Chronicles of Martoushca of Peltarch II
If you’ve found this book, know that this is the personal diary of Martoushca Leaffall of Peltarch. I’m writing this new diary from scratch because I get the feeling the hells will turn into a pink candyland before I find my actual diary.
As I write this I sit on the hill just south of Peltarch’s gates. I’ve just finished constructing a small cairn of stones in memory of a soldier named Bill. I can’t remember if his real name was William or Billothy or what his family name was. He was total rubbish with a sword so we taught him archery – which he was also rubbish at. Just a kid really. Joined the Legion of Troff when N'Jast began their advance. At least as an archer he would be back from the front lines. I was a part of a rank of archers deployed on this hill just south of Peltarch. The N’Jast horde had set up camp in the ruins of Jyyd and had marched over our previous outpost at Sam’s Hill. Norwick had made a treaty with N’Jast to protect herself, so we withdrew north to protect the way to Peltarch.
Bill died only moments after the battle was joined. N’Jast archers were cruel, and their lumbering constructs could launch deadly magical attacks. Most of our archery rank had fallen in the first volley. We piled up the dead to serve as cover. Eventually the Constructs broke through the front line. The General barked at me to “HOLD THEM!” so that the rest of the archers could escape the ridge. Without thinking I drew my sickle and ran at the construct threatening to cut off our escape. I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in a bonfire of damaging the thing with my sickle, but I managed to duck and weave enough to keep it busy. Once the archers had made it off the ridge I bolted after them, sprinting to the side of the hill where General Lyte had set up a healing pool.
I’m not sure what hit me, if it was a construct’s fist or a boulder from a catapult, but a massive blow hurled me against the earthen wall by the pool. While crumpled up against the wall, a construct slammed me with its forearm, crushing my body. Someone told me later that my seemingly lifeless corpse tumbled into the healing pool. They fished me out later. Turns out you can’t drown in a healing pool, and the magic of the pool kept my crushed body from dying.
General Grag gave me a medal afterwards. “Gallantry” or some such. “Bravery in the face of certain death”. Truth be told I was too scared to think. Maybe if I were thinking I would have acted differently.
Why am I starting my first diary entry with this story? I guess I’m trying to figure out why I’m here. I remember Bills frozen face staring back at me in the snow, his body a part of a wall of flesh and ice. As arrows and bolts struck his back I knew that If he hadn’t died I wouldn’t be alive. But why am I here and not him? Bill has been utterly forgotten. I think I am the only one who remembers him, and I can’t even remember his real name. I’m not a better person than he was. Not by a long shot. Some time soon I will be forgotten just as he has been.
So what good am I? What’s the point of me? I’d be a liar if I said that I knew why I was here or what I was supposed to do with my life. But I’m here today because other people are dead. What good would I be if I were to let their spent lives be for nothing?
But what am I? A soldier? Hardly a good one. A gardener? More like a keeper of dying grass. The sacred flowers I once tended in Peltarch are all dead now. I struggle to think of a single goal I have had in life that hasn’t come to a pointless dead end.
So the reason for this diary - I guess is to reflect on my life. To find some kind of point to it if there is one.
If nothing else, I hope this diary will some day provide interesting reading for whoever bothers to read it. May your god bless you._
When does a "person" become a "monster"?
Killing monsters is easy. I mean, not technically. Some monsters are hard to kill, and find it easy to kill you. But on an emotional level, once you've killed a monster you can feel good now that the land is a safer and a more monster-free place now it's gone.
But killing people - that is a different thing.
I feel that some people, by their abominable acts, become monsters. Removing these monstrous people from the land of the living is the duty of all who would consider themselves good and capable. It's difficult though. Maybe it's the niggling doubt - that they may not be beyond redemption? Or maybe it's the way they cry out for their mothers with their dying breath?
What ever the reason is, no matter how "evil" the person is, killing so many is starting to haunt me. It's like I have swung from one extreme to the other. I drove myself to physical and spiritual exhaustion trying to save people during the plague, but now to keep those same people safe I am piling up a mountain of corpses. Corpses of "people". Whether its subterranean cultists, or smugglers, or bandits on the road, I feel it has been a long time since I killed a regular "monster". My hands are red with the blood of "people".
I keep reminding myself of the words of that poem ...
"...A time to kill and a time to heal..."
Green Mother, clean and guide these hands.
There is an old poem I like;
"For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
... A time for war and a time for peace."
I heard someone recite this once - it really stuck with me.
I think because it resonates with my druidic beliefs?
The trick is - understanding the time.
With murmurs about war with Highhold, and the demon Razzi casually being permitted in and out of Peltarch, I currently feel times have changed, but I'm not sure if the wind of time has filled my sails to make my actions align with them.
Varya Tiller has fallen out of favour with her goddess - the Grain Mother Chauntea (bless her name).
