George Longcloak - In search of a legend
A door opens. A heavy creak, some grinding. A poorly fitting door in a poorly built house… well... house... a shack in the dockside of Peltarch.
The young man stepped inside and threw his worn cloak over a hook, hanging his hat over that.
A room he could have for less than the price of the common room in the Mermaid, rented off some old man whose house became too big for him as his family thinned with the passing of time.
Not that it was big, mind. Or terribly clean. At least there was a small shuttered window to let in some fresh air, but he'd rely on candles for sight. No matter. He'd seen worse, and here there was privacy.
He sets his pack down and takes out a small wooden box. Inside is a host of small figures, about two inches in height, cast in pewter. They'd seem toys to most, but he takes them out with great care, placing them in certain order on the room's table. He lights a small cone of incense before them, and prays for the well being of his family.
His duty done, he stands to remove his ornate doublet and hosen, then takes a small book from his pack, as well as his meager writing equipment. In the warm light of the candle and surrounded by the smell of incense, he sits behind his table, relaxed in his underclothes, and sets to writing.
I've made Narfell. Through all the campaigns I've been through, I never thought I would write that. I've come so near to dying so often, I did not really believe.
Yet here I am. I should thank my comrades when I see them again. Enrolling in a standing army would never have given me this oppertunity.
Mother and father would likely scold me. My cousin already has.
Fairytales and legends. Nothing happens in this back end of Faerun. There is nothing here, least of all a future. It's a hole.
Well, whosoever reads this when I'm gone, I assure you. The only hole I have seen in Narfell is the crater near where a town named Jiyyd used to be. I have heard tales of crisis after crisis striking at this land, and stalwart defenders rallying to protect what little they had, or to retake what outside forces took from them. Selflessness and villainy. Bravery and cowardice. Duty and treason. Cruel war, for precious moments of peace.
I own, I have yet to see these days for myself, but the scars are there. From that crater, to a ghost town in the south at the border of another town, to a stone that speaks of these children of Atol being slaughtered by the thousands.
Yes, this land has seen much, and will continue to see more. Even today, I heard a redhaired bard speak of an attack on Peltarch's walls by an orc as tall as those very walls and his forces. Oh, how I would have wanted to stand in that band. I do not know if I will see the grandeur that legend describes, but I intend to remain a good while. I will carve out my own spot among these legends. Reel in treasure to dwarf any mercenary's pay. Honour my family's name. And if Luck permits? Carve it into the bedrock of this fine land.
He nods, satisfied, then moves to the small bed, only to realize he doesn't even have a blanket. He smiles and shakes his head, taking his cloak from the hook and uses that instead. As he snuffs the candle's flame between index and thumb and lays his head down, he ponders the long road ahead of any of that, while he slowly drifts into sleep.
A gentle breeze blows over the cliffs outside the city, rustling through the bare branches of the gnarled, short trees rooted deep and stubbornly in the cracks. Seagull cries can be heard as they float on the wind over their nests. The winter sun stands high and clear, but a windward look reveals a mass of clouds gathering to the north, bringing yet more icy rain and snow to the city.
At the root of one such tree sits the young man, all in green livery and armour, leaning against the trunk. Snow covers most of the landscape around, but for a space where a hole indicates some sort of explosion, not yet covered by fresh snow. The man's eyes are not on the coming storm, but on the shards of metal strewn across the open ground. Dark spots in the dirt indicate blood has been shed, but whatever died there had either been cleaned or scavenged.
As he writes, his papers pressed against his legs, his eyes often dart back to the circle to consider his words.
In my gut, I knew the two Far Scouts were going to be a problem to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Quite this soon, however?
Even as I asked Meadow's help, I'd started asking more questions among the men, myself. Enough questions to be noticed, but not enough to get told to stow it by the officers. The questions brought no real answers, aside from the possibility of others who might fall to the ideals of the cult, eventually, but the answers weren't important.
I'd assumed the renegade Scouts would target me, and I could drag them out like that.
Instead, I was told to find the Scout called Coyote. As it happens, he found me and not a day later. Reemul warned Isolde and I that there was a Scout skulking around our table. Good thing, too. I'd not noticed him.
I rolled the dice and left the table, moving somewhere secluded. It was either going to be my contact, or my assassin, and I was feeling lucky. Tymora was smiling on me. He was a little paranoid, he had a bolt hit the wooden post next to me from a roof somewhere to prove a point. Like I was the threat to him. I'm just glad it didn't hit my neck. He came to warn me, as he had discovered an assassination being planned and hidden in the pair's MO, flooding the system with paperwork to keep it from being seen, and he knew I'd been asking questions. Their callsigns were Fox and Badger. Either Sam or the three adventurers that thwarted the kidnapping were the target. I could handle it however I wanted, no Scouts would interfere.
He also hoped we'd have no reason to talk again any time soon. He hated chatty people. Just my luck, right?
I immediately sent word to Ravos that an assassination attempt might happen in the gaol and likewise left a note for Meadow, then headed back to the Mermaid where exactly the three targets were enjoying the day. Perom, Cormac and Isolde. After warning them, I headed for the barracks to keep Hresh informed of what was happening, at least.
By the time I got back, the district was already in an uproar. An assassination attempt had been made, and supposedly Rey had been the target. The trail of shocked civilians led to the western gate, so out I went, halberd in hand. Not long ago I wrote about being relieved to have Reemul at my side when facing down Fire Giants. This assassin took Reemul out all by himself. We managed to return him, but it sure sent a message. No, of course we didn't stop. Just went on a bit more careful.
As we neared the cliffs, we could hear their voices carry to us. One was worried about the traps he was leaving for us. Worried that a civilian might step on them. The other was chewing him out for that, and to move faster.
Eventually we saw them. Two men, made entirely of metal. By that time, we knew the minds inside were their own, but not much else was. They actually started to apologize to Rey as we walked them down. She'd not been the target. You should've seen Rey huff at -not- being who they were after. You'd think someone spat on her dress. No, Isolde was the target. Isolde was expendable. Rey wasn't.
Their justification was... ill-conceived. They claim our dear land is fractured, even our very city. They're not wrong. Too many people die in the many conflicts we go through. Too few people are strong enough to fend for themselves and us adventuring types aren't strong and plentiful enough to save everyone. Their solution, then, is not to encourage more people to take up arms and train, or heal the wounds that remain. It is to kill hundreds in pursuit of a technology that they believe will save thousands. One thing must be said. They put their money where their mouth is and underwent the procedure.
The overbearing one of the two, whose callsign was Fox, truly believed. If we did not accept their path, we would soon be overrun by N'Jast and Thayvians.
The other, Badger, was not convinced, and by Isolde's sweet words and encouragement, he was ready to follow Rey back to the city, serve his time, and serve his city. Fox, given over entirely to their cult, killed Badger before he could take two steps towards her.
Fox blamed us, and a fight ensued. I will owe, they are strong, these warmachines. Cormac, Rey, Isolde, Silver, Perom, Reemul and I. Seven of us against Fox alone, and we were hard pressed. While their blue glowing shield is up, they truly are untouchable. Thankfully, it does not last. In the end I saw Cormac shove his thumb in the warmachine's eye, pressing its metal eye into the very real brain inside. I'm not sure why, but Fox started cursing and crying out in pain shortly after, and we looked on as his flesh began to regrow, trapped inside his metal shell. We soon realized it would kill him, and he would die bad. Isolde wanted to get his armor off of him. I'm not sure if my words were what stopped her, but she did.
The cretin deserved it. What man kills his comrade in arms in cold blood like that?
The mass could not hold together any longer and it exploded, covering us all in the thing's gore. Lightning struck as I spat on the remains. Might the gods have been as offended as I was?
I can even understand what got into them, to a degree. They've lost much. Friends, family, loved ones. Pride, hope, faith. Despair drives them here. The fear of suffering yet more, losing more.
Yet, they cause the very suffering they wish to prevent. The disappearances are one more tear at the fabric of this land. They needlessly kill, torture and maim the ones they kidnap or recruit, or knew it would happen. They cause the grief of loss and worse, uncertainty, among those who remain. Even the ones that make it through the process suffer.
And when all is said and done, and a soul would pass on, they would shackle it to this world. Deny death its due. Deny it the chance to leave its suffering behind.
We returned to the city with Badger's remains. He will be studied. Part of me hopes he will be given a proper burial, despite his choices. All he was, was a fool too scared to get out from under Fox's thumb.
Coyote found me again as we returned to the city. After seeing Badger's corpse and hearing me attest that Fox was dead, he said his job was done. Likely done by us, but all in a day's work, right?
As he finishes his writing, he lets it dry in the air. He stays seated to look at the shards until the first drop of rain touches his skin. Stowing his papers away again, he gets to his feet and gathers his halberd, moving closer to the farms and relative shelter.
The sun is setting on the city. The sky above is mostly clear, and colder for it, though the few wisps of clouds make quite a spectacle, coloured as they are by the last rays of the sun.
On the east wall sits the young man in one of the wall's crenelles, clothing strangely sober, dark of colour and of a normal cut. Still well made, of course, and of thick, warm fabric. Perfect for a winter night like this.
Paper pressed down on his thigh, he calmly sets his thought to paper, occasionally looking about.
It does seem like the rest is over, and will be for the forseeable future.
People are disappearing all over Narfell. I didn't think much of it at first, but several of the usual suspects have proof or indications of foul play. Now Isolde, Cormac and Gnomeo came acros a Defender attempting to kidnap a man, and hand him off to a pair of Far Scouts. Can't be having that. We need to keep a clean house.
Sam Brine. The ones that know him have a hard time believing he did it. He was a good sort. Never caused trouble or showed signs of insubordination. A bit of a loner lately, though. Wasn't always, to hear the rest say it. He had friends, but he lost them during the Kossuthan siege of the city. I can see how that makes a man lose hope. According to Isolde, he was being a promised a better world. Sam was stationed in the Residential during the attack. Maybe Ravos can tell me something about those days, or Rey. Sam has a cousin that moved to Norwick, another trail pointing south. A trip to Hicksville it is.
I'll admit, I was late for most of that trip. Those involved were already in the Grapevine when I arrived, speaking to some old fogey who said I looked like his father in law. Must've been the uniform. Nan never mentioned her or grandfather having brothers. Anyway, there were Nate, Isolde, Aoth, Rey, Roslyn, Sebrienne, Reemul and Perom gathered in the inn, looking to scry on something they'd learned. As an aside, Perom is Gnomeo's name. He's also sobering up, and good on him.
In scrying, we saw one of their victims, still being cut into and tortured. Needless to say, most of us went through their supply of patience in the blink of an eye. A half elf, dressed in the trappings of a priest of the Broken God of all things was doing the butcher's work, being yelled at by a second man, calling him out for his wasting of time and resources.
The surrounding walls and floor were made all of wood, with no windows to provide any vistas. Reemul knew a cabin in the Rawlinswood that could fit, another was the Gur camp.
At Sebrienne's urging, we chose the latter option. Letting Aoth windwalk us for the speed of it.
Arriving in the camp, we entered an underground tree house that had at least some recent tracks leading to it. Roslyn, I must say, makes a good talisman against traps. Once inside, the whole place smelled like death. And not just from a single corpse. This was the sort of smell that creeps up on you when you get near to a week old battlefield.
Aside from blood splatters and more traps, there was nothing at first glance. Behind one door however, we found the source of the smell. A room stacked full of bodies that had their brains removed. The scent when that door opened was enough to make several of us gag.
Behind another, we found the half elf. He surrendered, immediately. No attempt to fight. No attempt to bribe us. No poison pill like Whyte. Just 'You've got me, take me right to jail'. Here was one sick mind that wanted the chance to tell all about what he did.
He had a great deal of anatomy books, and a research paper labeled project 2, which detailed the creation of flesh golems. I took a pair of anatomy books. I need to study up on my field medicine a bit, and you don't come across books of that quality every day.
The haphazzard way project 2 was put together, and the things he attempted made it clear this was a side project. A hobby. Likely the waste of time and resources the other man spoke of.
Project 1 was missing. Given the amount of brains removed from the corpses, and the knowledge we are dealing with golems, we assumed the brains are used to control the golems.
It was worse. A warmachine of near legend met us outside, and took all our combined arms to take down. It wasn't a clueless machine, like so many golems were. It spoke. It knew Rey. Once downed, we found inside its metal shell the brain of one of their victims, though we have no clue who it was. At least it did not self destruct. The half elf seemed nothing short of proud, and more than willing to start talking yet again about all he did. The most concerning part is that there is another who might yet continue the half elf's work, especially now that the plans are gone.
This, then, will be the army this strange cult is creating to bring about their "better days"
Sebrienne nearly killed the half elf once before, and was almost fuming as she watched him being interrogated. Nate asked me to steady her. Truth be told, I was nearer to agreeing with her. The half elf is a monster in the truest sense. Something like him will cause only a lifetime of suffering if not cut short. But we need more information. His death will have to wait. So as the others interrogated the half elf, I tried to talk her down. I doubt I could stop her anymore if she chose to do anything, but the half elf lives, so I must have done something right.
