Abd al-Hazir supposedly is a renowned gentleman, historian, and scholar. He has recently taken up the unprecedented task of investigating, researching, and compiling information about the unique locales and denizens of our world.
Hailing from the eastern city of Caldeum, Abd al-Hazir witnessed first-hand the decline of his beloved city and its lapse into darkness. Abd al-Hazir travelled far and wide to investigate and describe all species of creatures and places of interest in the world of Sanctuary. He translated ancient scrolls, unveiling the shocking history of the Khazra, braved the dangers of the Torajan Jungles in order to find the mystical Umbaru people and even searched for the evil Festering Wood. Abd al-Hazir's curiosity always got the better of him, and ultimately it would be his undoing. After encountering a sect of diabolical Dark Cultists, Abd al-Hazir fled back to his home (presumably in Caldeum). However, in his last known writing he states that "they (the Dark Cultists) have found me. Now I am marked." Though his fate remains unknown to this day, it is likely that Abd al-Hazir no longer lives ... or maybe he suffered a fate even worse than death.
The Writings of Abd al-Hazir
The following are direct quote accounts from the traveling historian.
In my journey to catalogue the various denizens, civilizations, and fauna of our world, I have traveled far and wide, but never before have I been struck with such dismay as when standing upon the ramparts of the ancient fortress of Bastion's Keep. I came to see firsthand the barbarians, those near-legendary, immense, relentless, dual-wielding furies of combat dwelling upon their sacred Mount Arreat.
Instead, I stand here looking at a mountain that has been torn asunder by some extraordinary force. The sight, I must confess, is incomprehensible. Yet what I see before me cannot be denied.
What truly happened here? Where are those majestic warriors of old?
Though they were once misunderstood as simple, bloodthirsty invaders, the long and noble history of these proud people is now rightly acknowledged. And therein lies the greater tragedy here, for those of us familiar with the nobility of the barbarians remember too what they call their "vigil", the concept that lay at the very heart of their culture. The barbarians consider it their sworn duty to protect Mount Arreat and the mysterious object within. They believe that if they fail to uphold their duty to the great mount, or are not given a proper burial upon its slopes, they will be denied a true warrior's death, and their spirits shall roam the land without honor for all eternity.
If there are any barbarians left alive, they must truly be without hope. Perhaps this is the genesis of the rumors of monstrous things reported to resemble the barbarians in size and ferocity, but that are in reality nothing more than unreasoning, inhuman beasts. Could the destruction of not only their home but also their very beliefs have actually brought this magnificent race so low?
The Witch Doctor
Most believe the fearsome witch doctor of the umbaru race a legend, but I have seen one in battle with my own eyes. And it was difficult to believe, even then. He dispatched his opponent with terrifying precision, assaulting his victim's mind and body with elixirs and powders that evoked fires, explosions, and poisonous spirits. As if these assaults were not enough, the witch doctor also had at his command the ability to summon undead creatures from the netherworld to rend the flesh from his enemy's body.
I came upon this rare display as I ventured deep into the interior of the dense Torajan jungles that cover the southern tip of the great eastern continent, in the vast area known as the Teganze, with the goal of seeking out the tribes that reside there. This area is extremely secluded, and heretofore unseen by foreign eyes. I was fortunate to befriend the witch doctor I saw in battle, and, through him, his tribe: the Tribe of the Five Hills.
The culture of the umbaru of the lower Teganze is fascinating and perplexing to those hailing from more civilized walks of life. For instance, the Tribe of the Five Hills frequently engages in tribal warfare with both the Clan of the Seven Stones and the Tribe of the Clouded Valley, but these are matters of ritual and not of conquest. I had heard tales that these wars are waged in order that the victors may replenish their supply of raw materials for the human sacrifices that their civilization revolves around, and when I timidly asked my hosts more about this topic, I must admit their laughter made me fear for my safety. However, through stumbled attempts at communication of such complex topics as what constitutes heroism and honor in their society, I gathered that only those taken in battle are considered worthy of the ritual sacrifice, much to my relief.
Upon further discussions with my hosts, I discovered that these tribes define themselves by their belief in the Mbwiru Eikura, which roughly translates to "The Unformed Land" (this is an imprecise translation, as this concept is completely foreign to our culture and language). This belief holds that the true, sacred reality is veiled behind the physical one we normally experience. Their vitally important public ceremonies are centered upon sacrifices to the life force that flows from their gods, who inhabit the Unformed Land, into this lesser physical realm.
The witch doctors are finely attuned to this Unformed Land and are able to train their minds to perceive this reality through a combination of rituals and the use of selected roots and herbs found in the jungles. They call the state in which they interact with this other world the Ghost Trance.
Alongside the primacy of the belief in the life force and the Unformed Land, the second most sacred belief of the tribes is their philosophy of self-sacrifice and non-individuality, of suppressing one's self-interest for the good of the tribe. This idea, so foreign to our culture, struck me as something I wished to delve into much more deeply.