This is heart breaking for me as the land will be a poorer place without Chauntea's power moving through one of her servants. But what specifically strikes at my heart is the cause of her fall from Chauntea's grace. It was Varya's intolerance of those who cooperate with demonic forces that caused her to fall. She was so blinded by hatred that she is now out of step with nature.
My prayers have now become dominated with pleas for her atonement and restoration to grace. For now I will do all I can to aid her redemption.
But I've had to look into my own heart. I have personally felt that Razzi should have been slain. I was not convinced by her "escape" from the abyss and she has demonstrated no evidence of repentance, or remorse over her decision to join the demonic horde as one of it's leaders, nor any change in character. The only thing I have seen of her is disgust at the temple Helm we brought her to for her safety.
I had once followed her using a Gnomish Positioning Scroll, but she has discarded that since leaving the temple, and appeared in Peltarch under the cloak of invisibility.
I have every reason to believe she is not on a path of redemption and means all of us only harm.
I do not feel I was a blinded by "righteous" as Varya Tiller was, but still ... Id happily fertilise the grass in the commons with Razzi's blood at this point. "Murder" being illegal, and the slightest of doubts that I am right about her, is the only thing staying my sling.
I believe in redemption.
I shall be meditating on it more deeply. I can't afford to lose natures grace upon me as Varya did.
I saw Shannon D'Arneau in the commons today.
I had to keep moving, so didn't have a chance to speak with him ... which I may have done? Maybe? ... If I didn't find him so intimidating.
I remember like it were yesterday one drama in the Docks where we were attacked by shadovar. He arrived to help as their leader arrived.
Shadovar villain says "Ah, so I see you have met my minions!"
Shannon invokes the power of his god destroying the Shadovar villain instantly.
So Shannon says - "Ah, so I see you have been turned into a pile of ash!"
Holy kippers! Honestly dear diary, it was one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen!
I wish he would frequent the commons more often! Maybe that way we'd have fewer fools being lured into damnation like poor Razzi.
If anyone's asking me - turning evil interplanar creatures visiting Peltarch into piles of ash is the best Policy. No question. We would likely meet same fate if we were bold or stupid enough to go wandering into their territory. Even more likely to be instantly killed if we went into into the meeting place of their primary city!
It's been a while since my last entry. In truth, since the plague lifted I've felt a bit lost. The plague in Peltarch was easily one of the darkest parts of my recent life, but now it is over ... I feel my purpose has vanished.
While I was tending to the sick I felt my purpose very strongly. In those days I knew who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. As horrible as the plague was it was an opportunity for me to fulfil my sense of responsibility toward the people of Peltarch. But now it is as if that purpose has evaporated. I've fallen back into an "Adventurer" lifestyle, taking the fight to the giants and undead that always threaten us. But there are many soldiers and adventurers who engage in that war. I feel my absence would not be felt were I to take my leave of it.
So I've recently made up my mind to search my soul again. Each time I try to retire from "adventuring" I fail. I suspect I shall do that until I die for the final time. But like a splinter in my mind is the feeling of unfulfilled destiny.
This must be a common feeling for those entering into their senior years? I'm not even sure how old I am, but my body is starting to feel age taking it.
The plague has lifted!
I am yet unaware of what was accomplished and by who, but the cure to the plague has come and the quarantine of the Residential District has been lifted! May the gods bless all who brought this deliverance about!
At last the despair that weighed me down like a soaked blanket has been lifted off me! I can't remember the last time I was actually happy, but as I write this - joy washes over me like some previously unexperienced emotion! While I'm sure this jubilation shall be short lived I will do my best to savour every moment of it - to hammer the remembrance of it into the stone tablets of my heart.
MAY THE GODS BE BLESSED!
I once heard a cleric preach that for every fiend there are two angels.
I'm not sure what cosmic survey he was basing that statement on, but the logic seems to hold. If it were not true the cosmos would be a horrific realm under the tyranny of fiends. Things are not even. They tilt in the favour of the celestial. That's how balance is maintained.
Or at least - that's the going theory.
I saw the demon woman in the commons again today. Again, none opposing her. If I felt I had the power to I'd slay the creature myself. It was - again - rounding up adventurous folk to venture south to combat a demonic threat in the Rawlins. I have been following the lead of Elder Aoth, who I have also been meeting in Peltarch from time to time. In truth however, I feel like a useless spectator of these events as they unfold.
I have heard word from the south that the wood has become infested with fiendish wasps and other flying horrors. The sound of their droning wings is enough to drive those who hear it insane.
I also heard tell of an elven lass in the docks being taken by "giant flies".
I keep putting off writing to Shannon. I shall tarry no longer with that. But surely he already knows of this threat? That an entire party of adventurers are being lead along by a demon? That - in all likelyhood - they will be lead along into damnation, as was Kara Du'Monte?
