At the Spring Equinox 383YE, Caleb of the Cenotaph, Minister of Historical Research, instructed the historical research department to look into the origins of the Eater-of-Hope, the malign spirit that had tormented the Empire in recent years until it was permanently exorcised by Solas, High Exorcist of the Empire using a dose of true liao during the Winter Solstice 382YE.
Headed by Octavia Stream's Source, the Department of Historical Research was unable to find much of relevance to the creature or its origins. However, as the findings were being prepared for wider publication, a chance encounter with a visiting Axou scholar provided some additional information.
The Eater-of-Hope is the name given to a specific malign creature, similar to a ghost but apparently in possession of significantly greater spiritual power and guided by a malign intelligence not generally associated with the apparitions and phantoms familiar to Imperial priests and scholars. It seems that the spirit escaped from the Labyrinth during a performance of Whispers through the Black Gate cast on Cardinal Ynez di Caricomare. The creature was driven off at the time, but attached itself to a number of Imperial conflicts where it may have somehow fed off or worsened the situation. There are rumours that the creature was involved in the destruction of Embersfall spire in Zenith during the Autumn 380YE. Interestingly these stories claim that both the High Exorcist and the heavily pregnant Theodosia of Canterspire - then host to the Urizen egregore spirit - were both present. The spire was consumed in fire, and not a single magician of the spire escaped the flames. At the time, the area surrounding the spire was shrouded with a spreading aura of supernatural sadness; at the time the destruction of Embersfall was ascribed to the magic and given that the Druj invaded less than a year later the facts of what happened there will likely never be known.
The Eater-of-Hope was not heard from again until the eruption of the Black Plateau during the Battle of Solen's Doubt in early 382YE. The spirit was apparently drawn to Spiral by the terrible aura of despair and fear that covered the territory. It apparently fed on the hopes and dreams of the unfortunate inhabitants, both human and orc, whose minds had been shattered by the swirling nexus of Night magic spilling forth from the Plateau. The Eater-of-Hope rallied these tragic victims, driven to violent madness by a combination of the Plateau and the spirit's attentions, creating an army of murderous killers that threatened both the Empire and the Grendel before a large force of Imperial heroes from Anvil were able to defeat them.
The spirit was driven off by exorcism once more - it had attached itself to a Grendel warlord who functioned as the leader of the chaotic horde - but it was clear it would return swiftly. At the Winter Solstice Solus was granted a dose of true liao by the Empire so that he could deal with the menace permanently. The spirit was eventually tracked down to Semmerholm and the High Exorcist and his followers confronted the spectre for the final time.
In an encounter worthy of the great tales of history, the High Exorcist confronted his nemesis and finally drove it from the Empire for good.
In response to concerns raised to the Department by Solus, High Exorcist of the Empire, we seek to utilise one of the two available research commissions to investigate the origin of the Eater of Hope. The focus of the research will be ritualistic practices, possibly associated with torture and punishment, of the late Terunael historical period, especially associated with the city of Emrys (ruins in southwest Skuld.) We seek to cross-reference this matter to the following significant people: Merenael, Fallahd, Tegwen of the Hammer. These names have come to light during the destruction of the Eater of Hope. We seek to understand how this entity was created so that we can be vigilant against the significant spiritual threat that it represents should other such creatures be identified.Caleb of the Cenotaph, Minister for Historical Research, Spring 383YE
Octavia of Stream's Source was assigned to carry out the research into the origins of the this creature, with a focus on the ritualistic practices, possibly associated with torture and punishment, of the late Terunael historical period, especially associated with the city of Emrys (ruins in southwest Sküld). Her research found little specific to the Eater-of-Hope, but she did uncover some details of encounters between Imperial citizens and similar creatures.
The Third Visionary
Octavia carried out a swift review of available records and tales to find accounts of other dark spirits or similar entities but was unable to turn up any leads that merited further investigation. What she did find were two fragmentary accounts of past life visions all of which made reference to the presence of a third entity in the vision, in addition to the visionary and their guide priest.
The oldest account concerns a Varushkan wise one called Nellakov of Pyetr's Vale, but more commonly referred to as Old Nell. They were granted a dose of true liao by Empress Aenea, apparently in gratitude for the wise one's support in the Imperial Senate and took Father Anatoli Karov as their guide priest. In the vision Nellakov was leading a group of missionaries in foreign lands when one member of the group was either murdered or executed, the details are not clear. There is relatively little information about the vision, the account seems more concerned with the ghost encountered by the guide priest.
According to Karov, the spirit was present in the area from the beginning of the vision, though it was clear that neither the visionary nor any of the other participants could see it. Indeed he appears to have been the only one present able to interact with the spirit in anyway. According to Karov he initially assumed the thing was benign in some way, even wondered if it might be some exemplar or other inspirational figure, but he quickly reversed his opinion. Conversation between Karov and the wraith convinced him that its intentions were entirely malevolent, he was left with the overwhelming impression that the thing was deliberately encouraging the scene to turn violent and intimidating in some way.