Unfortunately, there was intense social upheaval among the tribes due to an incident involving their most current war (inasmuch as I could discern in the ensuing bedlam), and the charged atmosphere warranted my quick departure before I could ask anything further of my hosts.
Owing to my lack of tolerance for those who would use magic towards their own nefarious ends, many have assumed that I am averse to the practice of the magical arts on a philosophical level. Nothing could be farther from the truth. My quarrel is with those sorcerers who dismiss the ancient traditions and teachings – teachings that have been honed over millennia in order to preserve respect for authority and the rule of law.
Recently the youth of Caldeum have fallen prey to the overblown stories of just such a delinquent wizard. That is correct: I used the uncouth term wizard, not sorcerer. It seems that even the title of a civilized magic wielder is too restrictive for this young upstart. Through my contacts at the Yshari Sanctum of the mage clans, I am one of the few who actually know the truth behind the rumors now sweeping our streets regarding this hellion who flaunts her magic irresponsibly.
This wizard was sent here to spend her formative years under the tutelage of the best mages in the world. Well, it seems they neglected to teach our wizard manners on her native island of Xiansai, for she was a rude and uncooperative student from the very beginning. Originally under the guidance of the Zann Esu mage clan, she was eventually handed over to the Vizjerei in the hopes that their strict and unbending discipline would break her anarchic spirit. Yet even the esteemed Vizjerei instructors were unable to rein her in. She was continually being caught seeking out dangerous and forbidden magics, heedless of the consequences to herself or anyone around her.
Although there is no truth to the tales that she actually ventured into the infamous Bitter Depths below the Sanctum, she was caught in the Ancient Repositories, where the most dangerous incantations are housed for the safety of the public. When confronted by the great Vizjerei mage Valthek and demanded to account for herself, she brazenly attacked him rather than face the punishment merited by her acts. Exaggerated stories of the battle are already being inflated to mythic proportions by the more rebellious of our city's youth, but suffice it to say that she did not actually best Yshari's most powerful mage in single, honorable combat. The details of the encounter remain unclear, as Valthek has yet to regain consciousness, but it has been verified by reliable sources that she relied on trickery and deceit to bring the great man low. I have also been assured that the extensive property damage was chiefly the result of Valthek's magical prowess, not the upstart wizard's. As to where she is now, no one rightly knows, for she fled the city immediately after the encounter.
It is not my goal to alarm, but I find this situation disturbing. We now have a rebellious wizard, young and inexperienced, wandering the world, dabbling in powerful magics she does not understand. Those wiser than you or I determined long ago that certain schools of magic were too dangerous and forbade their practice. It is those magics that this wizard seems determined to explore – magics centered on manipulating the primal forces from which reality is constructed. Imagine, a headstrong nineteen-year-old youth, able to warp time itself to her will! The thought is truly terrifying. It is my honest hope that this self-styled wizard chooses never to return to Caldeum.
The last weeks of autumn had settled upon Ivgorod, and the first breath of winter had crept into the air. As night fell and the sun dipped below the horizon, I was all too grateful to take refuge in a tavern. As I entered, I noted a certain tension in the room. Despite the hour, it was not busy, with only scattered, small groups huddled at the tables around the edges of the room. The benches at the center of the room were empty except for one man.
The man seemed ignorant of the cold. He was dressed like a beggar, wearing little more than an orange sheet wound around his body, leaving half of his chest exposed. A garland of large wooden beads hung around his thick neck. His head was completely shaved, with the exception of a wild bushy beard. Then, recognition struck me: upon his forehead he had a tattoo of two red dots, one larger than the other. As any informed student of the peoples and cultures of this world must also realize, this man was one of the monks of Ivgorod, the secretive and reclusive holy warriors of the country.
I had heard countless fantastic stories about the monks, tales that were surely the beneficiary of significant embellishment. The monks’ skin, the accounts said, was as hard as iron, impenetrable by the blade of any sword or by the point of any arrow, and their fists could break stone as easily as you or I would snap a twig. Though the unassuming man before me seemed miles away from what I had heard and read of the monks, I approached cautiously, sliding down onto the bench across from him, eager to take his measure. He beckoned me forward with a small wave of his hand.
"Ah, a soul brave enough to sit with me. Come, friend."
Food was placed before me, but I had little hunger for it, focusing instead on recording the details of the monk's life. He told me of his belief in the existence of a thousand and one gods, gods he believed could be found in all things: the fire in the hearth, the water in the river and the air that we breathed. Pretty enough for a story, perhaps. But any reasoned individual must surely, as I did, scoff at such a view of the world as little more than superstition. He went on to describe his intense mental and physical training, his unending quest to hone his mind and body into an instrument of divine justice. Though I do wonder for what need his thousand gods would require a mortal man to implement their will. When I asked him why he did not carry a sword or, indeed, any weapon at all, he simply replied, "My body is my weapon." Then raising his hand and tapping his forehead, he added, "As is my mind."