It seems odd that the likes of me should be the one to inform him of this. And if it is me, will my message fall on ears willing to hear? My name seems to be as good as dirt in certain circles.
I will continue to pray. My only dread is that my sins will cause my prayers to fall to the ground. Surely someone else will rise up?
For every fiend there are two angels. I shall continue to remind myself.
Unusual day today.
So I'm in the commons taking leave from tending to the ill in the Residential district. I had planned to try round up some coin from the richer adventurers there for more Remove Disease potions for those who have been struck by the plague. I hadn't planned to be there long as the time for prayers was approaching and I needed to beseech Sheela for more magic for the sick.
So folks in the commons were discussing demons. One of the folks in the commons flies off ... literally ... like a bird. Word was that it was actually a succubus.
So ... Demons are coming and going in Peltarch.
This is only my most recent encounter. Apparently the demonic war against devils is spilling out onto the land. This succubus has been duping adventurers into helping it in it's campaign against devils or some such.
I shall be writing a letter to Shannon.
So a bit of history - at the dawn of Peltarch's war with N'Jast there was a fella called Tancred. He used to sell dresses and such. Quite a good fella - or so I thought. He invited me out to a private meeting beyond Peltarch's walls. Turns out he was a summoner of evil shite and this was an ambush. Waiting for me was some kind of undead knight. It was all like "ALL SHALL FALL IN GLORIOUS DEATH!".
I'm brave but I'm no idiot! Well I try not to be one. An ambush is - by definition - a situation where the target is at a serious combat disadvantage. Only an idiot would stick around in that kind of scenario if they have the opportunity to exit.
So here I was again - being invited out alone past Peltarch's walls - by a mentally dominated seafarer guard no less! And this was just after some demonic slag had just visited the commons! So like an idiot I went out. I thought I was going to have company but everyone disappeared.
So out past the gate was a demon about as big as city hall. Flaming wings, flaming sword, face like a frigg'n skull. Scariest shite I've seen in a long time! So initially I just ran. Seemed like the smart thing to do. I broke for high ground to get some kind of tactical advantage. But it wasn't after me so much. Turned out it had come to collect me - take me to some kind of meeting. So like a total moron I followed it.
It lead me past the shrine of Tempus down onto the Nars pass. At that point it raised it's sword. I was like "Fark this - see you later!". Because seriously - when it comes to ambushes there's an old saying - Fool me once, shame on
youshame on you. Fool me again—you can't get fooled again!
So that was my day. Apart from that it was reasonably uneventful. I've since returned to the Residential to cast cures on the ill.
Don't talk to demons.
Toil continues in the Residential tending to victims of the plague.
Primrose (May the Green Mother bless her) Has suggested that Konjac root may help abate the intense hunger experienced by folks afflicted by the plague. It's also known as Elephant Yam.
I've not seen this plant grow in Narfell, but if my memory serves me right (doubtful) I have spotted dried Konjac for sale in Oscura . After the next batch of potions come in I will take some leave and rabbit over to Oscura to see if I can secure a supply.
My coin purse has all but run dry. I recently received some coin from the sale of some of my adventuring gear, and have put it aside for more potions of Disease Removal. I may have to dip into these funds to get some samples of Konjac for testing. After that I will need to try harder to secure some more coin. This will be hard to do without leaving the city, which at the moment I am loath to do lest more deaths be on my conscience.
I've not had any response to the letters I have sent to the Bardic College. I was hoping they may be able to put together a concert or some other fund raising event to help with things here. I will keep writing them.
The stories I have heard of plague victims becoming raging cannibals remains unconfirmed. I would imagine that if it were true I would have noticed this development. I am spending almost every waking hour with those stricken by the plague. If they were becoming rampaging ghouls I think I would have seen it happen at least once by now. The order is quite tight on its quarantining of severe cases however. Behind every locked door is a mystery that I guess some people get creative with?
Radiant guardian of all that's green,
Banish this affliction.
May the works of those who hate life come to nothing.!
May their loins wither and turn to dust!
May their bowls explode.
May the stench of their bloated corpses rise as a warning to those who follow their path.
May a curse be upon all who curse your work,
And your blessing be upon those who please you.
I've just emptied my account at the bank to fulfil the last order for remove disease potions from primrose. It was for fifty bottles, which isn't enough, but at least it will buy fifty of those worse afflicted by the plague more time.
I had saved the gold in my account as an insurance against my own death - to pay for a true resurrection at the temple should I ever fall in battle. My conscience wouldn't allow me to hold onto it though. My life is not more important than anybody else's.
Now that my gold coins have been totally depleted I have had to resort to publicly begging for aid in the marketplace.
A few brilliant souls have responded with some coin, but we are going to need a more solid solution. One of the first symptoms of the plague is hunger - so naturally food supplies are starting to run low. The order has started to ration food in the district, but we're going to have to push for more food soon.
