*Translated from Infernal
My mind is still my own, still that belonging to the human named Markus Shelling. But beyond that curtain, that dividing blanket which designates the limits of that strict human stage of reality….beyond that, and all praise unto Him, I have become so much more.
I was ah…well, Markus, rather. Yes, I should speak of him in the past tense, as that is where we left him (isn’t it, Master?) was never cut out to be a keeper. This, in Waterdeep Speak, is the term for those business folk who handle the books of other small businesses, taverns, apothecaries, general stores, or any other small establishment of public service. Ledger keeper or Book keeper, perhaps, would be the full term, and with as much quotidian inventory and numerical data which needs keeping track of, it stands to reason that the masses would see this position as one requiring, well, a degree of intellectual acuity.
A keenness which Markus did not possess, and he knew it.
No, the position of keeper was one he inherited with an almost radical reluctance. After all, his great grandfather, Jamison, had been a master of his craft and through the years passed this know-how onto his grandfather and his father. And no-matter his degree of protest, he knew that familial custom demanded his acceptance of the post one day.
There were four in his family. His brother, Craighton, was four years his senior, and his father’s prized son. He had the looks, the propriety, and the intellect which kept the Shelling family name in high esteem. He had merited both academic and athletic accolades at the Waterdeep Junior School and had been accepted to the Sword Coast Grand Academy to pursue a degree of higher learning in Mathematical Sciences. His father fondly recounted his eldest son’s aspirations of returning to Waterdeep to reorganize the books and assist with the water trade deficit. “If there’s anyone who can do it,” his father remarked proudly, “old Craigy can.”
And when he watched his brother ride off on a caravan of packed horses and two ornately bundled carriages, Markus felt a hidden burning of fear inside him. He swallowed hard, knowing that when his brother disappeared, it would only be him and his father. And Markus would be publically facing his own physical barriers.
Because Markus was the ugly antithesis of his brother, and if he didn’t know it himself, his father would be sure to remind him.
“Bring your worthless ass over here you waste of skin!” drunk, he would yell to the winds at Markus’s ears. He would jab a finger several times over into the boy’s head, each time with more force, and say, “And see if you can keep one fucking thing I say in this worthless head of yours.” He would then teach his boy – numbers, figures, addition, subtraction, accounts, balances, and over and again.
And, stuttering, and with deep breaths, Markus would try…he really would, and if he had just a bit more time, he knew that he would probably get it. But his father would wait until one full second before that time, and he would take pleasure in again laying hands to the disappointment before him.
Tears welled in him for nights, weeks on end, and Markus learned to wait until his mother and father slept before weeping to himself, praying:
“Oh d-d-d-dear spirits o-of Thy G-g-grand Faerûn, hear m-me, please, h-h-hear m-me….”
And when morning came, the looking glass of his water room showed him the aftermath of the fear his eyes exuded from the night before – the subtle pink lines of frayed tears, the lachrymal shades of his living nightmare.
“Markus, fix yourself you little shit. Slap yourself right before I do. We’re going into town.”
Markus would wipe his face, and turn from the room to answer his father’s commands.
Town days weren’t exceedingly special, but enough to merit a change of pace. His father went in twice a week; his father sat atop the bench to steer the carriage and whip the horses; his boy was expected to stay within the carraiage, ‘so you don’t make a fool out of me,’ was the general reason. Not that Markus argued it at all. He had come to enjoy the ride, and enjoyed what he was able to see of Waterdeep when they arrived.
He would wait in the back, hidden by the canopy of the carriage. Sometimes his father would be gone for several hours, sometimes overnight; at least he wasn’t beaten. But one day, Markus wanted that to change.
“You stay the fuck here, you bag of Sin; you hear me!? I catch you out of this carriage, you’ll need a sickbed and a cleric.” He stepped away toward the general store and continued muttering to himself. “Someone’s got to join me in the laughter.”
As soon as his father was out of sight, Markus snuck out of the carriage and followed him, his heart racing all the while. He watched his father walk down the two full rows of the main strip, Jarkaam Street, sidestepping local shoppers and the workers of the day. He stayed a safe distance behind the squat man, shivering lightly as he watched him spit into the dirt and shoulder past young women and several elderly townsfolk before turning down an alley way and slipping behind a nondescript metal door.
For hours Markus sat outside a small square window only several flickers of a low-burning candle finding his hidden peering eyes. He found a safe quiet spot atop a handful of ale crates – a place where he would be hidden and still learn.