Most unexpectedly, I would be treated to a display of this mastery.
A group of men approached our table, knocking my book to the floor and shoving me out of the way, producing knives and other weapons as they advanced. They were focused only on the solitary figure of the monk seated across from me. I scrabbled beneath the table, having an inkling of what was to come. I watched as at some unseen signal, they attacked.
Without rising from his seat, the monk met the first man's lunging slash, grabbing his wrist and tossing him carelessly over his shoulder, throwing him into a table with a loud crash. The suddenness of the monk's attack momentarily stunned the men, and as they stood there, he rose.
That was when chaos broke out.
The monk was a fluid mass of restrained energy, meeting every attack with hardly a moment's distress. He fought with hands and feet in a way I had never seen before. In my days, I have witnessed my share of drunken bar brawls, but this was something else altogether. The sound of bones crunching with each of his strikes mixed with something I could not quite believe: the monk was laughing as he fought. One by one, he dispatched his foes until only one remained.
That one picked up a chair and hurled it toward the monk. The monk swung his arm forward and struck the incoming projectile, meeting the solid oak of the chair with his closed fist. The wood broke apart, splinters filling the air as the shattered pieces of the stool fell harmlessly to the ground around him.
"You don't fool me, demon," the monk spat. He pulled his arms back to his sides, then extended his hands before him and began to chant. A nimbus of white light appeared around his head, growing larger and more intense until it completely encompassed the monk’s body. He roared, and the light blew outward. As it washed over the other man, his skin peeled away, revealing a red-skinned demon beneath and threw the creature through the front doors of the tavern.
The monk hurtled forward, but his individual movements were too fast for my eyes to track. It seemed as though there were seven of him raining blows upon the demon from every side. Staggered, the demon stumbled. The monk grabbed the demon by the neck, grinning as he pulled his free arm back, crackling energy glowing on his open hand. He shoved his palm forward, and when it struck the demon, its body exploded: muscle, skin and bones tore apart, and the smell of burning flesh filled the air.
I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own two eyes. It seems the stories of these peerless warriors might not have been as exaggerated as I first thought.
The Demon Hunter
I have just returned from my travels on the edge of the frozen wasteland known as the Dreadlands, a once-beautiful place forever changed by some great calamity in its history. Now, only ruined cities and bleak landscapes remain, no place for any living thing. I was headed for the village of Bronn for the night, but when I arrived, I found a scene of devastation such as I had never seen before. I should have fled at the first sign of danger, but my curiosity drove me forward. Most of the town's buildings had been burnt to their foundations, and a few charred timbers were the only sign of where they had once stood. Ash choked my lungs. There were bodies strewn everywhere, many dismembered and some even half consumed. The city was abandoned.
Or so I thought.
From the husk of the inn, one of the few buildings still standing, monstrous, gray-skinned creatures burst forth, shouting in some infernal tongue. They were masses of misshapen flesh, of sinewy muscle made for battle. Helpless, I stood frozen as they drew close. The one in the lead seized me by the front of my cloak and lifted me from the ground, its claws tearing through fabric and skin. Its breath was hot on my face, and I was assaulted by the putrid smell of rotten flesh. Its mouth yawned wide, and I saw rows of sharpened teeth, yellowed and stained with blood. I thought only of the shame that my voice would be silenced, never to illuminate another of the wonders of our world for you, my loyal readers.
A sharp sound whistled by my ear, and a crossbow bolt sprouted from the eye of the beast before me, spraying my face with its burning blood. It howled an inhuman cry of pain and threw me to the ground, grabbing at the quarrel. The other creatures scanned for this unseen attacker, and I was forgotten for the moment. From the ground at their feet, I tore my head around to see where the bolt had come from.
That was when I saw a demon hunter for the first time.
The girl could have been no more than twenty. She emerged from the shadows cast by the setting sun and wasted no time in dispatching the rest of my attackers. Her hands worked twin crossbows, launching a glowing arc of flaming bolts over my head, blanketing the hulking monsters. Every shot found its mark in one of the horned beasts, felling the lot of them. From the corner of my eye, I saw more of the savage brutes sneaking up on her from behind. My voice froze in my throat as I tried to scream a warning. I needn't have worried: she was not unaware. The hunter reached into her belt and rolled a trio of strange metal spheres into their path. The monsters looked down just as the contraptions exploded into light and flame, stunning them. It gave her enough time to round on them, her crossbows dispatching them one by one.
With a last look over the town, apparently satisfied that no danger remained for her, she came forward, shaking her head sadly. There was a look of profound disappointment on her face as she returned the crossbows to her sides, hidden by the folds of her cloak.