No lead on who the Far Scouts were, or even if they were actual Far Scouts. Seems even a captain like Hresh knows nothing about them but what they keep public, and if they have a few bad eggs, or are missing a couple of uniforms, they're being tight lipped about it. None of the Marines seem to be involved so far. At least, none have gone missing, missed their posts or are known to be acting out of sorts.
I'd asked Meadow if she could to see if she could find out anything about the pair, where I was getting stonewalled by them closing ranks. She agreed to, but did not think she could find out much more, since she was a civilian. She seemed disappointed at something when I asked, but I'm not sure why. Maybe she was expecting something more challenging than that.
Then there is the continuation of Laurent. I'm not entirely clear on how he got us there, but he had Isolde, Rey, Roslyn, Cormac, Sebrienne, Iviie, Perom, Frances, Aoth and I walking to the Royal Estate at the urging at a small boy, to look over the defences set up to keep him at bay. The boy needed us to see and remember the exact configuration. Pressing Isolde to tell him anything she might have held back from the Smiling Monkey. It was all very urging. Wrong somehow. Threatening.
As the boy learned what he needed, the illusion started becoming obvious. Rain falling in the exact place again and again, puddles shrinking, then growing again, at the exact same pace, in the exact same shape. Grass and branches waving, bouncing back, then waving along the exact same path. Too perfect. Too regular.
We woke up soon after, in some strange pond with tendrils running to a strange machine under the control of a mindflayer. Getting to our feet, we started to realize what it had done. With the memory of the configuration, Laurent could circumvent the defences. Shaking off the tremors and vertigo of whatever had been done to us, we set after the mind flayer, through passage way and corridor, fighting off many an outsider. The setup had been clever. A trap to stall us, portals opening as Ros set to the traps. Everything to slow us down
Eventually, we faced off against an Archon. That adversary was well beyond us, we could barely scratch it. A small blessing was that it seemed not to try to kill us, merely knock us down. Perhaps its exact orders were "stop them" and its goodly nature prevented it from killing us needlessly? Thankfully some had the idea to attack the enslaving bracelet directly. Isolde managed to shoot it off, in the end. The Archon's thanks lay in blocking the way for the mindflayer, and giving us a new path to cut it off.
We headed off the mindflayer, and found that the room we did so in had human tracks. Laurent had been waiting here. Stopping the mindflayer with the memory came first. It died quickly, cut down as it rounded the corner, not seeing us in its haste. Chasing Laurent while holding the memory was too dangerous, so we broke the pearl, letting the memory be lost rather than risk it being stolen again. Chasing after Laurent, we noticed he had gone through great lengths to slow our advance, and coming up in the Kua Toa caves, we realized we would be too slow. Oscura would grant him sanctuary, as a citizen.
He escaped, but at least we thwarted his plan. For now.
A different problem had reared its ugly head, and though unlikely, it might be related to the kidnappings. A group of miners had gone missing, and a dwarf named Hafur Bruntaingo put a call out to any adventurers that would be willing to brave the Underdark to find them. It has been too long since I've done honest mercenary work, so I wrote my name down. No place on this plane more dangerous than the Underdark, and the darkness is still a challenge, but I felt up for it. For once, it might be a fairly innocent problem. We'll see.
As the young man finishes his writing, he quickly dries it with salt before stowing it away in his pack. He watches the sun set with a soft smile, though he still spares the occasional glance towards the shadows, if a lot less nervously than he once did.
A weak sun stands low on the horizon, though the days are slowly lengthening. Despite a clear sky, all the colours of the world seem flat, and the light carries no warmth. Its only saving grace is the game it plays with the blanket of snow covering the ground and many of the city roofs, giving the illusion of endless fields of pristine crystals.
Around the military district, men are patrolling on their beats, heavier cloaks, gloves and scarves added to their uniforms. Some even have extra padding under their armour. Where a warm summer would see them slow down and possibly talk to their peers in passing, they all keep a brisk pace simply to stay warm and keep their toes moving.
Luckier are the men inside the barracks, tending to the upkeep. The young man among them, scrubbing the floor in unison with the others, their song helping them set the pace.
On his cot lie his writing utensils, and a newly written sheet to dry.
It has been some time again since writing. My duties have kept me busy and the lull kept on for the most part.
I explore new places when I find the time. Often alone, sometimes with Meadow. Many might not consider her to be 'company' at all, but I'm starting to appreciate it. Even if I still can't quite read if her chiding is chiding or an attempt at humour. Not many assume her to have a sense of one, to hear them talk. Not that it matters much, I quip right back.
These explorations have barely a word spoken beyond bare facts about the land and directions, but there is a purity to it. Hiking across the lands. Seeing new vistas. Calmly and deliberately picking targets, drawing them out and cutting them down in tandem. Barely a comment or orders, just trying to read what the other does and playing into that. It's very different from the usual dash to the frontline to flank, hitting and running, defying fate to come for me.
I find it helps. The darkness of a cave. The darkness of the open night. As months pass, the dread fades, if slowly. It is easier, faster while we hunt like this. The effort it takes to keep up with her keeps my mind occupied. Straining to see her or hear her when I lose track of her. Studying the way she fights. Trying to see if I can find her tracks. Considering the few words she does speak. I wonder if she can read that on me, but she's never remarked on it.
The young king, Thalaman, has overturned Rey's decree, reestablishing diplomatic channels, lifting the ban on officials and allowing trade to continue.
This has been the most relevant change to me, lately. For one, no more worries about getting reprimanded for providing Eve with arrows, eh?
It also allowed Vick to come down to the city, by chance I happened on him and Reemul organizing a trip into the Fire Giants' territory. They wanted to gauge the creatures' strength as they are, no doubt, running out of patience with High Hold and Blackbridge. Sebrienne soon showed up and joined them. I happily tagged along, since I'd never gone there before. I've fought Fire Giants yes, but there were less of us now, and I wanted to try myself against them in their lands.
It went well. Despite numbers well beyond what my companions considered normal, despite their size and strength, despite the oppressive environment. Aside from our first contact with an unexpected number of them, we worked well together. I'm under no illusion that it wasn't mostly Reemul and Vick that carried our weight. That's not to say it was easy. It cost me well in potions and I'm still working on the gashes in my shield's lacquer. Oh yes, my shield. I'd not bothered to crawl behind that thing since before the minotaurs, which should give you some idea of how hard pressed we were. They were clever, too, not bothering to strike at me while I stood behind my shield, only when I came onto their flanks with my halberd. And strangely preoccupied with Sebrienne. Maybe they thought her to be tribute? More than once, the giants would work themselves past Reemul, myself or Vick and go for her.
Still, Reemul guided us well, with keen eye and clear head. Vick probably knew well what he was doing out there, but they were new grounds to me. It would've gone quite different with less seasoned warriors out there. Yet more work ahead of me, then. As I prefer it.
Their war will get ugly. Especially if it's a drawn out affair. Potions and spells run out. In a town like Blackbridge, food does, too. At least they're just mortal. Huge, and strong, but mortal.
Lastly, I saw Mako again. She packed up shop and hadn't come down since the decree. I was happy enough to see her face back in the city. She came up as Isolde, Reemul and I were talking and joined right in, which was fairly unusual. So was the conversation after that. I said Eve was a bit too shy, right? Here was Mako being the polar opposite. No subtlety at all. I swear, if I'd been just five years younger, I'd have turned beet red at half of what she said. Where all could hear. Now, I just started pushing back. Can't say I didn't like it, though.
Mind, she might've just been working me over to make a sale. She has a new halberd and offered up her old one. I have it on loan right now, but a hundred and fifty thousand is just a wee bit out of my reach. By about a hundred and forty. Reemul offered up a loan, but we'll see. We took the halberd out for a spin, and I swear I brained two hill giants in three hits. Ugly as sin, massive and unbalanced, but what a ripper. Mako deems I was swinging harder blows than she did. High praise.
Now I just need to learn to aim it better. How did someone as short as her wield this thing? Dragonbloods.
I'll hang on to it for a while longer, and yes, I might end up buying it. With some luck, I'll still have it in hand when the Fire Giants go to war. With Thalaman's decree, there's nothing stopping me from openly joining that fight, and I intend to be there. Guess I'm going to deliver another cart of arrows soon, too.
Beyond that, it's all second hand. Part of my duties took me to the north edge of the Icelace the past few weeks, and I missed a few things.
Cormac's curse has been lifted. This was, perhaps, the one that irks me most. Yes, I would've loved to do something as unusual as a dreamwalk, but that's not the main reason. Stand offish as he is, Cormac's nothing short of stalwart as a companion. Not once have I seen him flag, and I've stood next to him in plenty of carnage that sends lesser men running. What irks me is that I couldn't return the favor.
Isolde's attempts at regaining her memories... That tale is still unfolding as I write this. The fey was found, it's a slave to some human named Laurent who fancies himself a protector of planar balance or somesuch. Bollocks. I could make allowances to Horgrim for the use of mindless undead, but a slaver is a slaver. Had she told me nothing else, that would be enough. I will grudgingly admit I'm impressed by the lengths of duplicity he went through, and I don't really give a toss about him deflecting blame to the Smiling Monkey, but a slaver that goes through that trouble to abuse a friend crossed a line, no matter how lofty his claimed goals. And that's assuming his goals will not end up causing more harm than good. Despite my apprehension after what happened with the Far Realm, I am curious where this one leads.
I complained about the quiet, last time. Once more unto the breach.
((the songs added to characters (in this, previous or future entries) shouldn't be taken for literal interpretations or condemnations, they're just there to add a vibe to George's thinking about that character. If yours hasn't gotten one, check back later, I'll edit as I come across fitting ones))
A quiet sunset, the world covered in the kind of light that plays on men's moods and with the colours of the sky. It would be gone all too swiftly, replaced by darkness adorned with countless pinpricks of light and the Moon Maiden's passage. The clear sky smelled of a coming frost, but at least it was dry.
The young man is found once more in the rooftop garden, sitting up against the tree trunk with candles for light and dutifully writing away with a warm wine next to him, the moon and stars his only companion this night.
The days have been quiet. Blissfully so? Frustratingly so?
Idle hands, idle thoughts.
Little has happened beyond the occasional brush with orcs and kobolds, or bandits in the pass.
A necromancer did appear, showing an interest in our fight with the Far Realm. She did not share much of her reasons, so it did leave me wary. Fatima ib'n Droud. There's some old reports in the Defender archives that speak of her, but nothing too specific. To be frank, she was pleasant enough company up on those walls, and easy on the eyes. Not sure why Isolde reacted so strongly, but I guess I'll find out. The circles she runs with are some indication.
Isolde is plotting some way to get stolen memories back from a fey. Jonni's memories were taken by the same. He doesn't seem too bothered, though. How can he miss memories he doesn't remember?
I can understand his point of view. Who's to say they're memories you want? Sure, Isolde seems convinced they're good memories, but all she can be really certain of is they're strong memories.
Since hearing of the fey's powers, I've once or twice considered seeking it out for myself. See if she can take these memories of the aberrations.
Just for a moment, though. There were lessons there, and I'm afraid they'd lose their significance if I lose the memories, as gruesome as they are. Besides that, it feels a little too close to making deals with devils.
One I did make a deal with is Eve Tanner. Hardly a devil, that one. So very, very shy, which makes her easy to tease. Somehow it makes it all the more pleasing when you manage to cause a smile on that face. Especially when the smile reaches those eyes. Still. A bit too shy to my liking.
Regardless, arrows for tutelage was the intent and it's what we settled on. Basic navigation and knowledge of fauna and flora is what we'll cover first, in the lowlands where I'm most likely to operate.
We may well raise some eyebrows in our respective homes, given our positions and the tension between our two towns, but I suppose we're both hoping this whole thing just blows over.
I also managed to get in trouble alongside Raazi and this gnome who still hasn't given me his name. I've just taken to calling him Gnomeo. Suffice to say it ended with me spending hours turned into stone by Raazi, hanging from the wall outside the Fish Fort, until the spell faded by miracle. Aoth was there and helped me shake off the confusion, then devised a trick to play on Raazi. Heaping a pile of stones below the spot I had been hanging, she bid me to hide in the woods as Raazi returned with a stone to turn me back. Chiding Raazi for turning me to stone for no good reason and being unprepared to undo it, she made her believe I was dead and played on her guilt. I downed a potion of invisibility and heaped it on by 'haunting' her. It certainly struck a nerve, and she bolted, leaving Aoth, Gnomeo and I to share a laugh.
Asha wasn't amused when she learned. Playing a trick like that on her might be too much for Raazi's already fragile mind to handle. She had it coming. I'll try not to milk it, though.
Ravos shared concerns over the disappearance of former General Williams with me. I never met her, but I have heard the men speak of her. Some speak highly, some do not. Any dislike seems to come from her strictness. All seem to agree she was capable, however. Something irks him about the whole thing. If I could ask around. I possess all the subtlety of a brick through a window, but sure I can.
No deals, but some pleasant talks were had with Meadow. I stand by my earlier statement. She answers readily enough, but never divulges too much, let alone digresses. She's also significantly harder to tease. I suppose discretion is her bread and butter.
She offered to name a place I had not gone before, and she'd take me there. We ended up going to the general area of Jiyyd. I'd seen the troll swamps before, but never explored it. Sad to say it wouldn't be this day either since all the damn things seemed arrayed against us at the very entrance.