By the time vision ended, Karov, was left witless with terror and remained that way for the best part of an hour during which time he was unable to do much more than shake and cry piteously for help. Attempts to anoint him failed but eventually it was determined through insight that he was suffering from a powerful spiritual aura that was breaking his spirit and leaving him cowed and terrorised. Once the aura was broken, the priest recovered and was able to tell his story.
At the time it was speculated that one of the two visionaries may have brought this spirit with them into the Labyrinth when they consumed the true liao. Nellakov was a very active priest who regularly used the Sentinel Gate to investigate matters of heresy and blasphemy in the Empire and earlier that year they had been involved in a series of confrontations with a heretical cult operating in Karsk that were in league with a sovereign referred to as the Night Terror. Nellakov had been left deeply shaken by her encounter with the Night Terror. The suggestion was that some fragment of this fell creature had infected her soul and been taken into the Labyrinth and it was that that the priest had encounter. However no proof was ever found for this idea though every imaginable investigation was carried out up to and including a question to the eternal Leviathan and the idea was eventually ruled out in favour of the belief that the thing must have been present in the Labyrinth at the point where the visionaries entered.
The later account concerns a Marcher beater called Nedry Fletcher who purchased his dose of liao from the Bourse public auction during the rule of Empress Mariika. Nedry's guide priest was a friar called Margery Vintner, Cardinal of Ambition. The vision seemed straight-forward enough with Nedry called on to advise a Marcher yeoman called Simon Fisher on whether to enter a wickerman or not. In the end Nedry chose instead to shrive the character he met in the vision, but as that was taking place, a mob began to form nearby of people apparently seeking to attack the culprit.
At this point a third character entered the vision, Margery described it as shaped like a tall figure dressed in a dark billowing cloak. The creature addressed Margery directly challenging her right to be present and belittling her in ways she described as numerous and profane. Nedry appeared to be unable to see the figure, indeed he reported nothing of interest after the vision. Margery claims that she circled the vision three times, exchanging insults with the creature, as her temper grew. By that point the vision had grown increasingly disturbed, with people breaking into the chamber to confront Nedry and Simon. One of the intruders attacked Nedry with a knife, stabbing him twice, at which point Nedry's vision ended.
Margery however remained behind. She is adamant on this point, that she was still present in the vision, despite the fact that Nedry was nowhere to be seen. What she witnessed then was the mob turn on Simon and butcher him, all while egged on by the disturbing spirit. Margery's experience of the vision ended at the point where Simon died - with the evil spirit clearly still present and apparently mocking her.
The City of Emrys
To date, Octavia has been unable to find any historical accounts or even stories that link the Terunael City of Emrys to the Eater-of-Hope in any way, beyond the claims recorded in volume three of Echoes of the Labyrinth. According to the account of guide priest Allegra of Shatterspire contained in that book, the past life vision of Iulian of Shatterspire involved both the northernmost Terunael city and the appearance of a creature that may well be the first contemporary incident of the Eater-of-Hope.
Likewise there are some accounts of enemies of the Terunael being tortured for information or punishment, but there are no records of any kind of this being linked to the Eater-of-Hope in anyway. This doesn't mean the two things are not linked of course - merely that Octavia has been unable to find a link.
She was able to find one reference to the production of embittered ghosts through the practice of torture. She found a disturbing account written in the time of Emperor James by a Dawnish knight-errant named Arthoor of Moors Top. Arthoor was captured by the Druj while fighting as part of the Gryphon's Pride. He was brutally tortured by the Druj, both physically and mentally, as inch by agonising inch, the skin was flayed from his body and the bodies of his companions. Each day a vile concoction of herbs was rubbed into raw flesh, not to heal but to aggravate the wounds still further.
The camp was attacked by brave heroes from Anvil, who were able to drive off the Druj and rescue Arthoor and some of his allies, but not before three of them had succumbed to their ill-treatment at the hands of the Druj. Arthoor was adamant that they had not died of their wounds, but rather they had succumbed mentally and spiritually to the torture. He seemed certain that his fellow yeofolk had simply lost all hope and given up. Of relevance to this research is that Arthoor is certain that in each case where one of their number died, a black ghost like entity appeared shortly after. The shades were dressed in back robes, but each time their face was a twisted mirror of the compatriot who had passed away.
The Druj seemed fearful of the shades and gave them a wide berth, but they were clearly not surprised by their appearance. In fact Arthoor was convinced they were expecting them, if not actively creating them in some way through their evil. The heroes who assaulted the camp described encountering a number of black shades, who threw curses at those who attacked the camp and were difficult to kill.
In the view of Octavia, this line of research does not offer any productive leads for further investigation. Whatever the Eater-of-Hope is or was, its origin and nature are not well known in the Empire.