I'll see if I can start selling some of my "adventuring" gear. Need to get more coin from somewhere.
On a personal level I could use a little more hope too. I've been doing my best to believe that there may be an end this this that isn't an utter disaster, and that my actions will make some kind of difference. But when honesty rears it's ugly head I know in my heart that I'm like a gnome casting illusion spells to fool myself. Despair seems to be my constant companion these days, occasionally kept at bay by brute, baseless optimism.
Sheelah help me.
Gods help us.
[[copied and pasted form an enchantment application. This is for the enchantment of her sling "Fury".]]
The dark night was just now beginning to brighten, the stars starting to fade as the dawn slowly approached.
Marty had been fasting for the last forty days, each day eating nothing but a single goodberry, and drinking nothing but a cupped hand full of water from the sacred brook. Her hair had grown long during her fast, and she had been careful not to wash it clean of the specs of blood and gore that had soiled it during battle.
She sat naked in the glen by a camp fire, upon which was boiling a small cauldron. Behind her sat Trin, also naked, braiding Marty’s hair as she sang a druidic chant. Trin wove thongs of leather into Marty’s hair, each strand cut from hides obtained from Marty’s personal war. One hide from a dire wolf, one a tanned giant’s scrotum, another cut from a lizardfolk’s back. Each hide had the story of the battle from which they were obtained written onto them in enchanted inks before being cut into long thin strips. As she braided the thongs into Marty’s hair she would occasionally fasten a tooth, a ring from a ruined suit of chainmail, a carved bone, each trinket also a trophy from battle.
Boiling in the cauldron was a brew made from the saps of different trees, dire wolf urine, and other reagents. If filled the grove with a woody acrid smell, mingling with the smoke from the fire.
Marty’s arms were crossed in front of her, hands closed except for the index and middle finger, making a “V”. In her trance, she delved deep into the love in her soul. She visualised Peltarch, her walls, the faces of her people, the scent of her muddy streets. She also visualised her comrades in the Legion, her brothers and sisters in the Circle, the faces of everyone she loved and cared about – most of them strangers. The images drifted in and out of her consciousness. For each face Marty uttered a short prayer to Sheela, and any other god that was listening, for their protection and prosperity.
Once Trin had finished braiding Marty’s hair, two long plats ran from each side of her head and down her back. From amongst the weapons that were laid out before them, Trin took Marty’s cruel looking bowie knife and shaved each side of Marty’s head with it. Two braids now in her hand, Trim raised Marty’s knife toward the sky eastward and continued her chant, increasing in volume and intensity.
Marty dipped each pair of spread fingers into a small bow containing a thick, tar like paint. Maintaining the “V” symbol, she drew the fingers out of the pot and painted a pair of stripes on each cheek, and a pair of stripes running down the sides of her freshly shaved head. The paint stung as it entered into cuts left on the sides of her head after Trin’s rough shaving. She then tossed the pot of paint into the cauldron and took up a heavy granite slab. She fastened a rectangular clay tile to the slab with one of the spare thongs. The tile bore magical strength runes written in Giant. The tablet itself was a trophy, picked up from a hill giant named Broont’ahg whom she had slain on the beach near Peltarch.
As she fastened the strength rune to the granite slab, Marty entered into a second trance. This time the soil of love that she had tilled in her heart began to sprout as she meditated upon the faces of her foes. The hideous faces of orcs, the snarling fangs of kobolds, the stench of zombies and ghouls, the swinging ball sacks of giants, the slick oily hairdos of vampires … As hatred and fury began to grow inside her, so did the divine magic begin to sprout from the soil in her heart. She growled the words of her spells as if preparing for battle …
Wisdom of the Owl …
Grace of the Cat …
Trin quickly fastened the masterworked pouch to the braids, assembling the sling. The pouch had been crafted from tanned giant scrotum and soaked in camomile tea during Marty’s period of fasting.
Marty continued to growl out the worlds of her spells.
Endurance of the Bear…
Strength of the Bull ...
Marty gripped the granite slab with one hand, holding it over the cauldron with the fastened strength rune facing toward her.
“NOW!” She cried out to Trin. As Marty spat out the worlds of the Blood Frenzy spell, her muscles now bulging and rippling as if they were about to burst out through her skin, Trin quickly grabbed her iron wood club and struck Marty square in the face with it. Marty’s nose flattened under the blow as it issued a geyser of blood.
“GRAGH!” Marty bellowed as she flew into her final rage. Her fist shot out and smashed against the Strength rune, shattering it into powder which then fell into the cauldron. The bones in her hand also shattered as they struck the granite slab.
As Marty collapsed, Trin quickly tossed the sling into the cauldron. The brew bubbled and boiled and surged up over the rim, spilling out onto the campfire. This sent a pungent stench up into the air that reached almost as far as Norwick. Trin let the sling simmer for a while as Marty writhed on the ground.