I hadn't known there was a temple of Helm there. I am amazed at their tenacity. A lone temple among the ruins on the edge of a swamp filled with trolls that strong.
Killing but two trolls on the retreat, we decided to travel the caves beneath the old dwarven temple instead. She wasn't kidding when she said I probably had to crawl to get through that tiny passage. Tight and dark as a coffin, in there. No vampires, though.
No, my friend, it wasn't the best idea. In that dark, every sound and every scrape set my nerves on edge. I held my breath almost the entire crawl through, expecting to hear that droning voice at any moment. If Meadow noticed, she said nothing. Thank Tymora I've found a few trinkets that protect the mind, lately.
I did not switch to my amulet of light until I cleared the tunnel, not for losing my nerve, but simply because I couldn't see my own hand without it. I wish I could say the cave was awe inspiring or beautiful, but I saw nothing beyond the circle of light, and the cave was so large it seemed that light was an island in a void. Tactically not the best choice, since the denizens in that cave saw me coming from miles away, but tripping over a rock every ten feet wouldn't help anyone. Plus, I made a good decoy. The trip went well, as we faced off the Duergar in those caves. I can't shake the feeling she was sizing me up. She chided me that I did not seem to hold much faith in scouting, which I had coming.
In my defense, I'm usually expected to be half a beat behind my companions, on their flank, but that's not how she fights. And she fights well. I pride myself in my control of the halberd, but the grace with which she deals death is awe inspiring. And that's provided you see her fight at all. At times, I was just double timing, trying to keep up and finding bodies to mark her merry little trail. A small point of pride is that we did not need to turn back at the point she'd been forced to turn around the last time she was there.
The trip ended when we found no path to press deeper into the cave. Back we went, through the dark, through those narrow passages.
I knew I'd be uncomfortable, but exposure seems the swiftest cure. Isolde offered a dreamcatcher days ago, but it's not my dreams that are plagued. Asha offered a small sermon, reminding me of Selune's light, and the light of the stars. A vote of confidence that it would embrace me and guard me, as Selune holds us too dear to let the night be a realm of nightmares.
In all, the gods have treated me kind. Maybe I'll trust them in this, too.
He puts his writing tools away and lays his pack aside. Lying back against the trunk, he covers himself under his cloak and puts his hands together behind his head. He winks at the moon overhead, trying to let it all go and drift off to sleep. After a handful of hours, he even manages.
And so, it is done. As far as I can gather, at least.
My leave started out well, if strange. There was an uncommonly thick fog on the land which seemed to cloak the world in silence, aside from occasional murmurs, and threw strange silhouettes everywhere.
I bumped into Isolde talking to a man offering her a job. Searching for and retrieving a cloak that was taken from him in Waterdeep which he had chased all the way here, following rumours of a performer wearing it. I was worried the man was quite mad, talking to himself. When she stook the job I decided to tag along for her safety.
Night fell right as we took the job. The fog grew thicker and more ominous. The shadows, too. Everywhere we went, we were haunted by this soft music. The bards seemed to be out all over the city. On near every corner we found one playing this tune on brass wind instruments. Other people behaved strangely, too. On edge, as though they felt they were being watched, always ready to bolt or fly off the handle.
Following clues, talking to the right people, bribing some, cajoling others and menacing one or two more got us where we needed to be. A couple of fists flew and a fool or three found out. Just some bruises and a bloody lip. Nothing too uncommon for a night in the docks.
In a room in the Pissing Goat we found a woman wearing the cloak who'd set a table for two. She had been expecting us. Or rather, she had been expecting the man who had been shadowing us the entire time. A lover's quarrel. That's all it was. A woman that felt neglected and led the man on a merry chase. We left the couple to their privacy. Such a strange cloak, though. Affected weather, light and mood. No wonder the night had seemed so strange.
It was all so innocent, in retrospect. Strange, yes, but whimsical. Not at all like what was about to unfold.
We were in the commons, laughing and talking with our companions and the many adventurers of the land. I wish it could've lasted longer, but it didn't.
Aoth had gone to the College and then came back and simply said it was happening, right then. Most didn't need an explanation, so we rushed to the College.
As the details were being discussed with the ones not aware, I realized I was ill prepared and travelling light. I made a mad dash for the Bag of Holding to stock up on all that seemed appropriate. A different cloak, my blunderbuss, potions, spellcrystals, grenades, bombs, powders and sidearms. And rope, of course. After seeing Asha and Cormac hang from that burning bridge, it seems good to have it on hand.
I was excited, I won't deny it. Weeks of preparation, and now it was here. While the thrill of battle never dulled over the years, I can't remember the last time the anticipation was so great. I wonder if the others felt it quite the same way. That rush you feel in your gut, like stepping into a ring the first time, the whole world slowing down around you as your body teeters on the cliff's edge of fight or flight and you step willingly towards fight. Feeling like your blood is on fire, wanting to run like an untamed horse, knowing you will have to hone that fire into a steely calm, sharp as the edge of your weapon.
This was a fight I had never fought before, against an enemy I never imagined. I remember giving Isolde my Last Letters, more out of tradition than worry. I remember giving two thumbs up and a grin to Jonni when he said we were probably all on our way to die. Reckless abandon, and brazen confidence.
The first leg of the journey went well. Into the College, following one of the hundreds of hidden pathways until we came to a room that held a tunnel entrance. Here came the first fight. Just a mage. An old man in a mask. He said nothing, just set right to his duty of killing the intruders. He was strong. Very strong. Still a man, however, and we brought him low without losses.
The tunnel was a long drop, near straight down, far too deep for the rope I brought, wide enough that I could not jump across. Some polymorphed, others were given the benefit of a Slow Fall spell, and down we went. It was during the near free fall that the next masked mage accosted us. Floating ever downward, he was descending right along with us, casting his spells. As silent and dispassionate as the last.
Polymorphed Aoth tried to distract him by throwing her bat self at his face, to little avail. Jonni turned back human to fight him, I threw my bombs and powders at him in an effort to distract him. It made little to no difference, so I pushed off from wall to wall, halberd in hand in an effort to impale him midfall. The endlessly long drop afforded us time. A comical sight it must have been, if not for the gravity of the situation.
Eventually, we all managed to find a way to join in the fight, and the mage was dead before we hit the ground, our casters polymorphing back to their flying shapes. The mage made an unnerving splat and bounce, coming down again without the mask. It turned out this one was an old woman. I remarked she flew poorly for an old bat. Gallows humour, right? I might've upset Aoth with that, mind. Hope she didn't take it personal.
There had been four of those masks, someone remarked. So two more mages to face before the end.
The third wasted no time to meet us, as we walked into the cave complex that held the rune, our flumph friend nowhere in sight. Again, a tough opponent, but still human. Another old man. No rhetoric, no indignation, just an uncaring attempt at stamping a group of bugs beneath their heel. He, too, was dealth with.
The nightmare didn't start until after all this. When we found the runes, and Jonni reminded me not to look at them. I wonder now if they were really that much worse than the things I did see. Our objective was clear, keep the flumph safe to do what it could. Seems simple enough, yes? Jonni made it clear yet again. Every sacrifice was worth keeping the flumph alive.
When they came, that's the first time I understood. Why the dread in Isolde's face when she told me about the abberations didn't quite match the words she used. All the flowery vocabulary she possesses felt banal compared to the edge in her voice when she spoke of those creatures. And now I know. There are no words to explain what was down there, but I will try. I must try. If I can describe it, perhaps I can wrap my head around it and let it go.
Shapes. So many, many shapes. Of skulls of all kinds, of black inhuman limbs that had no business bending the way they did, of shapes that were part human, part snakes and ants and centipedes. They shifted and changed, they came together and drifted apart, they were shadow and flesh at the same time. They surrounded you and threw spells and themselves at you with no sense of preservation, cackling and rending flesh with heir touch. And in the midst of it all, they tried to pry into your mind and fill it with fear. I'm certain I would still hear their whispers if worse hadn't happened.
When they appeared, I ran at them as soon as my eyes settled. I didn't spare a single thought to the consequences. I did not wish to have time to think on what I just saw. Headlong into that dark mass, halberd first, hoping to draw blood. And I did. They weren't immortal, at least. Not that strong at all, in fact. Oh, but they had numbers and dread in spades. I did not even need to watch where I swung. I would hit something. In the end, I could not avoid looking at them. Even the ground was littered with them.
I lost any kind of oversight in that fight. I do not know who was doing what. I know I fought side by side with Jonni at one point, with Rey at another, then to the back lines to fly into the ones who were attacking Isolde and Shesarai. It all blurs together. Sometimes the attacks abated, but the reprieves were never long, and I could find myself slipping even as I kept leaping into battle. Dread heaped upon dread, grinding you down like a millstone. Every shadow could become one of these things. And the worst of it was still coming.
The flumph eventually told us to flee. We had succeeded, but we weren't through the woods yet. A backlash from interrupting this "battering ram" of a ritual was about to begin. For a time yet, something from there could touch our plane. Could touch us. Only for a time, however. Stay out of reach long enough, and we'd be safe. The reach of that thing, though...
All my senses are jumbled when I think about it. I can feel its droning voice. I can smell the pain of its fingers prying into my mind. Hear the slithering darkness it caused. Taste its hands on my skin. No potion or spell protected us. It drained us of any strength we had. We stumbled out of there like halfwits, our minds being robbed of faculty, falling into a different cave system while following Rey.
I do not remember much of what happened beyond that point. Isolde was helping me along, but we got separated. I think it got me first. That darkness. The madness. The time spent in the embrace of that thing. I try to remember, but I cannot. Something tells me I should stop trying, for my own sake.
I came to in a gondola, back on our way to Peltarch. The voice of Isolde singing woke me. A curious song, like no other I'd ever heard. It seemed all wrong, somehow. Yet I felt in my heart and in the subsiding darkness and fog that she played it perfectly. It was the most beautiful sound imaginable. I drifted into sleep not long after, the exhaustion getting to me.
I only got the rest of the tale from Isolde yesterday. Of their seemingly endless trip in that cellar, through that darkness. Getting separated, her just trying to hide in a corner she found. Jonni pulling her from that corner, drawing the creature's attention. She found Jonni again later, staring blankly ahead. Breathing, but... gone. She found me in the same state, near the flumph. She thinks the flumph kept me from the worst of it, lacking the training and experience that Jonni has.
In the end, they found that gondola, and tried to escape through an underground river. Not immediately, however. They decided they would let that horrid thing chase us until the backlash ended and it was banished to the Far Realm again, to keep it from finding the surface. Every sacrifice. Isolde said Shesarai lead me into the gondola while she led Jonni. I should remember to thank her. It was Rey, however, who stubbornly kept rowing when all others had succumbed to that creature. Rey that brought us to the current that dragged us out when our strengths failed.
It was a night of horror for all involved. None of us got out of that without a scar, but they aren't physical. The fear and panic touched us all. The flumph believed Jonni's and my mind were cracked, and we likely would've remained that way had Isolde not been able to wake us with that cacophony of madness she learned a long, long time ago from a bard driven mad by the Far Realm, himself.
A night of horror, but we succeeded. We were there to guard the flumph, and we did. To hear her tell it, I did admirably. I'll take her word for it. Either way, the runes have been deactivated. Their entrance has been shut. I hope she's right. I pray that thing did not make it through in time.
I sit here and write in the light of a Radiant Amulet. I volunteered for the night shift, for an indefinite amount of time. I sleep during the day, in the light of morning. I can't stand the dark anymore, but the idea of laying my head down and going to sleep at night is somehow worse.
Just nerves. This will fade as so many sights before it have.
The young man pushes his chair away from the small table, then walks out of the guardhouse in the gateway to the city's military district. Outside he takes a deep breath of the cold night air. His eyes dart to the shadows outside the circle of light. Movement? He closes his eyes and rubs his temples. When he looks again, nothing is there.
He slowly walks under the portcullis to look into the streets and watch the snow fall on the quiet houses. White walls, dark walls, slate roofs, thatched roofs. Shuttered windows, lit up windows, and even the dark windows that seem to be leering menacingly at him in the dead of night.
All those people dreaming their dreams, living in peace, completely unaware of what happened beneath them, aside from a handful of tremors.
A faint drizzle comes down on on the rooftops of the city. A soft wind blows through the alleyways, though few are outside to feel it. The dreary, bleak monotony of late autumn has well and truly settled on the lands. Gone are the colourful leaves of the early days, but winter has not yet deigned to throw its crystalline white blanket across the Pass. All the weather has to offer now is the wet, the cold, and the mud.
As dreary as the world outside is, as warm is the light coming from a barracks in the city. Scraps of song drift from the windows, the men inside keeping themselves occupied with singing shanties and marching songs as they clean their gear and their floor, the young man among them. The singing could be better, but it could be a whole lot worse. One thing is for sure, it is spirited.
The men sung songs he knew, though some verses or words differed, and he sang with them as they put their backs into it. The men sung songs he knew not, and he listened and learned, even as the work continued. They asked him for a song they knew not, and the work slowed to a crawl as he sang. Not because he was so skilled, but because they, too, wanted to learn.