"No survivors," she said bitterly.
They call themselves the demon hunters, a group of fanatical warriors sworn to a single purpose: the destruction of the creatures of the Burning Hells. The demon hunters number in the hundreds and make their home in the Dreadlands so that they can live and train without the interference of any nation that would worry over having such a fearsome group camped within its borders (though at any time over half are dispatched across the world like this girl, seeking hellspawn). There is something in all demon hunters that gives them the strength to resist the demonic corruption that would drive lesser men to madness. They hone this power, for their resistance to this taint enables them to use the demons' power as a weapon. But their mission and their power are not all that bind them together.
That night, the girl told me of her life, about how, as a child, the demons had descended upon her town. She had watched as demons destroyed her home, setting her village to the torch. They murdered everyone she knew and stole from her everyone she loved. She should have died with them, but she fled, hiding from the hellspawn for days until she was found by a demon hunter who saw the strength in her and took her in as one of their own. Each and every demon hunter, she told me, has a story like this.
They are the survivors, and they are searching for vengeance.
The Fallen Ones
The fallen ones are a unique breed of true demonic origin, one of the few that I've been able to conclusively verify through sources other than the ancient Vizjerei tomes in my possession. (How I came by said tomes will, of necessity, remain my secret.)
As my readers are well aware, early Vizjerei writings are often little more than self-serving propaganda aimed at whitewashing heinous deeds committed by the mage clan. For instance, we now know that the goatmen were unwitting human victims of an ancient Vizjerei power struggle (see entry 009 for more detailed information on the khazra's tragic history), whereas the ancient Vizjerei texts would have us believe that they were actually demons - lieutenants of Baal, no less!
Through diligent cross-referencing with other manuscripts in my vast library, however, I have ascertained that the Vizjerei depiction of the creatures known as the fallen ones is factually correct.
As hard as it is to believe, the fallen ones were once exalted demons of the Burning Hells. They served as Azmodan's hands, performing acts that he would not, could not involve himself in. They were the instrument of Azmodan's first failed attempt to usurp power from Diablo and his brothers, and after that failure, the fallen were subjected to the full wrath of Diablo. They were twisted into small, ridiculous imps, in contrast to their previously powerful forms. Moreover, if they expected Azmodan to reverse their condition, they were sadly mistaken. The infuriated Azmodan held them responsible for the Prime Evils' continued reign, and so he left the fallen in their new bodies, where their degradation would serve to amuse him for all eternity. Their failure provided him with the information he required to succeed in dethroning Diablo and his brothers - the event now known as the "Dark Exile" - but that fact did nothing to soften his heart toward the fallen.
When unleashed upon our realm by their master, Azmodan, these impish terrors display a tendency to swarm like flesh-hungry locusts, and they have been known to tear apart a sleeping village in minutes. Small of stature and simian in appearance, these creatures possess surprising strength and unnatural agility. Other than feasting on human flesh, the only act that gives these unspeakable horrors pleasure is breeding; hence the tendency to encounter them in large packs.
However, due to their small size, cowardice appears to be one of the chief features of this species. They quickly retreat when one of their brethren falls in battle.
Fallen ones display no obvious tendency towards greater organization beyond their predisposition to swarm. This is fortunate for humanity, for they are so numerous that if they were to band together in large numbers, they might easily overwhelm a small city.
IMPS - These are the commonest of the fallen family of demons. They are the stereotypical fallen ones in look and behavior: small, red, swarming, bloodthirsty, and cowardly.
SHAMAN - Fallen shaman priests lead camps of fallen. I have also heard it rumored that they possess the ability to raise imps from the dead!
LUNATIC - These enraged, oversized fallen creatures are bloated seemingly to the point of bursting, an impression buttressed by the fact that these insane demons rush their intended victims and then stab themselves until they explode. A more fitting name could not be found for these maniacal beings.
OVERSEER - The fallen overseer drives his smaller impish charges into a frenzy with his ape-like leaping and growling. An overseer among a group of fallen is a dangerous thing, as the cowardice that usually characterizes them is overwhelmed by fear of their much larger brethren.
HOUNDS - These slobbering abominations are commonly found among groups of the fallen and are utilized as guard animals, beasts of burden, or even food by their demonic masters. These beasts are loyal to a fault, regardless of the abuse heaped upon them.
I suspect the existence of at least two other types of fallen, but I will need to conduct further research before I reveal my theories as to the ultimate familial structure of these fiends.
Something is dreadfully wrong. Fear is in the air; I can feel it. I was but days out of Tristram when I saw a screaming ball of flame rip across the sky. Surely enough, soon after witnessing this harbinger of doom, I stumbled upon a badly mangled traveler. He was barely able to spit out the tale of the cursed monstrosity responsible for his broken body as his life drifted away. He called his killer "the unburied".