Inside he found his father amid a gathering of well-dressed men, businessmen, each of them giving giddy nervous laughs at odd moments. From outside the glass, Markus caught words like “hidden”, “payment,” “street price,” “coinage,” and “product flow.” All the while the definition of his father’s heinous rictus faded in and out of definition amid thick billows of his own cigar smoke. He passed small sacks of brown paper from the inside of his vest pockets to open hands, each of those handing him thick wads of stained paper bills. The murmur of the dark room’s communal tavern rose and flickered with the short flames of the candles within.
“’Scuse me, you go’ a permit?”
Markus turned to find a man standing behind him with an immaculate uniform of social status, a small badge of Waterdeep sewn into the fabric at the heart.
“Ah n-n-no, I j-just am-ammm ah,” he struggled to sound normal and slipped from his squatted perch upon the stacked crates of wood where he thought he wouldn’t be noticed.
“Sorry?” the man said. “A permit, sir. This is private property, see?” The man put his hands behind his back.
Markus kicked another small crate to the ground with another nervous jolt of his heart.
The back door of the alley opened and three of the men from within stepped out, their smiles dipping into frowns as they saw the uniformed man.
“Is there a problem, constable?” One of them asked. Then the man turned and saw Markus. He whispered back to several of them inside the doorway, and when Markus’s father emerged, he dipped a hand in a front vest pocket and moved several pieces of gold to the constable’s hand, this accompanied by another of the small pouches Markus had seen from the window.
“Nothing we can’t take care of, constable,” his father said, his eyes burning hatred into his son’s skull. The constable turned and walked away as did the other men in their business attire, and the alleyway was given only to the son and the father.
He beat Markus to within an inch of his life that night.
“Fucking failure, ‘as what you are!” To this day I…he remembers being strapped to a long wooden table somewhere underneath the lively chatter, footsteps, and daylight of the city. He remembers the sound of water drops lazily falling into other stagnant pools of water. And he remembers his father’s bloody pair of hands, both open and clenched as they rained upon him.
“William, no! Stop it! He’s not Craighton!” He remembers his mother’s caring form running from somewhere behind him. Moving as fast as her emotions and fibers would allow. And he remembers him silencing her.
“Shut your cow mouth, woman,” his father exclaimed. A thick wave of ale stench washed across Markus’s shackled form before he heard the whip, the thud, the gurgle, and the drunken wheeze of his father as his mother’s still form dropped to the wet unforgiving underground at his side, a long pair of rusty scissors jutting from her neck.
“M-mo-mm-momma?” Markus made out, tears leaking from his eyes and mixing with the fresh blood of his clearly broken nose. “Mm-moomm.”
His father wheezed and Markus heard the familiar swig from a bottle behind him. “Mom-mom-momm-mommma!!” His father mocked in a cackle. “You’re ‘a fuck’n reason f’ ‘is,” he slurred.
“Oh m-make it s-st-sop, dear s-spirits,” Markus said to himself.
Yes, Markus, there came a whisper in answer Yes. We can do that. If you really want it to stop, of course. It asked.
Markus turned his head to the other side of the table from where he heard the voice.
“What you lookin’ at, you foul waste of piss?” his father said, gripping his jaw and spinning his head in a painful torque back to him. Markus sniffled and swam in the tears that fell from his eyes. “M-momm-mo-momm,” he murmured as his father’s deep charred voice mimicked him again, jerking his fingers from his face.
Shall we speak? The voice came again.
Markus turned back again. “Who are y-you?”
“I’m Daddy!” the drunk man hollered and cocked back a fist and landed it across his son’s tear-filled face.
Well, that didn’t get us anywhere, did it? Said the voice again – another whisper, somehow clear through his own fear and drunken blubbering of his father. How about we try answering the question. I’ll remove the annoyance and we’ll chat, yes?
Markus turned back to his father and responded. “Y-yess.”
His father was already cocking back for another blow, this one open-handed. “You little waste of pi-“ He grumbled.
And in mid swing, his hand at full speed about to strike through his son’s bloodied and tear-swollen face, the drunk man froze – every inch of his body still as though all of time rolled over him.
Markus’s eyes were wide as they watched him, waiting for everything to begin moving again.
“There we are,” came a familiar voice. It was the same quirky soft voice his mind had heard moments earlier, but this came directly to his ears. A small creature, slender-jawed and smiling wide emerged from beneath the table, looking at Markus lovingly with silver pupilless eyes. His crouching form rose to standing and it looked down upon his father from another two feet at the least. “That’s all taken care of then.” His vestments were simple and solid colored, both top and bottom dark enough to match the underground ambiance.
