The Case of the Doctor’s Doubles Part I
Our new illusionist friend Quentin Tarella watched the scenery move by the window of the coach. My master sat either in thought or, judging from the smile that occasionally danced across his face, amusement at some internal joke. I casually paged through my notes occasionally cognizant that my face would betray a moment of concern as I read the story of Bartholomew Serrik.
I became aware that our friends’ eyes were upon me just before he asked, “A problem, Frederik?”
I nodded, “How familiar are you with Serrik’s story?”
I looked out the window and had to be impressed with the occasional guard post and the even and upkept nature of our traveling surface, “It is an admirable system of roads they’ve built.”
Continuing our conversation Quentin said, “I know Bartholomew is some kind of quasi avatar of Incabulos and he can control Nightmares, fears, illusions…all to a great extent. And I gather he has made clones of himself, or simulacura of some kind.”
“Sufficient, but there is a great deal more,” my master said with his eyes closed, “Frederik, from your notes and discussions with the others…relay to our friend how this all came to be.”
“In 583 CY, 53 years ago, there was an outbreak of various diseases across the Flaness. Each of them targeted a different race with symptoms that reflected the deepest fears of that race. As such some races never let knowledge of the deadly illnesses beyond the areas affected, either in same or for fear of causing a panic. One of the few who did let people know were the Halflings of Elmshire who suffered the horrid disease of Yellow Eye. It prevented them from getting sustenance from food. They would eat and eat but slowly die starving.”
At this point Mr. Tarella gasped. “How horrible, for a Halfling the sense of community in the shared meal, the enjoyment of life…”
“You begin to understand the nature of the diseases,” my master said.
I continued, “All the races had one, even the dragons. But the humans in the village of Skorane in the Gnarley forest suffered a fading. They would die unable to touch others or seek comfort or companionship; dying alone in a room full of people. All of Skorane died, and their suffering was used to summon a creature called a Plague Crow that would hatch a being who was sacred to Incabulos. All of the others across the Flaness who died were either taken by their gods or…stolen by Incabulos. Their natures and souls used to both give the child of the crow powers but also made into an undead called a Vestige. Only Vecna had made one before but one of his undead generals, Ascerek, knows how. And he, for some reason has made a bargain to share the knowledge with Incabulos and his cult. This vestige is an undead made up of a percentage of all those who die from the crafted diseases. Diseases Bartholomew has perfected but we have some measure of protection against for now. He can control it, like a rolling fog made of the souls of the dead. “
Quentin absorbed what I was saying and nodded for me to continue.
“It seems one person survived the disease in Skorane and he became, in some manner…a host for the child of the crow.”
“Likely,” my master interjected, “he was made through a form of incubation. My belief is the the crow is not so much a mother as a larval stage of Mr. Serrik. It was placed into Dr. Cartwright when he survived the plague and proved himself strong enough to bear it. It erased him, devoured his soul and took his place. If there is anything left of Valin Cartwright now it is only as the most ephemeral dream in the back of Serrik’s mind. And even that I doubt. ”
Jeremy Moonrise, my master, has been my friend since we were children. I would die for him as his unfailing bodyguard but also as his brother. But sometimes the casualness with which he delivers his most disturbing theories can shake even me. And those from our home in Hallowfaust are rarely shaken by such things. Mr. Tarella had grown up in the place called Ravenloft, and he took it in a staggered stride. Indeed if a person could not be affected by what was just said, I would find them suspect. Even my master, unsuccessfully, tried to hide an uncomfortable grimace.
“It seems,” I moved on after a silence, “that when our friends met a version of Dr. Cartwright in Greyhawk city he was a clone or some similar being who was able to be controlled by Serrik at a moment’s notice. He believed there were a handful of other survivors and did not find it odd that he would be far older if he were from Skorane. But it seems there is a network of copies living as doctors and philanthropists to the medical field. They live along the main magical ley line of the Flaness. And we know Incabulos wants to infect that ley line…give Beory, Oerth itself, a disease that will plunge all creation into nightmare so he can have dominance over all. So it seems that the good doctors are part of that plan. Our task is to investigate and see what is going on so our friends know how to handle it. Sir Christopher is monitoring the one in Gorna in Geoff. So we start in Mitrik in Veluna.”
There was silence in the carriage as we all pondered the same questions. Do these copies have souls? If we have to kill them are we killing innocent men? Are they only programmed for an apparent goodness until activated to plunge the world into eternal nightmare? Or are they good men, with souls, who we will need to murder? And the silence continued until the signs on the road announced that Mitrik, the capital of Veluna, was close.