Months ago, when I wrote of the undead blight upon our land, I thought them the gravest of threats. But they are nothing compared to the new undead creature described to me by this poor fellow.
He was a law officer of sorts, a local guard out looking into the depraved handiwork of a crazed individual, the sort we seem to be seeing more and more of in these dark days. When the guard happened upon a mass grave dug by this sick fool, a massive, horned, disgusting behemoth was digging itself out. The dying traveler described this loathsome beast – or, as he termed it, the unburied – as being comprised of bloated parts from many fetid, rotting corpses, with a multitude of disfigured heads and slobbering fanged mouths. He was fortunate that day, but when he returned with several men to help him deal with the creature, they found to their horror that the undead spawn was too much for even their combined efforts. They fought valiantly to the last man, sacrificing themselves to keep the beast from rampaging across the countryside and taking who knows how many innocent lives. He was the last survivor, and before he passed on, he proudly told me that they were successful in eradicating the foul unburied creature.
Being born out of pits of human misery, these beings feed on human suffering. Wherever bodies are dumped together unceremoniously, the unburied may rise. I cannot help but wonder if this be some sort of cosmic justice for our inhumanity to our fellow man. But what is the catalyst? What animates these things? What makes them so horrendously different from the run-of-the-mill zombies or "normal" skeletal undead?
Some days I truly feel that the end of humanity must be at hand. Certainly our world is home to assorted disturbing and unsettling creatures, but every dawn seems to bring news of more wretchedness we must endure as a people. The darkness is coming, my friends: mark my words.
As I began to fall, Burroughs grabbed me by the scruff of my collar and shook me violently. "You really want to feed some thresher, don't you, al-Hazir?" he asked. "What, haven't you seen scavengers before?"
I had indeed seen scavengers: small, burrowing creatures that feed upon carrion. Unlike most animals of this type, however, they are extremely aggressive and will not hesitate to attack those unfortunate enough to encounter them. Scavengers have powerful legs which they use for swift springing attacks, striking at vulnerable faces and throats. Their anatomy bears a striking resemblance to that of the leapers of the Aranoch desert, and thus, many researchers classify the two groups as part of the same family of creatures. An ensorcelled (some say demonic) variant is known to have plagued adventurers in the Tristram region twenty-odd years ago as well. Scavengers were also the cause of an extremely distressing episode during my youth, which I need not relate at this juncture.
"Yep. Burrowers to catch a burrower," he said. He then took the lengths of rope hanging from the cage and impaled them on the ground using a heavy pike. He also attached what looked like long knives to the sides of his heavy, scarred boots, and drove the blades into the ground.
"You'd better get out of the way." And with that, while holding onto the ropes, he undid the latching mechanism on the side of the cage. He then threw it out onto the sand. The cage exploded outward with the scavengers' frantic attempts to escape their confines. I barely had time to wonder how Burroughs had been able to get the collars (that the ropes were attached to) around the scavengers' necks before the vicious beasts had burrowed into the soft ground.
I was extremely tense by this point. I felt naked and exposed. What insanity had convinced me that coming out here was a good idea?
I looked out over the wastes in the fading light, trying to detect the telltale horned fins of the thresher cutting through the surface of the sand.
With absolutely no warning, the dune thresher violently broke the surface, all three scavengers caught in his horrifying maw. There was a massive explosion of sand as the thresher dove back into the ground with its prize. The ropes immediately snapped taut, and I thought Burroughs would be pulled to his death. I didn't understand how he thought he could reel in a monster that huge, but he wasn't even trying – just holding on.
After several tense seconds that stretched towards eternity, the rope began making weird jerking motions.
"Ah. The little buggers are doing their work." He smiled a ghastly smile. "Shouldn't be long now."
A few more moments of this strangeness passed, and the thrashing of the ropes became less and less. Finally, he began to haul his catch in. When it was partially on the rocks, I could see what had happened. The thresher had swallowed the scavengers whole, and they, in turn, had begun eating their way out of the thresher's stomach before the beast's digestive juices had killed them. One scavenger still clung to life, but barely. It had actually dug itself halfway out of the thresher, clawing at the air as its skin was slowly eaten away. I vomited.
Burroughs, laughing at me once again as he cut off the beast's triangular head, began lecturing me on the amazing dune thresher: the dynamics of its jutting, angular lower jaw, which cuts a path through the soil; the way this jaw design enables the thresher to swim effortlessly beneath the sand with unimaginable swiftness; and much more that I didn't care to hear just then. I nodded my head weakly and wondered how long it would be before I could politely get myself home and crawl into bed.
The Dune Thresher
As I was preparing to set pen to paper to begin recording my thoughts at the beginning of my epic undertaking to gather the world's knowledge together in one tome, the hand of providence tapped me on the shoulder. The news that a rogue burrower had killed a citizen just outside the city gave me the wonderful opportunity to see firsthand one of the more disturbing creatures we share this world with – the savage dune thresher.
