The world is very dark. There is movement, rustling. A spark flashes in the dark, ending. It is accompanied by the sound of steel on flint. Again. This time you catch the head of a torch in the briefest flash from the burning steel. The third strike catches in the pitch and rag on the brand. The fire grows and the glow extends, showing not one but two torches, and two identical men holding it. Both Reeve.
He leans closer to the mirror. The two faces lock eyes. It's a cave with a great mirror set into one wall. His eyes study his own reflection. After many long moments of scrutiny he seems to nod to himself.
"The beauty of doing for yourself what seems almost a play before an empty amphitheatre is that you, yourself, will always remember it. And if perchance you should find some way to convey that memory to another..." He shrugs, holding the torch aloft. "Then perhaps you can transmit to that person what you can never portray in front of an audience." He paces the length of the mirror, speculating.
"This evening is in the High Summer of 1003. In scarcely more than seventeen hours some northerners will fall into a trap laid here by the Enemy. I recognized the skald at once, of course. As I was meant to. It had to work in secret, plying on the fears and insecurities of one of the youngest and most vulnerable amongst the heroes of the Realms. She couldn't hope to spot its deception and so I was assured of her own safety."
He pauses, touching his chin with his left hand as he stares into the mirror. "The Mirror of Morchant." He paces again. "They say it can show you your soul, your reason for being, your... whatever." He shrugs. "I've read of it. But I've never questioned my purpose. I've never doubted my soul." He smiles faintly. "Many of you will link this artifact to the Erl-King. That is in error. This mirror appears infrequently throughout our world. The Erl-King seems to have merely expended some of his power to bring it here in this time. It's a reasonable lure. Only a fool or one who has already gazed into his own soul doesn't harbor some doubt as to his purpose."
"What I see is no surprise. But I didn't come here for me. At some point the others will be transferred. Something very crucial will happen. It will happen because their curiosity and courage put them at odds with the world. And that is where the Enemy will do his worst. The skald I saw with her is very particular. Not an assassin or a spy like most of the water elementals by that name. He is from the first brood, the First Storm. He is a world-hopper. He will come to be known as the Procurer. He facilitates certain movements and transactions and other business between the Erl-King and other deities. But, like any skald, he relishes the opportunity to let those afflicted by his business dealings know. So he will tip his hand at some point after it is too late."
"What, of crucial nature, will occur here at the Mirror is not fully known to me at this time. Where the heroes will find themselves is not so important as they might think. The Enemy is always steps or even battles ahead of them. But He is always with them too. Seeing to it that they keep doing the job they're meant to do."
He stops pacing and glares into the Mirror. "The dying world must die. But I already know that they won't learn that until much later."
He turns from the Mirror, waving the torch around the cave. The floor is covered in leaves and damp earth slowly decomposing. There are no signs of anything disturbing this place. "So something will happen here which the Enemy cares about, but will likely go entirely unnoticed by the adventurers." He turns back to face the Mirror. "Something in the shadows and the reflections. What will the Procurer procure for his Master tomorrow night?"
He shrugs and begins pacing again.
"That is all prattle. I am tasked with the larger picture. And so it is to that I must now attend." He switches the torch to his left hand. "There are so many things I can recite here by myself and commit to memory in this way. This perfect mirror with its perfect clarity..." He shakes his head, touching his brow with his right hand. "I shall start with the largest picture. The Enemy. The Enemy is Oblivion. Oblivion by way of Dissolution. Ehsar'Ektote. But these are vague human terms at best and occluded arcane concepts always. I can weave no metaphor that will adequately exhibit what is going on."
He holds the torch close to the Mirror so that the smoke stains the surface of the glass. He pulls it away and regards the black stain. At last he reaches up with his right index finger and traces the word "world" into the black stain. "That is what is at stake. But the word isn't enough. The word will most likely invoke a strange notion of a globe, of continents known and unknown with uncharted seas and cultures we'll never know."