“Bitch!?... Shite … my nose … “
Trin used her robe to protect her hands as she grabbed each side of the cauldron. She gazed down at Marty’s flattened face as she tipped its contents out onto the fire. “Meh … ‘tis an improvement if you ask me.”
Marty spluttered out a laugh that bubbled up out of her bleeding face. “ … farrrrrk.”
The sling and the contents of the cauldron now lay on the ashes of the extinguished fire, the first rays of dawn’s sun bathing it in a dim orange light. Almost instantly grass and flowers began to sprout up out of the earth around it.
“Here,” said Trin as she dusted off her hands, coming over to tend to Marty, “Let me take a look at y’ then.” She pulled what was left of Marty’s nose together and quietly chanted the worlds of a regeneration spell upon her. She took Marty’s hand also, pulling the bones out straight as the spell began to heal them. Marty winced as the magic did its work.
After she had been put back together, Marty crawled over to where the sling lay. “… So you put it together right yeah? The left braid on the left side of the pouch, and the right braid on the right side of the pouch?”.
Trin had no idea there were “sides” of a sling pouch.
“…. Yes… Yes of course!”
i collected another twenty potions of remove disease from Primrose in the commons today. While out of the District I searched the market place to see if there was anything else I could find that could help us in our plight against the plague.
The Warrior's Soul stall had an amulet for sale that I am hoping will help me attune with the divine ... and if if their grace is upon me I should be able to cast more curing magic each day.
None of this will be enough of course. Just buying time. Hopefully Constable Dunderstone will be able to produce a more effective cure soon.
May the love of the gods be upon him.
Nothing is more lethal to high spirits than the death of a child.
I'm not sure if the little one died of the plague, or from some other cause. Regardless, I have been stricken with remorse and guilt almost beyond my ability to bear.
"If only I had been here"
"If only I had prayed more - was more spiritual"
"If only my sins weren't held against me so the gods of nature would grant me more grace"
"If only I had looked harder and found more clues regarding who or what was behind this plague."
If only - if only - if only.
I have made up my mind to leave the district no longer. Previously I had taken leave from time to time - to use my magic while on some frivolous "Adventure" to distract me from what was going on here. - no more - Every prayer, every ounce of grace I can beg out of the gods that will listen to me - all of it goes toward the sick now. I don't think I can bear one more death on my conscience.
I am going to sleep now, but a rooster is by my side. I have told him to crow as soon as he sees the sun. That should grant me a few hours of sleep. May the gods grant me at least a little peace as I slumber, and let me not be afflicted by nightmares of disease as has been the norm.
I love you.
It appears that I may have deluded myself into believing I was making a significant contribution toward fending off the plague.
Every day I had been casting magic from nature's grace to remove the disease from those who had been stricken in Peltarch's Residential District. I followed up on those who I had cured only to find that the divine magic only suppressed the plague without curing it.
While I continue to labour in the district to do what I can, I am overwhelmed with the feeling of hopelessness and insignificance. I'm struggling to be of good cheer when I am taking leave from the district, and while waiting for divine grace to return to me for more curing spells I am distracting myself with various pointless "Adventures". During these adventures I have noticed that the landscape is littered with magical items. It is as if some kind of cloak (?) that had suppressed the magic of these items from manifesting has been lifted from the land, and now it is uncommon to return to the city without a handful of new magical items in my pack. I guess this is a blessing? And I really should be showing some kind of gratitude for the good fortune that seems to be falling from the sky. But even the coin gained from the sale of these treasures does little to abate my misery. Most of It I am using to purchase more potions to to suppress the plague. If even I can buy some poor souls some time before the plague inevitably takes them, maybe that will be something?
So it's been a while since my last entry. Until today I have not been witness of much that would be worth writing about.
A plague has struck the residential district of Peltarch. The bulk of my time has been spent casting cures and other spells on those afflicted. I am able to cure around three per day, but I've been using restoration and endurance spells on others to help reduce their suffering.
I had heard talk of crystals being found in the hands of ettins and duergar. Taking a brief leave from my usual duties in the residential district, I ventured underground to see if the words were true.
I abhor being underground. I find myself getting lost easily, and my vision spell wore off earlier than expected. But the particular cave I ventured into did bring back fond memories. The last time I was there was during an assault lead by General Grag. It seems like a life time ago. I do miss the old Legion days. The Legion is still active in the land, but most of it's focus is now on defending the refugees and citizens of Hin Hold and Sam's Hole. We don't have organised "patrols" that go out and look for trouble like we did back in the old days.
So I slaughtered a good number of ettin, but was unable to find any of these crystals I had heard about. Just another bull shite adventurer's tale I guess? It was good to get away from the plague for a while though. And flirting with death did give me the emotional boost I needed after spending so much time with the ill.