Long ago driven away from settled locales to the deep desert wastes of the Borderlands, the dune thresher is rarely seen by city dwellers. Every so often, however, whether due to injury or old age, one of these unholy beasts ventures to the edge of civilization to feast on the frail human animal. When this happens, a professional like Franklin Burroughs, the famed guide and hunter, is called in to put an end to the threat.
Fortunately, Burroughs and I, both being men of travel and adventure, have naturally crossed paths before (frequent readers of my works will no doubt remember this grizzled, rough-hewn boulder of a man from my classic, Xiansai Chronicles). Thus, I contacted him so that I was able to take part in his quest to rid us of the burrowing nightmare. He acted reluctant at first, but I could tell he was happy to have me along.
I met up with him at dusk upon the sandy rocks that ringed the Tardein wastes. As I approached, Burroughs was kneeling on the black rocks, inspecting something. I looked at the indistinguishable matter he'd been staring so intently at, but I could not identify it. He held up his hand, motioning for me to step lightly. When I asked him what the problem was, he pointed to the focus of his attention and asked if I wanted to end up like that poor fool. I laughed, thinking he was playing one of his jokes on me yet again. Everyone knew that the dune threshers attacked from under the sand, and that we were safe upon the rocks!
"Tell that to him," he said.
I looked again, and what I saw turned my stomach. The rocks betrayed the desperation with which the victim had clung to them. Left upon their bloodstained surfaces were strips of skin that had been torn from his hands and fingers.
"They'll jump right up onto these rocks and drag you down. An experienced hunter could survive an attack, but someone like you will be lunch if you keep stomping around here, making all that noise." He chuckled to himself as he made his way up to his heavily loaded wagon.
I quickly (and quietly) moved back from the edge of the rocks. And then I heard the screeching. Burroughs had retrieved a large object, a cage of some kind, covered with a black tarp. This cage was the source of the hellish emanations. Thick ropes hung down from somewhere deep beneath its dark shroud. "That's not far enough," he said. As if to prove his point, he shook the cage he was holding. Ever viler screams shot forth, cutting through my head like cold, sharp blades. But they were nothing to the sound I heard next – the deathly churning of sand that heralded the arrival of the thresher.
"Their sound riles a thresher up something fierce. Better get them into the sand before we have company up here." With that, he tore the cover off the cage. The shock of seeing what was contained within overwhelmed me immediately. Everything seemed to wash together in a kind of bland, sickening grayness, and my knees buckled.
The undead are a pox upon our world, yet no one sees fit to look into their existence and find a way to rid us of them once and for all. How long until we are confronted by the terrifying specter of an undead army of skeletal warriors raised by some crazed sorcerer or would-be demigod? Do not let the scarce reports of skeleton attacks lull you into assuming we are safe; we are never safe from these unholy legions. They are coming, mark my words.
Despite the fact that skeletons seem mischievous or imbecilic, they are nothing to scoff at. We should neither dismiss them from our consideration, nor ignore the problem they represent. It is far past the time for serious inquiry into their exact nature. Since I am overly qualified on many subjects pertinent to this area of inquiry, apparently it falls to me to rectify this lack of understanding. After completing many months of long, arduous study, I now present the information I have gleaned from my research into these unholy monstrosities.
Contrary to what I had assumed, a reanimated skeleton is actually constructed from bits and pieces of any number of different skeletons, not a single one. Their diverse composition gives them the ability to form and reform, and makes them easily summoned, permitted there is adequate raw material at hand. Still, this is not to say that a skilled necromancer could not call forth a cadre of skeletal warriors to do his bidding anywhere he chooses. He merely requires less effort to construct a skeleton army in a graveyard than in the middle of a forest.
Furthermore, I have come to believe that a skeleton's intelligence is limited by the power and scope of the spell used in the creature's creation. Theoretically one could have a single astute skeleton servant or a rather dense army of a hundred for the same expenditure of magical energy. I am at a loss to explain the average skeleton's somewhat ludicrous mental predisposition, however. Perhaps the implausibility of its own existence makes the skeleton think it hilarious to hide in a barrel, cackling intermittently for some three hundred years until a victim happens by?
In contrast to the other undead horrors our world has been plagued with – namely the mindless zombies and the pack-hunting ghouls – skeletons are much more dangerous as a whole because of their ability to be organized and directed. Based on the evidence, it takes only slightly more energy to imbue skeletons with enough intelligence to use shields to defend themselves and their allies. These "shield skeletons", as I like to call them, are alarmingly common, though not as numerous as a basic skeletal warrior.
If my aforementioned points do not convince the skeptic of the gravity of this issue, consider the case of the skeletal summoner. This advanced skeletal warrior is specifically created with a higher intelligence that gives it the ability to replenish the undead ranks as needed. Yes, adding summoners to the unholy, undead mix results in a nauseating recipe for a self-sustaining army, capable of renewing itself in perpetuity so as to fulfill whatever diabolical ends its master called it forth to pursue.