The work being done, they have their leave. They would go out and find a pub, and the songs would continue. He will be joining them, and gladly, but first there is writing to be done. In the light of a few candles, he sits down behind a small desk. Mentally preparing for the sacrifice of missing the first couple of rounds, and gathering his thoughts.
The opening volley has been loosed.
The creatures of the Far Realms have run their test on Horgrim's desert fortress. By whatever twist of fate, I was not there. I wonder if I should consider myself lucky even as I balk at that fact. To hear Isolde tell it, it was a nightmarish affair. We knew it would be, but I can tell she has seen a horror I can't quite grasp just from her words. This bothers me because I still do not know if I am prepared. Despite the information being second hand, I will write what I heard so that I will not forget.
From atop Horgrim's tower, Aoth was the first to see or feel some sort of void open up in the desert and whatever maniacal creatures rest on the other side came pouring through, crashing on the vast army of undead Horgrim had gathered. Yet, while the base creatures were held up by blade, bone and rotting flesh, those who were there could feel a disturbing presence emanating from that void despite the great distance. Isolde described it as the probing of unseen tendrils or fingers into their minds and feasting on the contents. Salin is said to have seen the creature, all neck and countless limbs.
Horgrim drew whatever power he could from the Hand, and the Hand drew life from him. In the end, he called on Isolde to finish it before the Hand could, and the sword of Kas hungrily severed the hand. The hand disappeared, without a doubt to some hidden place in Faerûn where another mage might find it. I share Ravos' relief that no other had to touch it. The blade was satisfied and went to its scabbard willingly. This time.
And Horgrim? He yet lives. Resting, and weak, but alive.
Sounds like a happy ending, doesn't it? But, again, this was just a test. I suppose we passed it, but it took more strength than the likes of Horgrim possessed on his own. It's likely the ogre mage will be out of the fight. His undead have been destroyed to the last lumbering zombie. His fortress is torn down. And it still did not suffice, leaving those present to fight the remaining tenth or so. Isolde did not sum up all those present, but most definitely her, Aoth, Reyhanna, Salin and Sebrienne. Seb even mentioned she finally had a chance to hold nothing back. I imagine none of them did.
For the stragglers of a test.
The bright side is that they fall easily enough to both steel and spell. Everything else makes it clear that we need to interrupt their arrival instead of hoping to fight off an invasion. Our best chance lies with the flumph called Flimfoodle, or something along those lines. A very powerful creature, in magic or something called psionics. Physically very frail, though, so he will need protecting. Our task is clear, then.
It eats at me that I have no way to measure if I am ready, so I keep trying to find new ways of testing myself. Caravans have been popping up all over the land with an increase in trade, and they take tag alongs. It has been a good way of travelling more, seeing new sights and finding new creatures to challenge. Some I have avoided figthing, I'll admit. Polar bears are murderous bastards at the best of times, so I made myself scarce when I saw a dire one stomping around near Stonepeak. The hippogryph I saw outside Steppenhall was so majestic I just sat there and watched it for a time, ready to just pack up and run if it noticed me.
When I was walking around Blackbridge, I stumbled onto Eve in the early hours of the morning. As I am gathering nick nacks in preparing to fight the Far Realm, she is doing the same, and training for the season of Tribute. While our reasons are not the same, our intentions are similar enough, and so she offered to take me into the wilds there. My friend, it was magnificent. The snow goblins were not much of a challenge, especially since Eve's ludicrously fast hands shot nearly every one of them before they came within reach, oh but the sights.
From snow covered mountain slopes to a hidden valley that held an ice fortress where lived an ice hag, yet warm enough to have luscious greenery, to a glacial river where you could walk over a thick sheet of ice, yet see and feel the water moving beneath your feet.
At the top of one slope was a natural alcove formed by a glacier, and the ice broke the light in such a way that the place seemed to shimmer with all colours imaginable. She mentioned she meditated there often, and I can see why.
Truly, the mountains around Blackbridge have a pristine beauty, and I am beginning to understand why some choose to live in a place so remote.
Satisfied with the thinning of the goblin ranks, and the money we made, we came back to Blackbridge. Here I considered that, much as Mako has taught me skirmishing and the use of the halberd, Eve could teach me another blind spot I've complained about.
Wildnerness survival. Tracking. Navigation.
Sure, I can build a dugout for shelter, but that's about where that ends.
I realize, for all my experience, I've been too dependent on the warmachine. Too many things were taken care of for me, since the scale necessitated compartimentalization. It makes sense when you're a company of around three hundred. Not so much when you're constantly dependent on a headcount of six to ten. In clusters that small, it is best to have your skills diversified, and it is time I do my part.
Besides, learning new things is one of life's great joys, no?
Wrapping up his utensils and putting them away in his seabag, he hoists it over his shoulder and heads for the door, getting the last candle on the way out. That was all for another day, now was a time to celebrate life. To drink, to sing and to dance. He hurried his way from the barracks and out onto the street. He had catching up to do.
A gray and cold day in Narfell. The whole world is quiet, all sound muffled and hushed by the heavy clouds above and the thick fog obscuring everything beyond a few hundred yards. A weak glare in the clouds is the only hint of the sun still existing.
A small guardhouse houses a handful of men. Two stand watch outside, for all the good it does. Two stand guard inside, ready to switch places with the ones outside when the cold gets unbearable. Deeper inside, some others are preparing the next meal, while the remainder are taking rest. It is a quiet affair, the weather causing the men to remain as hushed as the world outside.
Among those taking rest is the young man, sitting on a cot and writing away.
No endless pondering today. No questions, no musings. What I write, I write only in case my memory starts failing some day. And, gods forbid, some historian is interested in these words.
Most of my time is consumed by the runes that connect to the Far Realm.
When not out with friends, I train. Every day I feel as though I could get just a little stronger, a little better. Every step taken will count when this comes to a head. I gather wealth, I gather potions, I gather trinkets. Everything, anything. As long as I can use it. As long as it might help kill these outsiders. As long as it helps shield my mind. Serenity gave me two spell crystals, and instructions on which to use when, to "protect deep thoughts" as she put it. I'm not sure I properly expressed gratitude, but it will have to wait until the work is done.
When out with the usual suspects, it's travelling far, wide and deep to gather allies and yet more trinkets. Well. Trinkets? We hold the sword of Kas. I will not write down its current whereabouts.
In truth, we do not intend to use it against the invaders, but in a desperate attempt to sever the hand of Vecna from Horgrim's arm, in the hopes that this particular blade will not end up killing Horgrim in the process. It's a small hope, but one we could all agree to. If Horgrim does survive, however, he may yet be called to answer for his crimes against nature. There remains the question if Horgrim even wants to be saved, then.
Still, even if it does not end up saving Horgrim, the invasive spirit of the blade might shield against the invasive nature of the outsiders, and I would be very surprised if its destructive power fell flat against them.
Isolde learned of its location, and we set out to retrieve it in desert lands, fighting giant wasps and ants, and delving deep into ruins. A guardian spirit, learning we were attempting to use the sword against its sworn enemy, allowed us passage, but there were yet many puzzles to solve. And the fight with Kas himself, of course. Bound to the blade and more bloodthirsty than his previous vampire wielder, he animated countless undead and weapons by sheer will.
I admit, I was not part of that fight. It had drained me to the point I could barely move before it started. Regardless, depending on the situation, each of us has to come to terms with the possibility of needing to wield it.
Those who play with the devils' toys.
Allies we have sought among a race called the flumph. Some sort of jellyfish that hovers in the air in the Underdark. They are supposedly psionically powerful, and have helped with rampaging aboleths before, when Jonni lost his leg. Jonni was very apprehensive of asking for their aid, since that fight nearly wiped out that particular tribe. Clan? Herd?
I understand his point of view, even if I do not share it. What's coming will likely claim more of their number, but if these Far Realm creatures break through in sufficient numbers, it will not matter how hidden the flumph are.
Either way, some wizard named Volpe had found their whereabouts in the Underdark, and was chiding Isolde to get on with it, already. You expect a novelist to be verbose, but this annoyed Volpe to no end, who kept jabbing at her tendency to explain things at length. From an outrageous claim 8 days had past after an hour or so, to an even less subtle abuse of power by letting one of his assistants announce Volpe's death after 8 years of Isolde's discussion, to gnomes building a scaffold from which they could hang banners that spelled "GO".
Returning to the city, we even found a grave marked "Volpe" outside the walls. Say what you wish, but the wizard has panache.
And so we went, down the caves by Oscura, fighting our way through Kuo Toa, and ever deeper. We fought the likes of lizardmen, oozes, ankegh, succubi... Hours upon hours of fights, wandering and searching. I held my own. That much I can say. Perhaps I am not as out of my depth as I thought. We found some friendly myconid down there, as well, and a field of mushrooms that envigored Cormac as he ate them, which gave me an idea, but it had to wait.
Eventually, we came upon a maze filled with minotaurs, and even those fights went well. I should remember to thank Mako. That trip had prepared me well for fighting their ilk. Still, this is where I got separated from the group. I'll not bore you with making my way back to the surface on my own. It was a slow going, silent trek through darkness and past earlier corpses.
The rest found Isolde's flumphs, and the flumph will come to our aid. There is still time to stop it, and an opportunity when the runes become active. Stopping a single one will be enough to stop the process. Coming down to the wire.
When I met up with Isolde and Cormac again after making it back and she told me this good news, I offered up that the myconid might be able to help as well. Not directly, but their spores can affect the mind. Perhaps they can protect it.
I can't say I relish the thought of huffing spores on purpose to see what they might do to my mind, but if we fail to stop the Far Realm battering ram, any other ally would be welcome, and any technique that keeps us from being psionically affected. I guess I'll consider it an exercise in trust.
What did Isolde say? Two and a half more weeks until it happens?
I always wanted a chance to be part of the stories.
The stars shine brightly in the sky above the Icelace. Water laps against the hull of a ship, the only one for miles around. Nighttime drills concluded, the only motion on deck is that of the watchkeepers making sure all is well.
The hammocks in the berth sway along with the rocking of the ship, filled with men of all casts and creeds. Most are asleep, crawled into thick wool and heavy furs against the bitter cold out on the lake. Lowered voices can be heard in hushed conversation. A relatively small vessel, it has bedding for twenty odd sailors.
Sitting halfway up in his hammock is the young man, a pensive look on his face as he writes by the light of a candle. Garish clothes nowhere in sight, and even his armour beneath his hammock lacquered to resemble the city's green, he seems an almost everyday sailor. On a peg in the beam holding his hammock still hangs his bonnet, however, slashed in the black and green of the city's Marines, and feathered blue to denote his rank.
I'm out of my depth. It really is as simple as that.
I go galivanting about leading Rauvica and other greenhorns into somewhat dangerous lands that wouldn't threaten me if I was drunk and naked, because she needs the training, the gold and learn the lay of the land. But what are kobolds, orcs and goblinoids beyond pests?
I barrel through caverns of undead alongside Asha and Serenity, or into deeper caverns by those same kobolds. Minotaurs and greater orcs with Mako. Hill giants and even fire giants alongside Haltrude, Arrath, Rauvica and Toisin. Stronger enemies, and no doubt about it, but still... Common? That might not be the best word. Natural? No. Familiar might fit. Knowable. Comprehensible.
These things go well, because I understand fighting. I understand strategies and tactics. I understand weapons and armor. Fortifications and their weaknesses, how to build them and how to destroy them. I understand war.
And now another might be coming, and I don't feel ready. No, not the affair between High Hold and Peltarch. If what I was told is true, that would be a footnote compared to what might come.
Isolde roped me into another of her travels, and I was happy for it, as always. The journey was not at all pleasant, however. A long trek into a desolate landscape filled with undead that were not immediately inclined to harm us, towards a massive fortress guarded by countless of the same. Needless to say, we wanted to know what that was about.
When we scaled said fortress, we found none other than Horgrim inside, the ogre mage of the Crossroads. Surrounded yet again by his many undead minions. And yet, he assures us he means no harm. I assume he could have swept us aside like so many leaves in front of his door, if he did. Sebrienne was completely incapable of casting her spells in that lair, to give an example. I made no efforts to keep her calm, this time. Salin was on that, and I honestly think the kindly old wizard would do a better job.
I will not pretend to understand it all, though Asha was kind enough to explain when I asked. To keep a long story short, and from my limited understanding of these things, runes have been found beneath Peltarch and elsewhere. These runes can be used for planar travel, and were first made to provide a connection to the Hells. Something has been done to these to provide access to the Far Realms, or rather, provide those in the Far Realms access to us. And all indications were that they would practice their arrival in that desert. If that goes well, they will turn their attention on Peltarch.
It seems Jonni once sacrificed his leg just to keep something like this from happening, before.
The Far Realms are supposedly the planes that spawn horrors like illithids and aboleths and all manner of aberration that would drive men mad just by looking at them. Hence the undead. No minds left to break, you see? Isolde asked if the Court, and she put emphasis on that word, could not lend him aid. The only court I can imagine that referring to is the Faerie Court. They had other worries, so he was alone. Can you imagine? Having to prepare for an enemy, where a direct link to the Hells would be the lesser of two evils. And you are alone.
