Damn you, Tony. Damn you to the Abyss and back.
I sit here writing this - by myself, mind you - on an unconscionably biting spring night by failing lantern light. And I'm angry.
I'm angry that you made me care. That as much as you infuriated me, I couldn't help but be caught up in your blithe outlook and joy in discovery. That despite myself, I loved archaeology again. Because of you.
I'm angry that you aren't here to bicker with me. To bandy ideas around over an ale. I'm furious that I stood by and bit my cowardly tongue while Xephos handed you that cursed shard.
I'm angry that you left. I can't leave, Tony. No-one leaves Silhouette.*
Like any good clandestine order, Silhouette keeps track of its members - makes sure you're toeing the line, enacting Lord Zaros's will from the shadows. They'll hear the first word of dissent that passes your lips - hence my sparkling demeanour and perky grin.
So I'm writing these 'Research Notes' - bundling them up and putting them somewhere safe. Should I slip up, and the Inquisitors catch up with me, I want there to be some chance that something of my work survives. That if somehow you find your way home on your own, you might know that I tried to do the right thing.
I'm going to find you, Tony. And I'm going to bring you back.
*And don't give me that. You must have known something was afoot in the Guild.
I've been studying the Monolith since the day you left. You could spend a lifetime looking at this thing and barely scratch the surface, but one thing in particular sticks out to me.
A series of strange glyphs - older than anything I've tried to decipher before, and like nothing I've ever seen.
For this task, even our most venerable primers are little more than dog-eared lantern stands. I need source material.
I've known Xephos since the early days, before we infiltrated the Guild. He recruited me to help Nabanik rebuild the temple - found a failing student and gave her purpose. He values my resourcefulness, but has never truly trusted me. So he keeps me where he can see me.
He's given me the task of organising an expedition to the site at Orthen. There's an artefact there that Lord Zaros covets. A lost cause, of course - no one we've sent has ever returned. But I've heard that articles of linguistic significance are being unearthed in the surrounding area. Worth a shot, I'd say.
I'll send a couple of our more ruthless recruits along - who'll make it look like I tried, and whose deaths won't cost me too much sleep. And one other. Someone I can trust to slip away quietly and return with what I'm looking for. If it's there at all.
I'll see you soon, old friend.
P.S. Don't tell anyone I called you that.
P.P.S. I mean it. Even if I'm dead.
After a month of useless poring over the Monolith, I was beginning to lose hope. But today, my agent returned.
Sure enough, she procured some stone tablets with close analogues to the troublesome glyphs, next to more discernible Dragonkin script. Far from perfect, but enough to work with - given time.
One thing: rumour has it that Lord Zaros stepped in when the expedition failed and retrieved the artefact himself. For him to intervene personally... Honestly, I'm not sure what it means.
What I do know is that I'll need to lay low for a while. Fortunately, a rising star in the archaeological world is stepping up to help out with Guildmaster duties. This is my chance to step aside and make myself scarce.
I'll use my new, free time to study these texts. Joy in discovery, and all that.
This will be my final message. I'm struggling to comprehend what I've discovered, and as for what happens next... I can't say.
With the source tablets from Orthen, it was relatively straightforward to translate. Shadow... then another glyph. Existence (superlative). So... Shadow matter? Shadow of all? Shadow everywhere?
And then it struck me. A figurative phrase, contextualised by 'conflict': Antithesis. Negativity made manifest.
I couldn't help it. I spoke the word aloud, as it came to me, and the glyphs glowed brightly. The light grew until it filled my vision and then...
Darkness. A lurch in my stomach as I fell forward. A sense of space and yet nothing. An infinite expanse that yawned wide and rendered me... null.
I can't fully explain it, Tony, but there's no need. I know it's what you felt that day - the day you disappeared.
I came to in a cold sweat, and now - as my mind attempts to process what I saw (or didn't) - the memories are disappearing as quickly as I can put ink to paper.
Lord Zaros is on his way, I know that now. With an appropriate reagent, no doubt he could finish whatever it is I started when I spoke that word. Whatever he plans to do, it can't be allowed to happen.
I'll use my contacts - get the word out to whoever will listen. The world must know what is coming. Or it will be the end of everything.
I could run, but I wouldn't get far. Better that I stay here and face my fate head on.
See you again soon, Tony. One way or another.