It should be apparent to all intelligent readers that any madman needs only the raw material of skeletal remains to create these armies of the undead. The obvious solution is to disinter the graveyards and begin burning the skeletons posthaste. Only then can we be certain that we have removed this deadly threat from the arsenal of those who would do us harm.
The khazra (colloquially known as "goatmen") were long thought to be natural inhabitants of our world, akin to the lacuni "panther-men" tribes of the desert and mountain regions, but I have recently discovered evidence revealing that nothing could be further from the truth. The history of the khazra is much more complex and disturbing than has been previously imagined.
According to ancient carvings that I have succeeded in translating, the khazra were originally human, part of the umbaru race found in the thick Torajan jungles in the Teganze region of the eastern continent. At some point in the distant past, the five clans that would come to be known as the khazra migrated to higher elevations and began developing along different lines than the clansmen they left behind. They lived in relative peace and began the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to a farming one. This state of affairs changed dramatically when they encountered the Vizjerei about two thousand years ago (if my translations prove to be correct).
This was the height of the Mage Clan Wars, and even the mighty Vizjerei mage clan was showing signs of stress brought about by the prolonged struggle. A faction of the Vizjerei resolved to construct an army using demon-possessed victims, and the peaceful umbaru clans seemed to fit the Vizjerei's needs. It is unknown how the clans first came into contact with the Vizjerei, but within the span of a decade or so, some of the future khazra clans had turned from their peaceful existence to all-out warfare with the Vizjerei. This was surely the result of seeing their brothers being painfully transformed into savage goat-like creatures by the Vizjerei.
Though they were primitive by the standards of the Vizjerei, the umbaru clans held the powerful mages at bay through familiarity with the terrain and sheer ferocity. But this state of affairs could not hold forever. As decades of savage warfare took their toll on the umbaru's culture and minds, the clans began to search for any means to prevail over their enemies. In fact, they lost sight of anything else.
Exact details on what transpired next are scarce, but I have ascertained that at some point during the next two hundred years they decided to use the Vizjerei's strength against them. To this end, the clans actively sought to capture a mage to do their bidding. Eventually they succeeded in violently coercing one of their captives to help them not only gain control over their transformed clan mates, but to have themselves transformed as well in order to fully drive the Vizjerei out of the Teganze.
Their strategy worked, but it was not without its price. They found themselves bound in servitude to the demon Zagraal in exchange for their cursed power (note that I neither endorse nor dismiss theories of a "Burning Hell" by the use of the term demon; it is simply used here in its original intent: to describe a being of malevolent or loathsome origin). They became furious marauders, driven to raid villages and caravans to sate their bloodlust and procure sacrificial victims for their demonic master. This is also when they became known as khazra, which roughly translates as "demon" or "devil" in the umbaru tongue.
After years of this terror, their previous brothers, the umbaru of the lower Teganze, sent their sacred witch doctor warriors to eradicate the khazra's threat to the region. Filled with otherworldly power, the witch doctors cut a swath of destruction through the khazra until they confronted Zagraal himself. In a now-legendary battle, the valiant heroes fought to the last man before finally bringing Zagraal down.
The khazra continued to wage war on humanity, but without a source of demonic power to draw from, they became weak. Despite a slight unexplained resurgence twenty or so years ago, their fury steadily drained from them until they became the sluggish and muddled beings we know today.
Addendum: While researching the various hostile wildlife that adventurers regularly encounter in their work, I have been informed that the khazra have regained some of their lost vim and vigor and are once again ferociously attacking humans. As of this writing, such reports remain uncorroborated by reliable sources.
The Gnarled Walkers
As beautiful as a walk through the Tristram wilderness is, with its lush fields and picturesque rivers, the air seems to take on an otherworldly foreboding as one approaches the fishing village of Wortham. My search to catalog the weird, the fabulous, and the all-too-often-dangerous inhabitants of our world had led me there. I hoped to find a guide who could bring me safely into the Festering Wood and back, for I had come to see for myself the strange creatures that are the "gnarled walkers".
What then, you may ask, is a gnarled walker? Is it simply an ensorcelled walking tree – a wood wraith – or is it something more? Does it truly live? These are the questions I sought to answer as I strode into the village of Wortham that bright day, which had somehow turned dark and dreary while my attention was elsewhere. But the few people I encountered in Wortham were a taciturn lot, unwilling to answer my inquiries.
As I inspected my way around the moribund town, it was impossible to ignore the fact that the bridge I hoped to take to the Festering Wood had been destroyed, burned beyond repair. My questions about this circumstance went unanswered. I likewise found it odd that there seemed to be only elderly people in the village, with the exception of one beautiful young woman whose father was quite insistent I keep my distance from her. Though he was rude on this point, I found him to be a rather sociable sort once convinced I was not interested in his daughter. He introduced himself as Pablo DeSoto, and as luck would have it, he was very knowledgeable about several topics in regards to magic and the object of my search.