Isolde had mentioned the hand of Vecna some weeks prior, an artefact of legend, and necromancers on the prowl for it. After all this, I was not surprised to see it sitting on the stump of the ogre mage's arm. He seemed amused that I recognized it, despite my lack of education. A man can learn, and put two and two together. An artefact he confessed to possessing when we he noticed we seemed in agreement not to destroy his undead or fortress.
Oh yes, we agreed. I did, too. What can you do? You are talking to an ogre mage who has dealings with legendary beings like Titania, in possession of one of the most powerful magical artefacts in existence, desperately creating undead to stave off unknowable horrors and aberrations, trying to take all that weight on only his shoulders. That being is not menacing, or wicked. He is tragic.
So yes, I agreed. There will be a price to pay eventually. Dabbling with undead never ends well, let alone dabbling with artefacts of that power. Yet, I can face down an army of undead, as my ancestors have in their day. Despite apprehension I doubt it will drive me mad. I cannot say the same for creatures as offensive as illithids or worse. A threat that scares a creature as powerful as Horgrim into making these choices should make for some allowances.
As he said, the equation is clear. The safety of the Realms comes first. Perhaps I'm not the only one who's out of his depth. He's certainly the one paying the steepest price.
The others went spelunking for more of these runes. Not all have been found, not all have been modified. There is still time to prevent it all. We are talking about a timescale of weeks or months at best, however. I let them go on without me. They didn't need my help in staring at runes that I wouldn't understand until after these planar horrors drive me mad.
That fortress, however, that I understood. I stayed a while longer to inspect it. Considered the gaps I saw, and the easiest ways to exploit them. These I gave to the ogre mage before he sent me home.
Now I sit in a berth, writing these words among my fellow Marines. I cannot tell them. What message could I give them that is not crying doom? What reason have they to believe me? If they did believe me, what preparation could they make beyond the state of readiness that is their life? What would I cause but worry? No. Reyhanna was right there with us. The Crown is aware, the priests are aware, and I assume all the command structures of the city's forces are aware. Rumours are already milling among the adventurers in these lands, I'm sure.
We train, we prepare, and my comrades live their life in peace. Here's hoping it is never disturbed.
He puts his writing utensils back in their wooden case and the paper into a leather cylinder, then putting the lot in his seabag. On his lap are left two letters, one to his mother, of a kind he'd written before, when campaigns seemed most dire. Another barely more than the sort of note you'd write and pass on when not paying attention in a classroom. Both go into the seabag with a great deal more care before he snuffs the candle with his fingers and crawls into his wools.
Night has fallen over Narfell. The cloud heavy sky makes the world all but pitch black. Deep among the trees of the Rawlinswood, a faint flicker of light could probably have been seen for miles around, had it not come from a recent dugout shelter, nestled among the heavy growth.
Walls of the pit fortified by wooden logs, with a roof made of yet green fir branches, it allowed a man to sit or lie down, but little more. Heavy with the scent of earth, sap and moss, it keeps most of the light in and most of the rain out, with enough draft to not have smoke build up.
In the poor light of a small fire, the young man sits writing away, a small wooden board resting on his legs, paper pressed against it. Halberd and armour cast aside. Should trouble come into the dugout, those would be useless. Instead he keeps his bollock dagger cradled in the crook of his left elbow.
I was on my way to the Mermaid, some days ago. Sitting outside the inn, I found Isolde in conversation with Salin Ashald. The Fifth in this case. They were discussing places the latter could go honeymooning with his wife.
Prompted for an opinion on the matter, I suggested I was partial to Chondath, since it was home.
Home. It suddenly struck me as strange that it sticks in my mind as such, even now. I haven't seen Chondath in ten years. Ten long years of campaigning. Despite that, I remember it well. I remember the scent of the hills around my father's farm. I remember the first rays of the sun dancing on the waters of the Vilhon Reach. I remember the feel of the riggings of my mother's ship.
The sound of the busy streets of Arrabar, from the peddlers and hawkers to the singing in the taverns, to the marching of the countless mercenary bands.
I remember the academy, and my harsh tutelage in the Wianar army. My mother sending me there because I was too restless a youth, and the farm would never be enough for me. It rarely was, for our family. My father pulling what strings he had to get me a proper education while there.
I remember the faces of my sisters, and wonder how much they must have changed. I remember burying my father, and signing up with a mercenary band. Boarding the ship to Hlath, and the journey that started from there.
I remember it all. Yet I've not been there in so long. Give it some years more, and I will have been gone as long as I have lived there. Is that home? I write, of course, to tell them I am well. My sisters are all well, and some are adventurers in their own right. Mother is well, though I can tell she grows lonely as my sisters leave home, too. Nan is Nan. Letters aplenty. Responses take longer since I ended up in this backwater, however.
Ten years gone, but I never questioned it being home. Until that table, and some moments thereafter.
I ended up telling the tale of home to Serenity, who'd found me sick as a dog. By which I mean I was sick, and she was a dog. Caused by undead, in case you were wondering. So sick I didn't even notice it was her until she tilted her head that way she does in every form, and I noticed her green eyes. Some things never change.
Once I stopped being daft and recognized her, she promptly changed to her
normal selfhalf elven skin and returned me to health... Restored the balance, as she called it. She said she smelled it on me, and my colour in the web was off. This brought me to wonder just how she perceives the world, and this balance. If it's something she can see, or feel, and if it's constant or when she focuses on it.
Her answers about the web of green left me both confused and enthralled. Always do the answers bring more questions. Questions from me, queries from her. But the conversations veer this way and that, from the web of life to the disturbances some cause therein, to the nature of man to separate themselves from the natural world in their bubbles, new questions spring up, and there is never enough time to answer them all. Eventually it centered on humans fearing the dark, and the cold. I tried to explain, or rather, show the merits of being comfortable. Meanwhile, she remarked that I was not afraid of either, and she wanted a pivotal moment in the story of my life. One of the reasons I accept danger when most humans cower. Why I sleep under a bush in the pitch black as easily as a goosedown bed.
And so I told her the above. My exodus. In far more detail than that handful of lines, of course, but you can read all that when you go back to the very first pages I wrote. I'd like to think I chose that point at random, but I'm certain it lingered from the conversation with Salin and Isolde. It wasn't the most hardening moment, but it was on my mind at the time.
I think I could walk into Arrabar now, and none but my family would recognize me. The elders I knew might be dead and gone, the hard men turning gray. My boyhood friends turned men in their own right, with wives I may or may not have ever met, children I wouldn't know the names or faces of. New roads might have been paved, old buildings torn down. A city changes its face more slowly than a man, but would I recognize it?
And here, I begin to recognize the faces. Of all the mad fools who take to adventure, definitely, but also of the bakers, and the butchers. The priests and the city officials. The sailors and the fishmongers. I know specific guards by the sound their boots make on the cobblestones. The good seats inside the Mermaid. The better seats in the Ferret. The best part of the walls to watch the sun come up or go down. When the baths are empty so you have the realm to yourself.
And the people, for their part, don't stare quite as much as they once did. To some, I have become part of the scenery, as many adventurers have. Some will greet me in passing. Others make small talk. Others still will gamble and drink with me. And a few brave youngsters mimicked my walk as I went down the street the other day, sticks on their shoulders and arms swinging wide. I gave them a good fright and they ran off hollering and laughing.
Martouscha mentioned fighting in the war against N'Jast. It was around that time Nan fled these lands. Haltrude heard my remark and asked if I had Narfellan roots, then. Again I said I considered myself Chondathan, but it sure felt more hollow than it did last spring.
The reason this question is becoming important now is because the relative short period of peace seems all but over, and tensions are growing. This time between High Hold and Peltarch. High Hold has existed independently from Peltarch for generations, after a rogue city official declared it his. Reyhanna reminded them that they were a barony of Peltarch until defecting and expected them to come back under Peltarch's wing, with a replacement for Lord Sent appointed by Peltarch. You understand that this did not go over well.
I can see the merit in either side's claims. After so many generations, High Hold could be deemed independent, under Sent claim by right of conquest. Especially by the generations that never knew any other way. On the other hand, with no apparent heir beyond an appointed one, Peltarch's claim on those lands is not unheard of or unreasonable.
The usual measures have been taken. Banning the members of the 'rebel' forces from Peltarch lands. Checkpoints at the gates for civilians. No more open trade between the towns. I wonder if there's goods worth smuggling. This will not necessarily turn into an open war, of course. Most of these situations are eventually defused by diplomacy, and by the time anyone reads these words, hindsight might allow you to laugh at my worries. I hope so.
This is why I should've avoided attachments. This would've been just another opportunity to make money. But I've put sweat and skill into some of these buildings and the nearby towns, and I would hate to see them damaged. And there's the people, of course. Reyhanna. Isolde. Haltrude. Ravos. Those have definite ties to the city. Up in High Hold are Mako, Eve and Cormac.
Civil wars are some of the foulest and most heart wrenching affairs in existence, and I pray, every single night. To Tymora, to Uthgar, to Selune, to Waukeen. Hells, maybe I should add Siamorphe for good measure. Let those who have the influence keep this a cold affair that will eventually fade out. And to my ancestors. That I make the right choices if it doesn't.
And just when I sent word to a recruiter that I might be interested in joining the city's forces, too. Or should I just have taken Mako's offer of a hundred thousand and headed to the Hold?
He puts his writing utensils and paper into their leather pouch and tosses them into a corner, then banking the fire with older ashes to kill the light. He remains awake half an hour more in the dark, to hear if any creature approaches. All while saying his prayers.
A cold morning in Peltarch, the sky an overcast, lead gray. Freezing winds are blowing in from north of the Icelace. Few ships will be venturing out in this weather, and few commoners feel the need to head outside.
The young man stands at the bottoms of the cliffs northeast of the city. Several paces away a boulder stands upright. He is faced towards it. He wears nothing save his braies, allowing the cold of the environment and the biting wind to touch his skin. His breathing even and calm, his eyes focused on something beyond sight.
The right hand plants the halberd on the ground before him. The right foot kicks the butt of the staff towards the enemy, it circles upward, the right hand letting it pivot. The left hand catches the staff as it circles back, the right foot keeps moving forward, the kick becomes a step, the right hand moves forward in time.
The left hand pulls the butt down, the right hand the fulcrum, the blade of the halberd arcs upward, a cut from groin to throat.
Thoughts come to him. The immediate. The discomfort of the cold. The wind that feels like knives on the skin. The wet sand underfoot and the faint drizzle compounding the effects.
The right wrist twists, the blade is turned down, right index finger lies on the staff pointing at the target. The right foot lunges, a thrust towards the throat. The right hand aims, the left provides the strength.
He lets the thoughts come. Minor distractions that will not disrupt the flow of his movements. He examines them. He acknowledges them, then lets them go, until they stop coming.
The right wrist twists again, the blade is turned left, right index finger wraps the staff again to provide stability. The bottom of the halberd blade hooks the weapon. The left foot moves up to the right then steps to the left. The right hand pushes the blade left and starts a circular motion. The left hand makes the circular motion writ large, a heartbeat behind. The halberd head circles from the top left to the bottom right, it pulls the weapon aside.
The thoughts fade and become emotions. Discomfort. Exhilaration. Desire. Drive. Eros. Thanatos. Paling in comparison to the calm he finds in the soothing, well known motions of his chosen craft. He accepts them. He lets them wash over him and guides them to the furnace in his mind's eye.
Pivot the hips, push the halberd, release the weapon. The right hand twists again, the blade turns towards the opponent. The left foot lunges sideways. Pivot the hips in the opposite direction. The right foot slides towards the left. Drag the blade across the opponents inner thigh. Turn the hips back towards the opponent, right foot forward.
Different thoughts come. Memories old and new. Possibilities of the future. Questions. Nightmarish creatures that could swallow him whole, the warm laughter of his comrades. Plots that span the land and generations of man, the close knit circle of fools that refuse to back down. The adventures. The deaths. The fights. The people he lost. The people who walk beside him now.
The right foot steps forward. The butt is planted on the ground. The left steps behind the halberd to brace it. Level the pike at the charging horse. Crouch. The right hand steadies the halberd halfway up the haft, the left hand moves to the sidearm. Brace.
Again, he lets the thoughts come. He examines them as he did his baser thoughts. Still but minor distractions that have no bearing on his dance. He hears questions, but gives no answers. He acknowledges their presence, and lets them go, until they stop coming.
The left hand moves to the butt of the halberd. Push backward off the right foot, the left foot slides back to allow a wider stance. Rise from the crouch. The right hand lowers, the left hand rises, angling the pike down. Push off the ball of the left foot. The right hand rises, the left hand pushes down hard, both hands moving forward. The halberd head whips up, deflecting the weapon, it creates the opening.
The thoughts fade and become emotions. Fear, guilt, shame. But also joy, compassion, confidence. Frustration. Elation. Rage. Longing. Hope. All true. All fall to nothing in the unshakable calm of a skill formed over a decade of drills. Pleasant or unpleasant, he accepts them all, letting them wash over him, and guiding them to the furnace inside.
Pull the left hand back, bring the right hand down. The right hand aims, the left provides the strength. The blade of the halberd cuts diagonally at the neck. Let it carry through. Pivot the hips. Throw the weight behind the halberd. Use the momentum, but guide it. The left arms pulls the weight into the arc. The left foot comes off the ground, throw the left leg into the jump. Let the right follow. One full circle. Jump. Two full circles. Jump. Three.