I'm back in the Residential District as I write this. I hear that Jonnie and his friends are working on a cure for the plague. I'm sure they have the issue in hand. I'd offer my services, but whenever I'm with that group I just feel like I'm getting in their way.
I also heard word that vampires may be behind this plague. Seems like an odd move for vampires. Hard to see what they would have to gain from it. But I have noticed that some cultists who live under the city have succumbed to vampirism. Maybe they had maintained their faith in Talona after becoming undead? I heard somewhere that it was Talona the cultists worship - the Mother of all Plagues. Tossing up whether I should be cursing her in the name of Sheelah Peryroyl or presenting an offering to appease her.
Mother give me wisdom.
Well, I've been very slack when it comes to making entries. It is entirely because things have been too consistent to be noteworthy.
I have opened a stall in Norwick. I guess that should have been noteworthy enough for an entry into this diary? Maybe even MORE note worthy if the stall was actually doing well...
Truth be told, I think it's despair that is writing this entry.
A group of dwarves has gone missing in the Underdark, and they are recruiting help to go search for them. Naturally I volunteered. I still wear Legion colours, and it would be a breach of my oath not to offer help. But I'm getting old. Maybe not old? Just tired? I'm definitely not as fresh or as quick as I used to be.
And the underdark is a place where none of my strengths as a warrior apply, and where all of my weaknesses are laid bare. Best case scenario - they are just lost or stuck somewhere and we all come home safely. More likely scenario - whatever slaughtered those dwarves will take us too. And even if someone drags my body back to a temple to be raised from the dead, I'm basically broke at the moment. Definitely not enough coins to be raised from the dead. In all likelihood this trip could well be my last amongst the living.
It's been a good life. I mean, the parts of it I remember. I don't have too many regrets. Peltarch has broken my heart though, and I feel the current state of the city is my biggest failure. I had dedicated myself to make it beautiful like it was before the war with N'Jast, when the flowerbeds and green grass made the city wonderful. And the people I served as a politician, who put me forward to fight the tide of authoritarianism and elitism ... those I utterly failed. Where Tidus' vision once reigned the puppets of Siamorphe now brood. A boy king pulled along by his loins, his puppet strings being tugged by his Siamorphean puppeteers.
But at least Peltarch still stands. That is something. I fought so hard and sacrificed so much to keep it standing agains the onslaught of N'Jast. Nobody remembers that war of course, but for me the unmarked graves that embrace my friends and comrades all along the road from Jyyd to Peltarch will always speak to me. They comfort and beckon me. As broken as my heart is at the current state of Peltarch it was always be my home and my first love. Too much blood and tears have been shed for me to feel any differently.
I suppose I should try to look in the bright side of my situation? Should I somehow survive this mission to rescue the lost dwarves I will experience a blessed state. Like finding a lost coin. While it is lost you're grieving over it, but when you find it the coin becomes more precious than the rest of your coins in your purse. That's something ... to be utterly lost and devoid of hope, and then to have your life redeemed from the shadow of death. The number of times I should have been removed from the land of the living and luck, or the love of friends, has kept my in this mortal coil. There have been moments where I was that coin, or have been searching for it and found it. It's a blessed state indeed.
Well dear diary, if this is my last entry, I hope you remember me fondly. Love your kin, live in harmony with your community and with nature, and try not to murder the wrong people.
I love you.
The penguin darted through the water; it’s back barely skimming the surface of the Icelace. She had been away from home for too long, and her desire to be back added haste to her movement. She wasn’t really sure how long she had been away for. From her point of view it could have been around a year, but she had entered into an astral trance while paying homage toward the Mountain of St Jerrick. Time can pass strangely when in such a state.
The penguin dove a little lower into the water, before sharply changing direction upward, bursting through the surface and flying up onto the dock. Upon landing she staggered a little, her flippers and fins tired from having swam so far. If her beak could smile it would have, her heart being overwhelmed with joy when feeling the familiar, splintery wood of the dock beneath her flippers. But her feelings suddenly sank. Everything was wrong. The smell of acrid smoke filled her nostrils, and many of the buildings so familiar to her were now in ruins.
“Qua Quark qu-”
[translation – “Holy Sheelah, …. what the fu-“]
A titanic shockwave tore through the docks, shaking the ground and shattering windows. The penguin was knocked off her feet. A cloud of burning dust erupted from what used to be the courthouse, as debris began to rain down onto the street.
[translation – “SHITE-SAUCE!”]
The dazed aquatic bird clumsily got to her feet. She gazed in despair at what remained of her home’s justice – a rising cloud of dust and falling, shattered stone. Like a tempest, all the fears of her past crashed up against her soul. Before long she could hear shouting and battle. She dived onto a commando roll, tumbling into nearby ruins. She pressed her back up against a broken wall as a running battle surged past her. She would have joined in the fight but had no idea which side to fight for.