The Axos Connection
Shortly before the Autumn Equinox 383YE, a well-respected professor in the faculty of natural philosophy at the Citadel of Maykop in Axos - Mistress Isephenia - proposed that the Empire might offer formal invitation to Axou students to apply for places at Imperial centres of learning. As part of a treaty presented by Ambassador Tarquinius, the Imperial Senate confirmed a warm welcome for Axou students, and laid the groundwork for the establishment of a campus intended to serve these foreign students. As part of the discussion around where the campus would be located, Mistress Isephenia visited several Imperial universities and colleges. It was during one of these visits that she gave a short lecture on these malign spirits - based apparently on work recently compiled in Maykop in response to a request from Ambassador Tarquinius.
While Mistress Isephenia has no specific information about the Eater-of-Hope, it seems to belong to a class of entities familiar to Axou necromantia. Called variously wraiths, spectres, lemuré, manés, phantoms, shades, daimon, phantoms, and gaolers. They are entities of pure spirit similar to ghosts and spirits but uniquely malign in intent. There is an order of historians in Maykop dedicated to tracking evidence of the better known lemuré and chronicling their various appearances. This school is confident that encounters with apparently unconnected spirits are actually meetings with a comparatively limited handful of the entities - although this may be wishful thinking on their behalf.
Like any ghost, these beings cannot exist in the mortal world without anchors. If these anchors are identified and destroyed, spiritual creatures of this kind are invariably drawn back into the Labyrinth. Unlike a true ghost, these entities are generally not connected to anchors related to their time as living mortals. Indeed, some necromantia believe these gaolers never were living mortals and are somehow products of the Labyrinth itself - formed by the Creator (who the Axou consider to be innately jealous of humanity) to torment the living and the dead alike. Rather, the anchors of a wraith that allow it to persist in the world of the living are believed to come in two forms.
The first are created when the spirit emerges from the Labyrinth, and as such will be related to the circumstances surrounding its escape. The entities seem to draw some of their purpose or identity in the mortal world from other spirits, which apparently tend to be consumed in the process in some fashion - speculation among necromantia suggests that they are only able to emerge into the world "through" an existing ghost, using it as a gateway and destroying it in the process. The Ilarch stresses that this is purely speculation, however.
There is a story about an entity that the necromantia call the Vasiliás Tustavrodrómi who emerged in Issyk just over a century ago following a poorly-thought-out ritual. During the ritual, one of the magicians that raised it suffered a fatal seizure and the "Crossroad King" manifested as if it were the spirit of the dead magician, anchoring itself to his body, his rod, and his Necromantic Crown. The creature then set about attempting to take control of Issyk, but was exposed and driven back into the Labyrinth before it could inflict too much damage on the Citadel.
The other way that anchors can be created is through the use of Autumn magic, as if the entity were a normal ghost. The item that is to be the anchor must still have an emotional, spiritual, or symbolic connection to the entity, and both must be present. The ritual is not straightforward - it would require multiple necromantia. Mistress Isephenia is not an accomplished necromantia herself and so is unaware of the specifics of such rituals.
As there are two ways to create anchors, the necromantia of Maykop say there are two known ways to deal with the spirit. The first, as with any spiritual entity, is to destroy the links to each of its anchors. The most reliable way to do this is through the ceremony of exorcism - simply destroying the physical item may work but there are known to be circumstances where even a piece of the anchor was enough for a ghost. Any spirit that lacks anchors can remain in the mortal realm for only a very short time - a matter of minutes usually but this varies dramatically. A few spectres are said to have endured for a handful of hours after their anchors were destroyed, and spent those last few hours relentlessly hunting down the people the thought were responsible for the destruction of their tethers to the mortal world.
The general consensus however is that destroying such anchors is a temporary solution. The entity is thrown back into the Labyrinth, but it can return again later. It cannot leave the Labyrinth merely by willing it - a gateway must be opened for it - but eventually it will return.
Destroying anchors can also be ineffective due to the inability to be absolutely certain that one has secured all of them. To be absolutely the spirit is dealt with, as many anchors as possible must be dealt with and the spirit itself confronted and subject to a ceremony of exorcism using a ceremony of puissant power. In Imperial terms, through the use of a dose of true liao. The Axou have no imperial liao of their own - instead they rely on a fatally toxic substance that is apparently fatal to any priest who consumes it. As a consequence necromantia and priests alike eschew its use except in the most absolutely dire situations. It has been used in the past however on two separate occasions and there is plenty of evidence that rather than being simply thrown back into the Labyrinth to await another chance to emerge, an entity subject to such an empowered ceremony is annihilated - its spiritual being torn apart and scattered to oblivion. Regardless of whether one accepts this assertion, the Axou are certain that Imperial Liao will certainly sever it from any anchors that have not been accounted for.