching conditions – probably in the cracks of flagstones within torture rooms, healing quarters, and ritual chambers for blood cults. From what I'm told, eggs can lay dormant for years waiting for the right hatching conditions, and are a terrible nuisance to exterminate. It's a good thing they are so rare.
Specimen 1: memory moth adult, female (?). Palm-sized, with expected skull-marking on thorax. Continually shifting color pattern, very unsettling to observe. Could the observed pattern be related to the food source of the larva? I may have to obtain two moths – one that fed on happy memories and one that fed on sad and compare coloration. Specimen has no mouth, no natural weapons whatsoever. It must live only long enough to mate and lay its eggs. I wish I had a male to contrast with . . .
Specimen 2 & 3: memory moth juveniles, larvae of undetermined sex. Finger-length, gray, without any of the coloring of the adult. Specimen 2 seems to have feed recently, as it is bloated and lethargic. Will have to place it somewhere quiet and see if it pupates . . . Unsure about specimen 3; it seems restless, thinner.
Observation: both the adult and the larvae seem to be nocturnal.
Month of the Ox, day 15: Success! Opened the box with the caterpillars today and found a cocoon. Beautiful, shimmery stuff – wonder what the silk would look like? Specimen 3 is still alive, but its movements are weaker. My guess is that it didn't get a chance to feed.
Month of the Goat, day 11: Specimen 3 is dead. Went a full month without food before it expired, and it was difficult to contain. I've done some more reading on them, and the research (such as it is) indicates that these little nasties will hunt down the person who shed the blood they were exposed to as eggs, using the blood-scent to find them. Attacks usually occur while the person is sleeping, and most victims are paralyzed for the duration of the feeding. Awful critters.
Month of the Ox, day 14: I had given up on the cocoon, going so long without hatching. Yet here it is hatching, a full year later! Specimen is a somber-colored adult male (?), still no discernible mouth. Pity that I will have to kill it.
Jon sheathed his sword and donned the rest of his Church-issued gear. He was grateful to Brother Jonas for rescuing him from the clutches of their enemies and nursing him back to health, albeit with memory loss. Jon could not blame the Brothers for that -- after all, they had done all they could to help him. His only goal now was to strike back at those who had so wronged him and his compatriots. As Jon marched out of the monastery with his companions at his side, all of them scarred by the unholy experiments that had been conducted on them, he could no longer suppress his rage. Raising his sword skyward, Jon let loose a mighty cry: "Death to the oppressors! Death to the enemies of the Dark Lady!"
Watching from the sidelines, Brother Jonas smiled.
Author's Notes: Memory Moths grew out of a desire to create a more sinister cause for amnesia, Alzheimer's, and other types of memory loss. Could be a great way to write in a hidden past for a PC, especially one who doesn't provide you with a detailed backstory *evil grin*. When used on important or beloved NPCs, they provide instant questlines. The Church of the Dark Lady may also be suitable as a campaign-level evil, and I may flesh it out in the future.
Additional Ideas (1)
Some (unscrupulous) governments practice selective use of memory moths on state enemies (usually before banishment). Memory eradication may even extend to some individuals they wish to protect, such as retired spies and other intelligence officers. Usage of the larvae in this way is generally easier, as the retired officer often understands the necessity and will willingly self-direct their thoughts to all aspects of their service. They will often remember most of the mundane details of these years, including their cover job, but not the intrigue.