From The Pantheon Fantastical, by Silvana Rhinebeck
Silvana Rhinebeck was a Binder, Professor Emerita at the Magist Imperial University, and Imperial Magus to the Emperor. Her life’s work culminated with The Pantheon Fantastical, a rigorous encyclopedia of the Uncanny Beings of the Meridian. Although it is unfinished due to her sudden disappearance, The Pantheon Fantastical remains the foremost authority on Uncannies and is a key text for all students, scholars, and professionals engaged in the study of the Meridian.
One of the most intriguing footnotes I came across in Alyse Melmoth’s Memoirs of a Traveling Scholar was as follows:
(37) The location of this artifact had been lost for centuries. It was only with the kind assistance of the Lady of Shadows that I ever could have tracked it down.
Strangely, she made no other mention of this lady in her otherwise very thorough account of the famous Blackvale expedition of 656. The name wasn’t one I recognized. However, an older colleague of mine said it referred to Ilia, an Uncanny also sometimes known as the Shadowspinner. Apparently, the Magist Imperial University’s faculty consulted with her regularly — but, after a tragic incident involving a junior lecturer, faculty were strongly discouraged from contacting her.
I asked my colleague if he still remembered how to do it, since I no longer work for the University and wouldn’t be breaking any policy. He was naturally reluctant but eventually gave in, though he prohibited me from recording the ritual in my notes.
Ilia herself was perfectly willing to be contacted, as I soon found out. I’ll remember how to summon her for the rest of my days.
Anyone wishing to meet Ilia must be led to her by one of her many children. As the Lady herself tells me, they can be found in nearly every corner of the world. In fact, there’s a good chance one of them is watching me right now as I write this. (Remember, try not to disturb them!)
I admit I was somewhat unnerved by my guide, at least at first. However, after a few hours of hiking through the Sindar Mountains, I barely noticed that her child was still perched on my shoulder. It wasn’t until we reached the mouth of a large cave that the child crawled back down my leg and soon disappeared into the gloom. A few minutes passed. There was a faint susurrus of many skittering feet, then a moan of pain that seemed almost human.
“Dr. Rhinebeck,” said a pleasant voice that seemed to reside somewhere in my skull. “My apologies for making you wait. I’m afraid it’s been some time since I’ve had visitors, so there was some tidying up to do. Please, come in.”
The cave entrance shimmered. Hundreds of crystals studded the walls, each glowing with a soft violet light. The ceiling had a peculiar glimmer of its own, as if set with thousands of black diamonds. The effect was both beautiful and unsettling. I tried not to notice that it sometimes moved.
The tunnel soon widened into a large cavern, where a slender table and several chairs had been shaped out of the rock itself.
“Do have a seat,” said the voice.
I did so but still didn’t see any sign of my host.
“Now, would you prefer that I stay in the shadows? My appearance can disturb humans sometimes.”
I said I was made of stronger stuff than most human beings and that she was welcome to show herself.
I’m ashamed to say I immediately regretted it.
The shadows coalesced into a massive, solid form. Long, slender legs emerged, spanning nearly the width of the cavern, while her body was as compact and elegantly formed as the mundane arachnids she resembled. Her many eyes glittered with that same violet light. I was disturbed, yes, but there was a beauty about her, too.
“Aren’t you the brave one!” she said in that pleasant, sourceless voice. “I’m quite impressed. I suppose it’s the legs that make most people flinch. Or the fangs. But I’m sure you didn’t come all this way to hear me talk about myself. What brings you to my humble home?”
I was actually very interested in hearing her talk more about herself. It’s not every day one meets an Uncanny who is both friendly and able to speak. However, she made it politely clear she preferred to talk business first, so I told her what — or rather, who — I was looking for.
“Ah, I thought you might ask about him,” she replied. “He won’t be happy to be tracked down, but I can certainly tell you where he is if you wish. Now, as to payment. Typically, I prefer to be paid in years from one’s lifespan. But, for you, I have something else in mind.”
“No need to be alarmed,” Ilia cooed. “You see, I want to repair my relationship with the University. I’d like you to appear before the Board of Regents on my behalf. A scholar of your reputation should have no difficulty persuading them. At least, not once you’ve been armed with the facts.”
A slim volume bound in black leather appeared in my hand, as if formed from the shadows themselves.
“But what if they won’t listen?” I asked.
“Ask if they’ve found any replacement specimens for their Annex Project 8 yet. They’ll listen.”
Reader, listen they did.