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The Charred Book

by Beau Yarbrough

This grim book is two feet on a side, with covers of black charred wood with reinforced steel edges. The front cover is inlaid with a barbed and twisting rune apparently carved from a single piece of bone. The book was formerly shut with a locking mechanism, but that has seemingly been wrenched away at some point. The pages within are stiff, and made of some sort of tanned hide.

The text was written by the Ylari necromancer known as Mudir Al-Biljaouf Shabib, who was slain by Suleiman al-Kalim himself in 859 for horrors so shocking, only one sealed record exists of his extensive crimes. The Charred Book describes one of the layers of Hell, along with descriptions of its denizens, with finely detailed drawings in black ink. Specific rituals are outlined, allowing a summoner who knows the ensnarement spell to summon specific demons, as well as details on how to create circles of protection.

The book includes the following spells: summon swarm, summon shadow and ensnarement. It also contains information on summoning the following demons (all from the "Diablo II: The Awakening" AD&D supplement): acid beast, bloodhawks, fallen ones, fiends, goat demons (flesh clan), hellhounds, hidden and scavengers. A ritual is also given to summon succubi, but it is flawed, and the summoner will have no power over the summoned succubus if the ritual is enacted as written. This was Mudir Al-Biljaouf Shabib's revenge on those who would use the book after his death.

The book is also a gateway to Abu Hol's demiplane, Zulma, and a ritual to summon any of the hundreds of demons trapped within, or to open a gateway through the book to the Zulma, fills the last pages of the book. By default, an ensnarement spell cast as directed in the book will actually summon a demon from within Zulma. The standard version of ensnarement is actually on the same page, but hidden by illusionary script.

Zulma is an enormous sandstone fortress in the Nithian style. It is apparently completely sealed, with no windows or doors to the outside anywhere in it, save those select gateways opened by the possessor of the book to which it is linked. Of course, the demons trapped within have found they can open one-way portals in the Ethereal Plane to lure travellers in. Sure, it requires the bloody sacrifice of one of their fellows, but after over 150 years of captivity, they don't really care. The gateways last for one day per hit dice of the being sacrificed in the grim abattoir of Zulma. Without the means to open a gateway out of Zulma, the demons remain trapped: No mortal means of plane shifting or teleportation works inside the demiplane and even blink spells into solid rock simply kill the caster instead of shifting them into the Ethereal. Also within Zulma (which means "darkness" in Ylari), all sources of light have half their effect, both darkvision and nightvision do not work and all light-producing spells shed both half their normal light and last only one minute per level of the caster. The lack of visibility doesn't seem to impair the demons who dwell there, of course.

The book also has numerous curses laid upon it, all of which affect the last person to have read the book (and understood it, either by use of comprehend languages or by knowing Ylari). Darkness surrounds anyone who reads the book and the last person to have read the book will find all light sources (including light and continual light spells) give off half their normal light when the reader is within 10 feet of them. Sunlight and moonlight work as normal, but sunlight hurts the eyes of the victim, causing all their rolls to be made with a -1 penalty. Protection from evil and protection from evil 10' radius spells no longer work for the last person to have read the book, and if they memorise the spell, they will find that it refuses to stay in their memory - something they won't discover until they try to cast the spell. Furthermore, magical healing (other than vampiric regeneration) and bless spells will not work on the last reader of the book and the last reader of the book cannot be raised, resurrected or reincarnated.

Most ominously, the demons trapped within Zulma can affect the surroundings around the book. In one room of Zulma is a blood-red pool that acts as a permanent magic mirror spell centred on the book. In at least one other room is a bloodstone that, when given a sacrifice of mortal blood, will force open the book for one day per level of the victim sacrificed, allowing the demons within to come and go as they please. Fortunately, the most-accessible bloodstone room is simply an antechamber to the rest of the sanctum, and the rest of the demiplane can be prevented from flooding out when the gateway is opened ... at least at first.

Only by dissolving the demiplane of Zulma can the book be destroyed.