"I can think in terms of possibility trees. That is starting with one path and at every possible choice having a branch in that path and all subsequent choices on all paths. This is but one starting point for infinity. But then why be egocentric? Take the possibilities back to the source. A soul, as most meditations hypothesize, is a collection energy in a precise pattern. No two are identical. Every last one is mutable and sadly mortal. But as flesh is not so sturdy as the soul, so too is the soul to the cosmos. An infinite stream of energy in patterns so complex or simple that one could go mad simply dreaming them up. Many have, in fact. Best not to dwell on that which can exhaust even a god's considerable power."
"Perhaps the Church of Darklore, however violent it may be, is partly right. That energy can array itself in so many different patterns is utter chaos. And that which they call the Dark One seeks to return all of that energy to the All. If I understand it correctly the All is entropy. It is utterly static. Potential untapped. Existence without rhyme or reason." He shrugs. "I'm not going to sermonize. I couldn't care less about the All, the Dark One, the Light or any dogmatic principles. But they have something right, at least. Entropy is a possible solution to the enigma of the world. But I'm talking about Oblivion. And that is a different answer."
He holds out the torch and hooks his right hand over his left shoulder, staring at the flame thoughtfully. "I cannot begin to postulate upon the impetus of creation. I can only expound upon the end of it. Entropy is not an end, in truth. Entropy is all things being perfectly equal, in perfect equilibrium. But at the boundaries of our world, of our universe you will find that there is no concept that can be wrought in the stuff of this world which can capture, contain or even hold back that which is beyond. Our world, the All, whatever...should be ever expanding or at least static in the case of entropy. But currently it is losing ground. Creation, it seems, is moving slower than the dissolution of it's fruits."
He frowns deeply, still regarding the flames of the torch. "You see we are the architects of our own demise. Before I can even come to the idea of Corruption, I must explain what Dissolution is. Down through the ages gods and men have risen and fallen. Empires have crumbled, continents have sunk, planes have collided or even been devourer. But these are mortal things. These are things which happen within. Our concepts of order and chaos, good and evil, hunger and satisfaction, learning and ignorance are all products of a self-contained environment. The gods, the heavens and hells, and all the nasty and beatific places and things that we dream of or run in terror from are among the highest ordered energies that we can conceive of, even if only vaguely. There's ever so much more to the world than that which humanity can imagine."
"But self-preservation is the defining line. That which seeks to perpetuate itself in one form or another is adding to the list of possibilities. While that which seeks to remove itself entirely is detracting from it. But here is the crux of the matter. Some things have been dreamed up which have fled or been banished to the boundaries of this world, where the hopefully infinite energies of the world seep away into Oblivion by way of Dissolution. Dissolution is the step that must occur in order for entropy to occur. But entropy is as improbable as is perfect goodness or perfect evil. Even evil creatures have a sense of self-preservation. And that is not against nature. But there are things which do not preserve themselves. More importantly, there are things that would see you taken down before they take themselves down. Murder then suicide."
"We call them the Kal kre Bain, sometimes." He turns to look back at the Mirror. "The four great entities which are nothing more than our cast down or even most coveted fears. They surround this world, living but a hairsbreadth ahead of the utter annihilation of Oblivion. And they have only one thing to them. No matter how many ways you personify them. They are hunger for the energies of this world. They will not shit out what they consume. There is no out. When they have consumed all they will consume themselves and die and then there will be nothing. Not even enough energy to take form in some complex pattern like satisfaction or regret. Oblivion."
"And the Erl-King? Corruption is the first and most potent weapon of the Four At the End. A spirit called Reup. A god by any measure. But one more entrenched in us, our actions, our societies and our fears than perhaps anything else. Of every lie. Of every theft. Of every murder. Of every doubt realized. We pay homage to the God of Dissolution. Corruption is many different things but it is the all-encompassing name we give to the breaking down of systems that must rely on force of will to maintain."
He looks his own reflection in the eyes. "And that I now exist is proof that the world has started to recede due to the Enemy's efforts. Isn't that Smart?"