Javver huddled in the dark. Shivering. Bleeding. Praying that that thing snuffling around in the cellar couldn't smell his blood. No one had told him that there were Snouters under the old Apothecary-Shop. No one had warned him that the obelisk was a sending from some sow-queen of Kalkendru. His teachers wanted to see how he handled their little test.
What kind of a person carves an obelisk from the trunk of a tree dragged across the threshold from the Purple Forest? And in an attic no less. Why would they sacrifice all those penguins, bats and pigeons to the thing, smearing it all haphazardly with feathers and blood? Who is that behind you?
Oneiroliths are notoriously unstable. Half-solidified phantasmal residue left behind by inattentive Dreamers or sloppy Oneirists. The Red Watch maintains a watch-list of recently-reported oneiroliths, just like they chalk-up unverified spottings of Black Smoke and keep tabs on any rumors of Red Weed or Scarlet Plague outbreaks. They used to consider such things potentially dangerous. Some academic was concerned that the Red Weeds might latch onto one of these things and somehow grow into the local Dreamspaces. It hasn't happened yet. Not that anyone's reported. These days the Red Watch tends to concern itself with real threats and actual dangers. They just don't have the budget nor the manpower to do much more than maintain a list no one cares about any more. So when the report came in of an oneirolithic obelisk it caused a bit of turmoil back at the Main Office. Suddenly everyone wanted access to the list...
Zoogruth trotted along leisurely, distracted by contemplation of abstract matters. The Fourth Theorem was troubling the old Phorain. She just couldn't reconcile it to her recent observations. Red dust coated her flanks, covered her taloned feet. It reminded her of dried blood. The old days. Not every mercenary managed to escape the mind-bondage most of the hard-line Zurian clans insisted upon. But then not every Phorain had her talent for sorcery. She turned West at the broken pillars of some ruin no one bothered with. Down the narrow defile behind the canopy of clutchy-thorns. Across the small trickling brook all milky-white with alkali-salts. Down. Around. Down some more. There was no path, save in her memory. No one else knew about this spot. This place. Her refuge. There. The obelisk loomed crookedly in the steep-walled crater. This was where everything changed for her. This was where she had learned her first spells. Each one deciphered and translated from the inscriptions on that obelisk. Her obelisk. She never heard Janeska's killing spell.
The old warlords who ruled over Rushtalm had struggled long and hard to overcome the stigma of having a human taint to their blood. For six generations each of them had waged terrible, costly wars upon all their neighbors. Each one was immortalized by an obelisk commemorating their victories. The seventh obelisk remains unadorned, its upper third broken off in the course of the sacking of Rushtalm following the death of the last warlord. No one will speak his name in Rushtalm. It is considered a terrible curse. A reminder of his failure and their loss and the city's fall from preeminence. There are whispered rumors and muttered prophecies of an Eighth Obelisk, the arrival of some heir to the tainted lineage of the old warlords, a return to the greatness of the old days. The janissaries patrolling the muddy streets of this dismal place just wish whoever it was would get on with things so they could either execute them or leave once and for all.
Here's the map. Like I promised. Thanks for the Black Mead. That'll help me sleep tonight. So look here. There are three islands. South of the third reef. Well past red-walled Viridang. They don't ever patrol this far South, so don't worry about them. Each one of these islands is less than a mile across at its widest. All three have a huge obelisk of heavy blue jade at their centers, surrounded by low-walled mazes and writhing vines and the like. The vines are harmless; the things will grab at your boots but they avoid fire. Don't leave any wounded behind, as the vines will take them. Slowly. The screams will last for hours. The bloat-fish with their massive, toothy maws are considered the worst of the prowling things one must keep on guard against. Especially the farther inland one goes. The waters surrounding these islands are fair infested with fist-sized poisonous crustaceans, green-shelled inedible things with stings and pincers. They'll avoid anything coated with mucous, so maybe you'd best see about making some sort of deal with an Octoscholar; they have a few spells along those lines that might prove useful. Just don't tell them where you're going. Not under any circumstance. Oh, and those trees drooping along the inner lagoons of these islands aren't trees at all. They're some kind of anemone. And they will be watching you every step of the way. Burn them. Or else. Damned things massacred my crew. I only barely escaped, far from unscathed, as you can see. Surgeon won't remove the thing. It is too deeply embedded into my flesh now. It's not a bad replacement-hand, all things considered, but it keeps me up at night with its sing-song warbling...