All thoughts have fled. All emotion gone. All just drifting parts of his soul, now reunited with the fire from whence they came.
The left foot lands. The right foot lands in front. Turn the right foot inward on the ball of the foot. Turn the hips left. Slow the momentum. Coil the body. The right index index finger lies on the haft again.
The right hand aims. The furnace provides the strength. Thrust and unleash.
For an instant, he feels perfectly whole. It would not last long. It never did. He holds it for a moment, then lets the strength of his soul flow through his chosen tool into the crescendo of his movement.
The halberd pike hits the stone, and it shatters.
The young man sits by the cliff edge, still undressed, looking out over the Icelace.
Soon, the cold will get to him again.
Soon, his feelings will scatter and be all over the place again.
But for a short while, he basks in the peace the dance brings him.
A bright day in a darkening month, the sun stands high over the Icelace. The sounds of Peltarch's docks fill the air, the entire district humming with activity. Slowly the pains of the attacks are being forgotten, as the industrious people of the city move on.
Not quite as industrious, the young man sits on the deck of the riverboat, as it waits for other passengers to take south to Norwick. Seeing as there's no need to play the deckhand, he is nestled in a corner and takes the time to write, not looking especially concerned.
Things are slowly changing. The city is regaining its old splendor. Repairs go well. There haven't been any eldritch horrors threatening it in weeks, that I've encountered at least. People have been changing, too. Or at least, my perception of them. How wrong one can be.
The princess. Reyhenna Jorino, or Elizabeth Fisher depending on who you talk to. I've learned a bit more of why she is the way she is. The Fishers were just commoners when she was a child, so she had none of the upbringing I assumed. On top of that, she was separated from her family at an early age, and I had a positively happy and carefree childhood compared to what followed. I think I'll stop calling her princess. She's not some halfwit noble just rebelling against her lot in life.
Sebrienne. I've been looking at Sebrienne as a child. A bit too innocent, and still a bit too young to be roaming around in these lands, even as powerful as she is. If pressed, you could say I treated her as I did my younger sisters. That was unfair of me. She's not much younger than when I first left the academy, and I remember what it was like to get ragged on for my age. Besides, I'm barely halfway through my twenties, so what do I know?
She made a statement with her new way of dress, and it shocked me. Ironic, given that half the reason my companions dress our way is specifically because it offends the posh bastards that hire us to die on their behalf.
She bares her legs, our hosen are so tight we might as well be naked. She cinches her waistline, our vests emphasize shoulders and clavicle. She wears a low cut top, we shape and colour our codpieces so they catch the eye and make people uncomfortable. She wears her jewelry, we double up on expensive fabrics.
She doesn't wear a hat, though, so I'm still one upping her, don't worry.
Unfair? Ironic? Nothing short of hypocritical.
If this helps her find her calm at the center of the storm, then so be it. I will look upon her differently, from now on. I'll still try not to look too much. She'll always be a little innocent.
Which brings me to Erilo. I would describe him to you, but he walks around with his face cowled near permanently. The size of him and the tone of his skin suggests orc blood, so that might be the reason. He is as unapologetic in wearing bright colours as I am, though, which really makes him stand out. At times, Erilo appears even more innocent than Sebrienne, being shocked at the things we say for laughs, whether it's raunchy or cruel. It turns out he has a sense of humour, but it takes getting used to, and his mind works in very unusual ways. On the one hand, this can make it difficult to follow his line of thought, on the other, that line of thought brings up suggestions few others think of.
He also has a strong sense of right and wrong, and will not hesitate to offer his opinion in that regard. This might feel annoying at times, but it can good to have someone around who isn't as morally ambiguous as some of us are.
He brought up organizing unarmed fighting and wrestling tournaments. I actually like the idea. I told him he might want to talk to the owners of the Lucky Ferret. It seems like the ideal location.
And lastly, myself. I jumped over my own shadow, and spoke with Serenity. Like last time, we spoke long about a great many subjects, not all pleasant. On failing friends, and the aftermath.
On the dangers we will be facing in the future. There in that moment where she said she could not simply send me away to safety like she would her panther Zero, that's where she gained an understanding of me.
On life, on souls. On feeling the beating heart of a tree, to feeling the beating heart of the world itself. I swear, I think I almost could. There in that moment where I felt that whatever happens, my soul would be alright, I gained an understanding of her.
A talk to remember. I look forward to the next.
As the boat unmoors, he puts his utensils away and gets up to lean on the railing, smiling as he looks at the city.
The wind blast the walls of a small tent despite its position between shrubs and trees, on a hill southeast of Norwick. The sky above is filled with heavy, dark gray clouds, blowing eastward. In the east, at the edge of the large cloud, the morning sky is getting its colour. What would otherwise be gold seems an almost sickly pallor framed against the purplish gray of the cloud above and the shadows of the woods below.
Inside the tent, the young man lies bare-chested on a bedroll, unconcerned by the buffeting winds, the clouds above, or even the proximity of goblins. His tent is open, with a small fire before him, cooking up a stew. Occasionally he spares a glance at the pot and the sky, before turning back to his writing.
It happened again.
'What?' I hear you ask, 'What happened again, George?'
Why, death, of course.
It was different, this time. Not at all what I would have expected just a year ago.
The first time I died, it seemed almost fitting. You spend your life with a bunch of sappers storming into fortifications, you eventually run out of luck and end up one of the many dead littering the floor after such an action.
This death, however, sounds like a story of high adventure.
It started, as such things often do, in the city of Peltarch. We were celebrating the survival of Isolde's friend, Eric. At first it was Isolde, Cormac and a rough but amicable Uthgardt named Rika. The night moved on, faces went, new faces came, and then the most ghoulish face of the day appeared as a sending. Some ogre mage Isolde knew as Horgrim called us to the Crossroads. Legends say bad things happen at crossroads. You best listen to those legends.
So the usual suspects found themselves marching down to the crossroads. Thau, Isolde, the princess, Cormac and myself. What came into view was disturbing, to say the least. A drow, caught in a cage made of bones. Skeletons that had torn themselves from the bodies of dead bandits, the skins still lying at their feet like discarded wet sacks, guarding the cage. And a curious ogre mage supervising the scene.
Isolde and he knew each other well, admonishing him over the use of undead. Of course, there were more pressing concerns. The drow had been trying its hand at planar magic in the Underdark beneath the crossroads. We were to guard the drow as the ogre went to investigate. Naturally, people show up at a crossroads. People who will have questions.
Sebrienne, bless her heart, who protested the wickedness of it all with the storm in her soul, unhardened still by the horrible things adventurers see. I tried to keep her calm as best I could, as a stray lightning bolt could ruin everyone's day. Erilo, who always tries to do right, also affronted by the many undead, and the idea that we were working with them. He was calmer, if confused, trusting that Isolde knew what she was doing. Asha, then Reemul arrived later, though they remained quiet.
As I was trying to explain things to Seb and Erilo, the drow tried to escape and cast spells. She lost her hands for that. Wretch had it coming. I hope Sebrienne did not see that, but I'm certain she did. The ogre mage returned not long after. The ritual had been stopped, the drow was a captive, but others had been down there and had escaped. The ogre took the drow, more interrogating would be done, the princess requesting she be delivered to a special holding cell later.
This ended everything that was to be done on the surface. Which left us with the choice. Would we head into the Underdark to chase the other culprits? Hunting drow, a creature that spawns nightmares in commoners and seasoned adventurers alike on their home turf of the Underdark, a place that spawns nightmares in all the nightmarish creatures of the surface. Of course I went. As one, we all did.
I had never seen it before. The Underdark Nor the creatures we encountered. Almost immediately we were beset by grey renders. Mako's training seems to be paying off. Not a one laid one of their massive, heavy claws on me, and I was still able to to wound many. Ankegh ranging from big as a wagon to big as a house. Easily eight or more. I managed to impale one of their ugly heads as it poked up from its burrow to spit its acid at me, only to have another show up that dwarfed the largest of the earlier ones.
Gargoyles. A gorgon. Creatures of stories such as I never hoped to see. I even waded into a river of slime shoulder to shoulder with the princess, only to have it attack us, forming oozes and cubes. I will spare you the details of being caught in one of these cubes, but the acids didn't leave much of my clothes intact. Imagine what it does to the skin. And then, just as it splatters under the weight of Cormac's massive axe, and you shout for joy of having survived, the entire river retracts and forms a single cube large enough to fill the cavern. And all you have is a glorified sharp stick. Still, you fight alongside the others and you survive.
Fighting alongside the princess is inspirational. Reyhenna Jorino. She is not at all what I expect from nobility, let alone royalty. I expected a soft skinned, pompous, overly articulate harridan with touchy sensibilities. Despite her pedigree, she is foulmouthed, raunchy and abrasive. Then despite these traits, she is intelligent, insightful and witty. She barely goes by her title, I believe she dislikes it, in fact, and I only insist on using it because I'm being an ass. Thadeus appreciates it, though. She is a hands on type of leader when she bothers to lead. This one doesn't hire a mercenary company to do her fighting for her, she runs it.
And if at all possible, she would rather personally walk up to the problem and punch it in the face.
She doesn't really command, she just goes and expects to be followed. Two hander raised, she runs straight at the heart of the enemy. Reckless abandon. I've no idea what her thoughts about me are, but I appreciate having her there when charging like that. Feels almost like being back in the Band.
Of course, not all went well. Those blind charges make one confident. Too confident. In a lapse of judgement, I forgot that I am still not as experienced as them. After being patched up from the fight with the slime, I rushed again to the frontline and met my doom. Two gigantic purple worms, bursting from the ground. Quick as snakes, despite their size, causing small earthquakes from their burrowing and reappearing. I cut one up some, yes, but I lost my footing near constantly.
I tried all I could, and it did not matter. In the end, it did not even attack me directly. The last I remember is seeing the massive bulk of its body coming down towards me as it moved, with nowhere to run.
It's not the worst end to a story. It certainly is quite a few steps above the last one. Not quite the drama I would have hoped for, but more than just that of a common soldier.
But once more it wasn't the end. Which, like last time, left me with questions.
Do not get me wrong, I do not long for death. There is still so much to do, so much to see. But I have accepted it. Have? Had? It seemed so inevitable, once. Just a roll of the die. Certain. Final. Permanent. Twice now I've turned out to be mistaken. Do my deaths, then, justify earlier decisions or does my return refute them?
The implication of returning while so many never get the chance still makes me wonder, but the fights I fight are no longer pointless border disputes and claimant wars, fought for money. These fights feel like they matter, somehow. That makes it easier.
I also recognize now that my companions don't see me as just a common soldier. They see me as one of them. They probably feel that I belong here, which is something I've been avoiding thinking of.
There were more questions, but a fireside chat with Isolde after the fact gave me many answers and more to think on. On worries, on attachments, on love, loss and grief. You'll not find them here. If I leave too much blood on the page, then what will be left to take to my grave?
Despite coming back to Asha's pretty face, there's no debts to a saviour this time. Aside from needing to show around this curious little creature when it wishes it. A myconid. Something unexpected in these lands every day. It sort of explains the mushrooms in my beard when I returned.
Satisfied with what he's written, he puts his papers and writing utensils away safely again, then scoots towards his fire and takes the bubbling stew off its tripod. Breakfast soon, then off to the day's work.
The sun is sinking low. The last rays on a blessedly clear day colour the sky in hues of gold, pink and orange, eventually fading to purple. The wind is quiet, barely rustling the red golden leaves and evergreens in the pass.
The young man sits on the balcony of a tower in the pass. The lounge room inside was comfortable, but the fresh air outside suited his feelings more. Huddled in his cloak despite the day not being terribly cold, a candle nearby in case he writes well into the night.
A dark, heady wine in hand, he takes a sip and enjoys the atmosphere for a time. A glass later, having let his thoughts roam, he sets to his papers.
I headed down the Moldy Rat Tribe's cave, the other day. It might not exist by the time anyone reads these pages, but it is a cave south of Norwick, where the bones of the old town of Norwick stand. The goblin tribe seems to be growing in number and strength. There's stronger individuals among them compared to the first time I found this cave, and they are building fortifications and laying traps.
I have no real issue with these goblins. Most are smart enough to turn and run, and I let them. If they're then dumb enough to gather up a posse and attack me, that is on them.
There's a certain fungus that grows in those caves. When their spores are released, they make it hard to breathe, hard to fight. For the unhardened, at least. I gather it into small pouches to use in battle. They're not extremely effective, but they're good for staggering waves of attackers, especially lesser creatures. A well timed shot can save hapless greenhorns from being overwhelmed, or allow for one or two more bowshots before entering melee. There's always one sucker that doesn't see it coming.
I really should be on the lookout for more substances like this. And see if I can find a way to refine them.
I was walking my way through the cave when I noticed one of the mushrooms behind me shedding more spores, but no live goblins were there. I wasn't alone. I walked on, affecting not to notice, hoping to catch my stalker slipping up. Then, suddenly, a spell was cast at me! I became invisible, which is confusing when you're expecting a fireball. A giggle. A sweet voice saying "hi". Thank Tymora, it was Sebrienne.