According to Master DeSoto, the Festering Wood derives its name from the fact that everything in it seethes and roils with evil intent: even the ground itself has been known to rise up and devour a person. When pushed further in regards to the gnarled walkers specifically, he pontificated at length as to their true nature. He maintained they are vile mystical creatures from another realm who can only sustain their existence in our world by sapping life energy from men or animals. These heinous beings have shifted their appearance to that of trees, thereby luring their prey close so as to consume it whole and enrich their reserves of dark power. These beastly things move ponderously, and some are known to exude a foul stench that poisons their victims. Master DeSoto is certain the origin of the walkers, and of the Festering Wood itself, can be traced to the foul doings of necromancers, who he claims are responsible for much of the evil that has befallen our world. He expounded in full to me his theory that the "whole Diablo incident", as he called it, was tied up in their dark arts as well.
Regardless as to whether that is the truth of the matter or not, I felt fortunate that I was unable to find a guide to bring me into the Festering Wood. Upon hearing of what transpires there, I have decided it is far better suited to the adventuring temperament than my own.
The Dark Cultists
I knew the cultists had found me when I saw the bloody, curved knife stabbed violently into my door this morning. I have spent months trying to ease the fevered imaginings that have tormented me since that encounter a scant few months past, but to no avail. And now they know who I am.
There is an absolute and oppressive darkness to be found only in the deep wilderness at night. Thus, when I saw the distant light of fire while making my way through the thick Tristram forest, I welcomed the company of fellow travelers. As I approached, however, something even darker than the unlit forest crept over me. So horrendous was this feeling that I thought to turn away until the sound of chanting reached my ears and drew me onward. I thank whatever gods blessed me with the presence of mind to stop short of entering that unholy place whence the sound originated. Instead, I sought out a well-hidden vantage point from which I could look upon the frigid clearing that seemed violently torn from the depths of the forest.
That was when I first saw them, the dark cultists, arrayed in a circle. Their torches lit the macabre proceedings in a pallid light that danced over their garish rune-covered robes. I had heard tales of these hooded cultists and their depraved rituals, and I must admit to some curiosity upon seeing them. As their chanting droned on, I thought to make my escape lest they see me, but my attention was riveted by a pale, vacant-eyed supplicant being led forward. I do not know if he was of limited mental capacity, lost in religious mania, or simply drugged, but he was definitely not sound of mind as he knelt in the center of the thrumming circle.
The chanting stilled as the leader, face shadowed by a heavily gilded hood, stepped forward and began to intone a ritual in some indecipherable tongue. A large, thickly muscled and leather-masked cultist draped a black, eyeless hood over the victim's head before pulling a foot-long spike from his sash. My mind searched for any possible use for this cursed nail when I noticed the immense stygian hammer grasped in his other hand. With one swift motion, he raised it above his head and drove the spike into the supplicant's back with fierce intensity. I almost screamed... but the victim made no sound.
As another spike was readied, I knew I could watch no more. I trembled with the thought of those nails being driven into me should I be caught. I averted my gaze as I heard the revolting squish of another spike sunk into willing flesh. My eyes fell on the robe of the lead cultist. The intricate runes woven into his robe undulated and swirled in sickening movement. As I watched, horrified, I could feel my sanity crumbling away. I began to back away from the wicked tableau, forcing myself to move slowly while my mind screamed for me to flee with abandon. When I could contain myself no longer, I broke into a full run, not caring what sound I made. I ran until I collapsed. And then, as soon as I was able, I staggered to my feet and ran some more.
Not long ago, I wrote of my disappointment that New Tristram lacked the palpable dread its reputation led one to expect. I wish that I had not tempted fate with my quick words. Disappointment is much preferable to stark terror, and terror was what I stumbled into that night.
Since returning home, I have been feverishly researching those demon-enthralled cultists in an effort to ease my mind, to assure myself that I had not actually seen what I had, but every whispered, frightened tale only deepens the chill that has seized me. I do not know which of my actions alerted them, but my worst fears have been realized. I have been marked.
This is the last known writing of Abd al-Hazir. Known for his compilation of weird and wonderful facts about our unique world, he has unfortunately been missing since late last year.
This section contains facts and trivia relevant to this article
- Abd al-Hazir's name may be a reference to Abdul al-Hazred, the Mad Arab from H. P. Lovecraft's fictional Cthulhu mythos. There are many similarities between the two, both have devoted their lives to studying the unseen forces at work in their respective worlds, and eventually met a gruesome end at the hands of those who they wanted to study.
- Abd al-Hazir's journal consists of 42 pages, with the Dark Cultist entry being the last.