Once the din had passed, he penguin’s skin began to bulge and boil. One bulge grew into a large hump on her back and transformed into a backpack and bedroll. Another erupted out of her shoulder, sprouted a blonde mop of hair, and grew into a head as the penguin head retracted into the new head’s neck. One of the flippers stretched into a circular shape and became a shield. A white daisy was painted onto the front of the shield, while a host of scabbards housing throwing blades, darts, and other cruel looking throwing weapons lined the back. The penguin’s skin began to darken and became a suit of black, dark blue leather armour into which the body of a halfling woman inflated into shape.
Marty peered out from behind the wall she had hidden behind. The coast was clear. She made her way stealthily through the streets, hoping to find someone who could tell her was the hells was going on, and maybe reconnect with the Legion chain of command … if that was still a thing?
It has been a month since Bane's Bane fell to the goblins. I would be lying if I said that my grief was over. But it has dimmed enough to allow life's normal routines to resume.
I have been on foot for so long I almost forget what it feels like to have a saddle between my knees. I have put off partnering with another horse lest I "replace" Bane's Bane. That is nonsense however. The position left vacant by a fallen soldier is reinforced. Soldiers are never replaced.
So I have made up my mind to reinforce my efforts by recruiting another horse to partner with me in my military and agricultural ventures. I will go to the stables tomorrow.
In the mean time I'll prepare as much magic as I can that will let me communicate with horses. I'm looking for a comrade. I'm not interested in any of them being "sold" to me._
_I'm not saying that horse sellers are slave traders.
Not to their faces at least. But the comparison is valid I'd say. At least in some cases. I did my best to bypass the seller and connect directly to the horses.
In truth, animals don't have the same kind of mind we people do. They aren't "intelligent" enough speak. But animals have their own kind of wisdom. With them it's more about feeling and instinct. At least in the wild it is. But after communing with the ponies in Peltarch's stable it became pretty clear how well "trained" they were. Training isn't a bad thing. Gosh I train myself! But sometimes training that drive out the feeling. Drive out the instinct. Training can turn an animal into a tool. That's a blasphemy to me.
There was one pony tied to the rail at the back of the paddock. "Forget about that one" the horse seller told me. "That bastard can't be tamed. Kicked one of my saddle boys right in jewels." He went on to tell me that the apothecaries were currently trying to reassemble the lad in the temple light house, and how he would pay for the healing if he were making more sales. His pitch may have one me over if I hadn't already made up my mind to hand over gold to release one of the horses.
I made an equine greeting toward the pony. He snorted at me in contempt. I could see in his eyes that he wasn't interested in being saddled or ridden. He was just over it all. He just wanted to fight.
I used magic to communicate to him. I made him feel the wars I have fought. The friends I have lost. I shared with him my feelings about Bane's Bane. It wasn't long before he could see that we were both on the same page.
"You sure about that one miss? I'm telling you, he's a real bastard. He'll kick you off as sure as."
"Aye" I told him. "And he'll probably try to kick my head off after that. That's why he's the one."
I think it was guilt that I saw on the horse sellers face. Maybe he felt bad about taking money for a horse he was about to get rid of?
I tried to get saddle and barding on the pony, but he wasn't going to have it. He bucked and kicked at me with all his might. I ended up on my arse in the mud.
"So what are you going to call him?" the seller asked me.
It was pretty clear already who this horse was.
"His name is Bastard."_
Flanked by a panther and a great lioness, Martoushca returned from the massacre in the Howling Woods. Tiny fish darted away as she knelt down to wash her equipment in the Misty Pond. There was more killing that needed to be done, but for now there would be a lull in the bloodshed.
She noticed her reflection in the submerged scimitar as the blood and gore floated away from it. She drew it up out of the water to see herself more clearly. Her hair was matted with dried blood and pieces of goblin. Streams of it ran down her face. Once red, the goblin blood that stained her face was now almost black and beginning to crust. But past the horror that marred her face was a visible bitterness. It came out through her eyes. Eyes through which once shone the light of her Goddess, now lifelessly glared with contempt.
She remembered the oath that she had hastily taken when forging the blade. She remembered the love that drove her to take that oath. But something was different. She had lost something. She had fought against goblins countless times before. Fought against so many other foes. But never like this. Then Kayleb's words came back to her. Was the archon right? Was she on a "darker road"?
She looked deeper into her reflection. Love once drove her to fight. It drove her to protect those dear to her. But she was no longer a protector. She was a killer. Her slaughter wasn't to make the land safe. She was now a storm of fury and hatred.
She was what she once fought against. She began to feel herself being humbled by the hound archon's words. It was true that her heart wasn't right.
She stood, continuing to gaze at her own reflection in the scimitar's broad blade.
_Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth,
thou art trapped by the oath you have taken.