She saw me on the map. I've been warned to throw it away, that it makes me too easy to stalk, but honestly. I walk around in clanking metal and all the colours Lathander's light provides. Anyone that wants to find me, can find me. And in this instance, I was happy she found me.
She got hard done by a few days prior. Erilo came up saying someone was telling lies about her. That she had killed a child. Turns out it wasn't a lie. At some point when she was a child, five years old I think she said, she lost control over that curious and terrible gift and struck out in anger at a bully. She couldn't help that, of course. I would've tackled the kid at that age, because my strength is physical. She used what advantage she had. It's not on her that she was cursed with such strength so young. You scold the child, yes, punish it because it needs to learn that that was wrong, but you don't blame it. It's a child. Barely more than a toddler. Yet she blamed herself.
There she sat. Sobbing at what she'd done. Sobbing at the shame of it. Sobbing at having it revealed in a cold rumour without context, and what I assume was fear of everyone around thinking less of her for it. And many were around. Instead they comforted her, and I believe it genuine. Part of me wanted to comfort her, too. A girl that kind an sweet should not have to suffer a pain like that. They excused what happened, as I have done in the paragraph above. A child cannot be blamed.
And that's where the hound is stuck. At that table, however, with all the people showering her with kindness and support, I wouldn't be much help, if I was heard at all.
So I was happy to see her in that cave, and invited her to head deeper with me. There was a door I never got past, and her unique strength provided an opportunity for that. More important was the opportunity to talk to her.
She had not really calmed down from the reveal, as expected, and she certainly wasn't at peace. I talked the whole walk through that cave. There were goblins we fought, but nothing to even press us. She blew through those fated doors, and there was a large undead, but even that we dispatched quickly. It must have been a strange sight, two humans just walking through their cave, harvesting mushrooms with one of them lecturing and only fighting the ones that bothered to get in their way. I really should learn to be more concise, but I suppose I lack the skill to say much with few words. That's for wiser men than myself.
I tried to instill that excusing her actions and justifying them, even when it is perfectly sound and correct, is fighting what happened.
Fight, absolutely, but fight for your future, and fight like a lioness. Fight fearlessly and without regret. The future is up in the air.
But you cannot fight the past.
You can try, but it will drain you until you haven't the strength to get out of bed in the morning and you will still have changed nothing. The past is set in stone.
Peace lies in accepting that past. In accepting that you made a mistake. That something is on you, and that you caused that hurt. Regardless of any justification. You own it. Blaming yourself but justifying it is being halfway there. You accepted the responsibility, but still think the wrong can be set right. You can make amends, of course, but you cannot wipe the slate clean.
As hard as it is to learn acceptance, it seems harder still to teach it. I doubt I got through to her, and it worries me.
This self blame will keep her from finding peace and leave her fearing her strength. And if she fears her strength, she will eventually make a mistake that burns her out completely.
All while she could be so great.
As we were heading back into town to sell what little spoils we had, she asked me how old I was. Do I sound that old?
Age and mileage and all that.
He puts his writing utensils away, then safely stores the paper before pouring himself another glass.
He lies back on the balcony and lets his thoughts roam some more as he looks at the night sky.
Rain comes down from an overcast sky. There is no wind. Just an unending pattering of a downpour on the stripped houses, half built walls and shelter tents of the labourers.
Despite it being just before midday, the gray clouds above cast the place in a heavy gloom, and torches are kept lit for what little light they can provide.
The work has slowed with increasing rain and increasing cold, but the people work on regardless.
Again a little ways from the village sits the young man on an unfinished palisade being erected around the village, under an oiled tarp to keep the rain at bay. Wearing his drab clothes once more for when his guard duty ends and he is expected to work, he has his armour on and his weapons within reach as he sits with writing utensils at a small table. Despite the drab clothing, he has allowed himself a single item of jewelry, a selfmade rope necklace that wraps around a spellcrystal. He subconsciously plays with it as he considers his writing.
I have finally gotten around to training under Mako.
I had not been mistaken the first time. She is dragon blooded. Those were scales on her skin.
The call of her blood is still strong, as evidenced by these scales, her dislike of Serenity's white drake form, and her uncanny amount of strength. And her pride, let's not forget.
It's amusing to see, in a way.
I have met a great many boastful people in the past, and will readily admit I can be one of them. It can be good fun, and downright hilarious when we fall on our face without much harm.
Not Mako. She exudes the calm air of a woman who believes she is the superior of many and makes no excuses for it, very much like a dragon. What makes her less jarring than many merchants or the nobility is that, in strange contrast, she does not seem to put on airs. She is what she is. Strong, gifted, alluring and capable. A force to be reckoned with.
And, perhaps more importantly, she believes others can be, too. While she considers humans weaker, she believes our potential is limitless. We only have to be willing to put in the work.
In all, it makes for a strict taskmaster. She makes her questions to the point, and her input and advice as well. She is not uncaring, per se, but she will let you fight alone, and let you screw up. Meanwhile, she walks close by, tells you why you are failing, but is on hand to step in.
More than just examining the way I fought and telling my how to approach, when, where and which stances and swings to use, she also drilled the importance of the frontline calling the shots. That my allies depend on my gauging the situation, and letting them know what I can handle and what I require of them, for their sake and mine. Quite different from a mass of pikes being commanded from the rear.
For all her strictness, she is not without praise. I think I made a good impression, though admittedly it was with Serenity and Rollo at my side. She would not let me write the success off on the weapon I wielded, although it is a fine piece. Impaling adult worgs in one thrust was not something I would have expected with my previous one. Even the hammer wielding orcs were made short work of. Perhaps in the future I will seek out one of these orcs with greatswords.
The second, impromptu class took place when I happened on a group in Norwick. Sebrienne, Sadi, Call, Erilo and of course, Mako. They had decided they would venture into the minotaur maze, though Erilo would not be joining them. Mako pointed out the danger, but it was minotaurs. I'd never seen their like before, let alone fought them.
She stressed that I was to fight only on the flank, and only against the creatures she designated. Even when flanking I was to fight defensively. Avoid notice, especially from their casters.
Then as we were all preparing ourselves, she said that once we were inside, she would be all business. Amusing, that. I don't think I've ever seen her not all business.
The maze... It is troublesome, to say the least. From bats that screech so loud you feel your head might burst, to its unpredictable twists and turns and doors that turn you about and make you end up in unexpected places. How many adventurers have gone there countless times to figure out the way through? How many have ended up down there and never found their way back? My teacher seemed to know it all be heart, leading the lot of us along familiar paths. I am glad I did not venture there alone. You would have found this journal entry lying somewhere in that maze for sure, clutched by the skeletal hand of some well dressed corpse.
And that's just the maze itself. Minotaurs are unlike any creature I've ever fought before. Easily two heads taller than I am, and I am tall among humans. Thrice as heavy, even counting my armour. All the muscle you'd expect of an ox, but enough cunning to outdo lesser creatures like goblins and kobolds. Fighting a minotaur toe to toe was invigorating, intoxicating and terrible all at once. It was madness, and I loved it.
Make no mistake, I was hard pressed. All my effort went into locking up their blows with the hooks on my halberd before they reached full swing. Interfering with their footwork by doing the same to their ankles and knees. Working with my halberd's full reach, only occasionally managing to drag the blade across their hide on the backstep, stabbing the pike forward on the approach. Any other way would have seen me dead. Their strength is as uncanny as their form. Directly blocking them cramped up my arms, attempting to muscle through almost saw me tossed like a ragdoll. And oh, the price if I failed. I took one direct blow, and let me tell you, I was never so happy to wear armour. I might need a new one after that, that dent is deep enough to just scrap it.
But I killed one. And another. And another. Hard pressed, but surviving. It was a learning experience.
It was not flawless, of course. Unlike with the orcs, I dropped the ball several times. Dropping my defense because I assumed I was safe on the flank. Stepping into melee with a minotaur Mako warned me not to. Drawing the attention of one of their casters. I swear, if she was any more dragonlike, she would've bit my head off. I'll admit I had it coming. Still not as frightening as that one huge minotaur, however. Damn near shat myself at that roar. Shameful, but I know I will be able to go toe to toe with its ilk before long.
But first, more training. Mako will do so, though when I dropped the word spar, she said I have much work ahead of me. Well then.
It's off to work I go.
Night has fallen over the city, and though the sky is clear, the new moon makes it a cold and dark affair. People huddle together as they walk the streets to get to their homes, the taverns or the inns. Blessed little islands of light and warmth in an otherwise uncaring sea of cold stone, even with the countless stars overhead
Inside one such inn, a cacophony of voices can be heard. Singing, bragging about the day's catch, shouting one another down, calling for more beer.
In a corner sits the young man, back in his extravagant clothing away from the build sites. He flashes a smile through a somehow purple coloured beard as a waitress brings him his order, though when she looks pointedly at him, then at the people dancing, he shakes his head. Writing comes first.
He sits there a while longer, fingers interlaced behind his head as he stares at the page, considering how to begin. His first ale is well gone when he finally picks up his quill and sets to it.
I let Isolde and Asha drag me into another adventure. Some wagoner named Leeroy would take us somewhere... I don't know. The deal was already discussed by the time I got there and I was goaded into the wagon. I say goaded and drag, but I love these forays. It's the perfect kind of trouble to get into when you need a distraction.
Asha. I've paid her back in full by now, in case you were wondering.
Asha seems as mad as a rye soaked barnacle, at times, and twice as colourful as a hummingbird. I quite like it. Other times she is so lucid, you'd fancy her a scholar from Waterdeep. She seems hopeful to her very core, and throws herself at life so fully it makes me wonder if I even know what living is. Always a smile on her face, always in for a joke. I'm certain that's only one side of the coin, but the resilience is admirable.
She is the daughter of Jonni, the seer. Jonnisdottir. The name brings me to the edge of memory, like a song whose tune you can't quite recall.
Him I still owe money. Also reminded me he sees and knows all, and that I should keep away from his daughter. Tall order, that. Don't think I can do it. Damn shame.
There were others, of course. The Princess. Vick, I believe he was the one that turned the tides when Peroido fell to the rocs. Capable, calm, astute. Very good to have in your corner. Less so at a fireside revelry, but looks can be deceiving. He has a sense of humour at least. Meadow, the woman who asked if I was from Norwick since I did not seem to fit in Peltarch. Isolde and Sebrienne have both assured me that wasn't meant as an insult. More than capable. If Vick comes off as a closed book, she seems some engraved slab you'd have to march down to Calimshan for, then crawl down into the Underdark to get, only to find you can't read it and you have a mind flayer standing behind you. Cormac, the loudmouth barbarian who is just the right kind of grating. Strong and tall. Good voice. Handsome, if he'd take care of himself a bit more. Cormac the man would've been a good addition to the band. Capable in his own way, though that way is more of a wildcard. Cormac the warrior should be nowhere near a regimented unit.
The excursion did not go as planned. Leeroy, masterful wagoner that he is, managed to run us off the random beeline through the woods that he assured us was a road and crashed the wagon.
We found ourselves in woods so dense we couldn't see the night sky, with no idea where we were, what direction was up or down, and without a woodsman. It might be good to learn tracking and navigating the wilderness, some day.
With no real guide to point the way, and Leeroy pointing out it would take hours to fix the wagon, we set out in the direction we thought was most likely to lead us to civilization, coming to a road that would hopefully lead us there. Eventually this road led us to a bridge, which came with a troll. The creature wanted a quarter of all the trinkets and gold in all our bags. I was already getting out my halberd, because that wasn't going to fly, but Cormac spoke to the thing in its guttural language. I have no idea what was said, but the tone was menacing. So menacing, in fact, that the troll shrank back, wet itself and jumped off the bridge. I would've applauded the stunt if it didn't start more trouble.
We started to make our way across the bridge when the beast's urine caught fire. A fire troll, then. I wonder if you could use that stuff to put fire on your blade. I know, a disgusting thought, but all's fair in war, no? Regardless, we were crossing the bridge as the fire started spreading, so we all ran for it. Asha and Cormac were too slow, however and had to cling to dear life as the ropes snapped and we hastily tried to help them up with what ropes we had. We managed to get them out of the chasm, but there went our exit. No choice but to head deeper into the woods.
The next creature we encounter was a little pig. Isolde found it cute. Cormac wanted bacon. Asha had already nocked an arrow, but Isolde tried to put a stop to it. I wasn't really hungry, I'll admit, I was just egging Asha on to get a rise out of Isolde. In the end, Isolde was more convincing and Asha refused to shoot.
Vick did, though, I assume to get us all to stop arguing. Turns out that was a bad decision.
The pig did not only survive a shot that should have skewered it, it started growing, and growing, and growing, until we were faced with a boar taller than a man. It started its rampage going after Vick. I got in its way and planted my halberd in the hopes it would impale itself, but it turned and merely got gashed. For my effort, I took a tusk to the breastplate that nearly made it cave. I only breathe now because the pig wanted Vick. None of the others were having more success, and it was wild dash through the woods until Vick disappeared from view, after which... The boar turned back into the little pig, all calm and joyful. These were some strange woods. Fey, Isolde mused.