“Bit of a nuisance, wasn’t it, the fat little fucker?” He looked at Markus’s father before looking to Markus for a response. “Oh dear, excuse me! As if a manacled man doesn’t have other issues on his mind.” He made a wave of his hand and all Markus saw was the light blue skin of the creature and the long cream-colored nails. Two clinks and the manacles binding him to the table unlatched and fell to the floor.
“Now, Markus, is it? Name’s Kræm, Vinzur Kræm. We need to chat.”
Kræm, with magical oration, set it all down then. The Great Lord Fraz-Urb’loo had broken from his imprisonment to find his realm of Hell completely torn apart. They had not only invaded his home, they had ripped through his followers, and they had stolen his treasured staff. None of this, of course, made any sense to me…ahem..to Markus at the time, but it would.
Kræm was not a spirit or a god; he was humble about this (he still is, as I understand, the crafty funny servant), but he served the Great Lord, and was, at that moment, serving him to recruit others to join His cause….and he said the gems of an acceptance were many and glorious….all Markus had to do was agree to serve.
“You will be given power beyond power,” he said. His fingers tapped together and his smile was brilliant, white and shone confidence, “and all you desire will be made available at simple request.” He tapped Markus on his lips. “And that little B-b-b-b-babble you g-g-got there will d-d-d-disappear.” Kræam smiled and chuckled then. “Great Lord Urb’loo will grant you charisma, intelligence, deception, among countless other treasures. Just think, Markus!” He said. “Not one human ever will you ever have to compete with for mental supremacy. Talk with any of the weak-minded and they are yours; they are at your bidding. You will own their every thought.” He looked at the frozen form of Markus’s father. “And if they deign to challenge you,” he bent land looked in the man’s eyes until blood, dark and rich, began to slide from the frozen man’s nostrils, “they will wish their tongues never tasted freedom.”
He turned back to Markus. “And you have only but to say the words, and this power, is yours.” He reached out and offered an open hand to Markus. “Say it, boy. Say the words; vow to serve Him always and take the world for your own.”
Markus’s, eyes wide, looked down at his mother’s lifeless form upon the cold stone of the underground floor, then to the red-flowing face of his drunken father’s still form. He began to breath heavily. His eyes began to water, and then, looking at Kræm’s face, Markus dropped to his knees and took the servant’s hand.
“Yes,” he said. “I accept.”
“Good,” said the servant. “You’ve made the right choice. There is, of course, a price, isn’t there? All things have prices,” he said again, this time with the biggest smile he had shone. “But the price you pay will be trivial to the glory the Great One will show you.
“Remember,” were his words, quieter now, almost the voice Markus heard the first time. “All glory you ever receive is His gift to you. You are created, born, and made in this world as He wishes you to be….and He wishes greatness for you.” He then turned to the stilled pitiful drunk that had beaten on the boy and placed a blue clawed hand on his shoulder. The man began to wither and shrink in on himself. The pores of his skin dilated as the skin shrunk and dried splinters and flakes of blood spewed to the ground, burying Markus’s mother in a pile of dried sanguine excrement. The clothes wilted on the shrinking skin and fell away as all limbs were sucked into the hollow stiff body. Vinzur Kræm shook the clothes off and pulled away a long ruddy staff, the body of which, when analyzed, showed fingernails, and small stiffened sinews of muscle cramped into bones, ligaments, and tendons. The top of the staff was a translucent human skull, hollowed, and mouth agape.
“You’ll be needing an Arcane Focus,” said the servant. “Something to help you commune with the Great One and channel your powers…and fuck with good old pops if you’re ever in the mood for a joke. The Great One has an indefatigable sense of humor,” he snorted, slapped Markus on the shoulder . “Now,” he said. “Take this and face me, boy; let’s make this official.”
[chuckles] It’s all laughable now. It’s only been several months, but that’s how it started. That was where Markus died, and where I began. The Great Lord gave me this remarkable form [chuckles], and these beautiful horns. And a name – Mir, the Infernal term for ‘order.’ “Lord Urb’loo will explain it to you if you last long enough for Him to deem you loyal,” said Kræm. He gave me some clothes and a pack, and sent me on my way. I was to keep my head down and leave Waterdeep.
And I’ve been on the road ever since, as Mir, willing only to please the Great Lord, give thanks to Him, fulfill His commands, and enjoy myself along the way.
Now, what was your story?