Deliver thyself as a doe from the hand of the hunter,
and as a bird from the hand of the fowler._
With all of her might Martoushca hurled the curved sword into the Misty Pond. With a relieving splash it broke the surface of the water. She watched the gleaming of it's blade dull as it sank down into the depths. She continued to stare until the ripples she had created in the pond were almost gone and the pond was still again.
Finally Marty broke the silence. "C'mon," she said to the two great cats by her side. "Lets go home."
Puchat and Gubbernut squatted around a tiny fire they had just lit, cooking spiders and beetles skewered on twigs over the small flame. The moon was full, but their hunting had been fruitless. They muttered to each other softly in the dark.
"Spellyapper says good days ahead for us!" said Puchat as he turned his bug kebab slowly over the fire. "Hmm … good days."
Gubbernut wasn't as optimistic. "Always they say that. They say 'shed the bloods and fight till yoo die and we see good days'. I start to think in my brain that there are no good days."
"But the brain of yoo is the substance of poop."
"Skumchaka jew!" squealed Gubbernut as he dropped his cooking bugs and raised a fist to strike Puchat. He suddenly froze however, ears twitching as he picked up the sound of terror in the distance. Both goblins rose to their feet to peer over the tall grass. Over by the misty pond they could make out the forms of the other members of their hunting party. They were fleeing for their lives with four great cats on their heels. Two of the great cats were enormous lionesses. The other two were jet black panthers.
Gubbernut drew his rusty dagger. "We FIGHT! You hold in the front while I move to FLANK!" He turned to see Puchat had already begun fleeing for his life. "KA BOUNAH!" He cried, rushing forward to meet the cats. The lions had stopped momentarily to maul a fleeing goblin. As he ran at the closest panther, the great black cat leaped into the air. Mid pounce, it's form began to crack and distort as the panther turned into a furious halfling woman. She drew a scimitar from a scabbard across her back and brought it down through Gubbernut's head as she landed. Thoughts of fury at Puchat's betrayal were brutally interrupted as the blade passed down through the goblins brain, cleaving the entire skull and neck in two and lodging in the creature's sternum. Martoushca kicked the goblin's chest in an attempt to dislodge the weapon but it was firmly jammed. Abandoning it, her hand flashed back and forth from her bandoleer to unleash a volley of throwing blades. The first struck Puchat in the back. The rest cut down other fleeing goblins.
Mystical runes began to circle around one of the lions as the magic used to summon it began to wear off. The fight was far from over. Muttering in frustration to herself, Marty raised her hand toward the night sky as the lion disappeared and cast another summoning spell. A towering hound archon appeared by her side, the tip of his great sword sinking slightly into the undergrowth as he rested his hands on it's pommel. Marty drew a cruel looking sickle and a bowie knife. "Let's go Kayleb!" she called out to the celestial as she ran forward. Kayleb simply stood and watched as the crazed halfling charged into combat. She hooked the sickle around the front of a fleeing goblins neck and yanked it back, thrusting the top of the creatures spine onto her bowie knife. She looked back briefly. "What are you waiting for?"
Marty swung her sickle around again to disembowel another goblin, and then delivered an upward thrust with her bowie knife under it's companion's chin. The goblin quivered and twitched as the blade penetrated the base of it's skull. She turned again to see Kayleb simply standing there, leaning on his sword. She simply shrugged at him.
"I answer the call of the righteous." he finally said. "I am summoned by the good to fight against evil."
"Yeah?!" Marty was truly baffled now. The panther continued the slaughter as she stopped to converse with the hound archon. "Well how about you get to it then!?"
"It is the good who may summon me halfling woman! You walk on thin ice. Your heart is not right."
Martoushcah waved her dripping sickle over the field of fleeing goblins. "How about the hearts of these bastards!? Listen," she pointed the blood soaked bowie knife toward Kayleb "if it's your job to smite evil shite then how about you start swinging that sword of yours eh!?"
"You are motivated by hatred."
"I'm motivated by LOVE! I LOVED Bane's Bane." Marty took a few steps forward toward the hound archon in an almost menacing fashion.
"They killed a horse, and now you seek revenge."
The sound of great cats roaring and goblins screaming began to die down as the last in the area began to fall to fang and claw.
"Halfling woman," the archon began, his tone as if he were beginning a lecture, "love is a pure motivation. But when your love becomes selfish attachment you are taken down a darker road. You will be judged."
Martoushca raised her voice again, "Judged eh? GOOD! Then I'll be able to follow these bastards down into hell to finish the job! Look, I summoned you to FIGHT Kayleb! How about you give me this lesson in morality some some other time?"
"Yes halfling woman, some other time. Until then you'd do well to examine your heart." With that glowing glyphs began to circle about him as he was drawn back into the celestial realm.
Marty looked about. Her Ultravision spell was still running and in the moonlight she could see that the cats had finished off most of the goblins. "Examine my heart?" She muttered to herself as she dislodged her scimitar from Gubbernut's body. "Examine your heart on a plate you self righteous snob."