She turned out to be correct, as the next creature we encountered was this absolutely gorgeous nymph. Stark naked and picking apples from its orchard. It offered us all an apple. Strange thing. I wasn't actually hungry when discussing shooting the pig, but I suddenly felt famished as she offered the apple. I didn't think an apple could hurt, but the others did. The rest of the adventure becomes a blur. I remember being dragged away from the nymph. I wanted to continue through the lighter woods, the light and music were so pleasant. We went into darker woods to avoid more fey, but there were... Undead? Animals, a blight on the land. We had to run. We encountered another fey when we escaped the dark woods. I think I sang to him? I'm sure he was pleased. Isolde played the music, even in the blur I remember she was stellar. So mesmerizing even snakes came out to listen.
Then a ruin. Some test we had to complete. Three tombs held three keys. One tomb said the inhabitant had fought for vainglory and died. The depictions inside were impressive, if all were true.
The skeleton on the throne was holding out a stone, daring us to take it. Meadow took its sword instead, and a dreadful specter of the warrior appeared and tried to punish us for the insolence.
The fear. That brought me out of my stupor, alright. To think that's what I remember best. The creature was impressive, yes, but it's not its physical shape that made me cower. Vainglory. It accused me of the very same. Whispers in my mind as I came close, whispers I alone could hear. I would end up like him. A forgotten corpse on a throne of bitterness, no peace in the afterlife but when enticing mortals to fight it. Fighting for my legend to be etched into stone, I would walk over the bones of thousands... foe... family... friends... And it would all be for naught. I couldn't fight. I stood nailed to the floor. The words felt too close for comfort, too true. I don't think I ever felt despair like that.
Vick snapped me out of it. Some spell. It chased the whispers out, the dread, and I flew at it with abandon. Not the elegant, precise dance I know with the halberd, that weapon was useless in this fight and I wanted something else. I wanted brutality. I grabbed my shield and shoved it in the creatures face, took up my warhammer and went to town. With combined effort, we brought it low. As the spell faded, the blur came back. It didn't take the memory of the dread, however. I wish it did.
More happened, but I can't quite remember. Damn Fey.
He sighs and puts the quill down, shaking his head. Looking up from the table, the merriment is still going. Music still plays, people still dance, people still drink. The disappointment fades quickly and he gets to his feet.
The waitress was no nymph, true, but certainly fine enough for a dance.
The morning mist is clearing despite clinging on until midday, revealing the blue sky on a crisp autumn day.
Several abandoned houses stand around a village green. Some half torn down, others entirely, with a rare few left in an oddly pristine condition, having escaped the carnage by pure luck.
The air is alive with the sounds of people hard at work. Hammers and saws, shovels and creaking wheelbarrows. A foreman shouting his orders. Men and women singing as they work, the song dictating the rhythm of their labour.
Some hands clear rubble, while others dig new foundations. Some hands place stones, while others carry them where they need to be.
A little ways from the heart of the village sits the young man cross-legged against a tree. Shoddily dressed in browns and tans, with his hide apron still on. His weapons lay within arm's reach, but his belt holds mallet, trowel and chisel instead. Hands and face barely washed from the morning's work, he has a small loaf of bread in one hand and a quill in the other, papers resting on his leg. He takes his bites in between writing, wiping the inevitable crumbs from the paper and smudging some of the lines.
Well, I'm in a position I thought I'd never find myself in. Digging ditches, driving poles into the ground and laying stones hasn't been uncommon, but I never thought I'd do it to build houses, let alone in service of a city.
It started a while ago, in the wake of the Jessica Whyte affair. I was hanging around with Isolde at the royal estate. Ravos, the guard captain, arrived shortly after. Thaddeus, the city's herald, showed up and complained about a trading company they'd been doing business with. He seemed a bit preoccupied, but I didn't think much of it.
He spoke of two abandoned villages between the city of Peltarch and the royal estate, and Ravos offered up that they be rebuilt, and the people helped on their way home as soon as possible. For the people, for the city's morale, its good name and its security, The Lady Varya Tiller would also lend a hand in those efforts.
I'm growing a soft spot for this place. The people. Its locales. When the first caravans started going out delivering goods, I resolved to speak to Ravos.
Ravos, at first glance, appears a strict man. No doubt from his years as a guard and an officer. He seems capable, patient and kindhearted despite his strictness. Stable, with strong convictions and a great sense of duty. Getting on in his, I wager, third decade. Well built, well kempt and handsome without being pretty. He is the epitome of an officer, the kind that was rare among the Band, and there isn't a doubt in my mind his men trust him blindly.
I offered my services as a mason and all round daytaler, and he seemed glad enough to have me, both for the extra hands and the extra security volunteered. The pay is laughable, but this isn't really about the pay.
So now I sit here, writing my tidbits as I take my meal, trying to not get these papers wet or dirty.
I'll be back to lifting and lugging shortly. There's still some distance between the common folk and myself. While they accept my help, I'll still be just another adventurer to them for a while.
I met Serenity again. I am starting to better understand her little mannerisms, even if her face remains as deadpan as ever. Reading her is a lot more like reading an animal. Her face will tell you nothing, but the tilt of her head, the position of her shoulders and hands. Those are the important tells. And her eyes, of course. They are so dark they almost seem black, but when the light hits them right, you see them light up with a green sheen. Those speak volumes, if you pay attention. And if you don't, or you are being especially daft, she will literally voice her mood. That's handy, too.
I could not let her gift go unanswered so I gave her a beautiful piece of jade. It reminded me of those eyes. To be honest, they are closer to the metallic green of some beetle wings. Doesn't make for a very good compliment, though, does it? Still, the jade is close.
I was planning on using it to adorn my halberd at some point in the future, but I felt this was more fitting.
She remarked she had been trying to listen to the stone, the way she listens to creatures and plants. I asked if that was possible. She did not know. So far it said nothing, but maybe stones were very slow.
I guess it would make sense if they were. They're pretty dense after all.
Right? Right? Laugh, you bastard.
She offered up some thing my stone might say, and I wondered out loud if she was really willing to wait a lifetime for a stone to say that. Her answer? If there was no other George to speak to during her lifetime, she would.
That was like taking a brick to the face. I felt cornered. How do you respond to that?
I couldn't, at the time. I'm glad there were others nearby so that we were occupied with a parallel conversation.
You must think me a coward. As I reflect on the words I write, I'm forced to agree. You must look at this from my perspective, however. Imagine you have gone through the last decade of your life with little to no ties. Your parents, certainly, and the contracts you sign on but nothing real beyond that. Your whole adult life, you have been free to do whatever came to mind, whenever it came to mind.
To go where you will, and the risk and consequences are all your own.
Then this strange being comes into your life, so rare a soul you can't define it, and says she would miss you terribly for a lifetime if there was no you. And the thing is, it is not hyperbole. With any other, I would've taken it as a figure of speech, dramatization. With her, it feels like an absolute. Call me a rake, but how do you carry that weight?
Hollow excuses. I will have to make amends. She asked if what she said made me uncomfortable. It did, but that is not on her, and it does not give me the right to be as curt as I was.
I thought this would be like last time I was here. A quick foray into ancestral lands, make some coin, maybe have my name sung, move on. There is always a new thing to see, however. A new place to go, a new threat to measure myself, a new hoard to nab a penny from.
I came here to see if the stories were true, and see if I could become part of them. The stories are true, and often stranger than I'd been led to believe. It is dawning on me, however, that becoming part of the stories means I will become part of the land. As I am in helping rebuild this village.
I'm not sure how I feel about that.
The bread finished and the writing done, he rolls up the piece of paper and puts it in a leather tube, to be added to his diary later. He gets to his feet and wipes the crumbs off his apron, then gathers his weapons and heads back to his build site. There's more to be done before the day's end.
The midday sun stands high in an autumn sky, burning brightly though giving increasingly less warmth despite its efforts. A wind rushes over and through the pass, a mild discomfort to the unprepared.
It blows bright, fallen leaves to and fro, making for a colourful spectacle to those walking the pass. It slams itself against a tower, like the sea against a breakwater, the tower blissfully unaware that the wind will win, a thousand years from now.
Atop the tower is a garden, and in the garden sits a man. Huddled in a cloak with only his journal and writing utensils nearby, his weaponry and armour presumably left inside. The wind gently plays with the pages of the journal in passing, but the man hardly notices. He's not writing yet.
Nor is he pining for his room. Moving around more often has been good for him. He will probably leave it altogether, though he should collect his lares so that he can pay his respects properly.
Instead he holds in his hand a small twig, verdant despite the season, and is looking at it intently, trying to gather his thoughts before committing them to paper.
I say it aloud as I sit here and write it. Such a silly thing. A single syllable, laden with meaning.
Have I written about Serenity before? I think she is the strangest one I have met in these lands to date. I thought that the first time I met her, and I think it still, though for wholly different reasons. When first I met her, she seemed awkward. Aloof. Incapable of socializing. Or possibly unwilling, judging by her deadpan face. A far throw from Peroido, whom I met the same day. A gnome with a club twice his own size and a penchant for recklessness. I haven't seen him in a while, I hope he's well.
A far throw from anyone I've met so far. Even Ravos is more personable once he lets his hair down.
That day, we set out to find more skins for her to wear. Don't read that as some mad necromancer's rantings. Serenity is some manner or druid, and she sheds her skin and dons another as easily as you and I change clothes. I will admit I know nothing of these things. Nan might have known some minor magic, as did my uncle, but none of it was tied to nature. I really only tagged along for want of something better to do, to be honest. I would soon feel justified in that choice.
High into the mountains we went, where the snow is so deep you'd better pad your codpiece, and the air is so crisp you'd think the wind could cut adamantine. But it was -such- a marvelous sight to behold. The view is nothing short of spectacular, and I implore you to go. Just cover up well.
The mountains were chosen because Serenity was fascinated at the time by animals with white fur. We were not disappointed. A white stag was one of the first. I'd only heard of those in stories and that was just the beginning. We'd seen polar bears and great white tigers before long. All these massive, dangerous wild animals that would've done for me in minutes, yet she kept them calm. Approachable, almost. Even our little ice queen seemed excited. When shifted to an animal, she seemed to be positively ecstatic. I doubt I will ever get a chance to be that close to one of these things again without fighting for my life. It was the first adventure since returning to these lands, and it is the reason I keep my cloak stark white.
It did not go completely without issues, sadly. As it happened, we went out looking for great, white animals, and we got more than we bargained for. A pair of Rocs set on us. Oh yes, Rocs. Like eagles, but the size of sloops, and strong enough to carry one off. White plumage, though. We tried to run, but did not make it far, even with invisibility. I was not nearly as capable then as I am now, and I was little help, so they told me to keep running. I'm not sure how we lost the birds, but Peroido paid the price, and so our adventure turned into a march back to bring our gnome friend to a priest. By then, another had joined our group, though I forgot to ask his name in the excitement. Capable, though. Probably the only reason we made it back without worse. It nearly went wrong even then, at one point I found myself halberd to trident with a fire salamander of all things. Massive, strong and ugly. Capable with its trident. Casting fire and trying to run me through. The kill was not mine. I fought for dear life, and it was all I could do to not get skewered. Being that hard pressed still drives me to train to this day.
Peroido's death was the first death of an ally I saw since returning to these lands, and it is the reason I lined my white cloak in blood red.
This was months ago. Since then, I have fought alongside Serenity several times more. Notably in the crypts of Norwick, with the Princess and a strange elf named Vex. His is an interesting story, too. I will write of him some other day. Another but a few days ago, against the undead beneath the city. That makes her the single person I've fought beside the most, the longest, and the hardest. We fight well together. Especially when she is a tiny dragon, or a massive bear. Which reminds me, I need to find this Lence person and ask if he can make a saddle to ride a bear. Imagine barreling down a hallway full of undead, sat on a rampaging bear, weapon swinging left and right. I think it amused her when I suggested it. Yes, amused. That little ice queen. I have been wrong to call her that
So what does this all have to do with the word friend?
I found her in Peltarch the other day, loading things off in the Bag of Holding. She had spoken of her many forms while we were fighting the undead, but I had plenty more questions. She must have been feeling talkative, since we talked about her shapeshifting, her ideas of the self, my ideas of the self and the ever changing nature of both well into the night and morning again. I will not repeat what was said, as I promised I would not tell a soul, and that includes you, whether you stole this book from my bed or found it in my no doubt impressive and lavish family crypt.
The conversation left an impression on me, however, and left me with questions regarding myself and my outlook on life. And then she gave me a twig. A little twig that she turned green and living when the rest of the land is slowly turning to the decay of autumn.
Not a twig. A gift. And she called me friend.
Friends... Friends are a luxury.
Don't think me a loner or a recluse, for all that. I have always fought in groups. It grows bonds, often endlessly strong. Allies, battle brothers, companions. They are people you drink with, sing with, laugh with, march with. Live with. Die with. But I will admit, that is all on the battlefield. I never shared much about home. Neither did they. It seemed an unspoken rule that that life no longer existed. We were all there, at that time, we were in it together, we'd get each other out, and that was enough. I never gave much thought to what's beyond that. Why I fought, beyond it coming easy to my family. What I wanted from it besides a warm meal, a warm bed, a chance at glory and to see Faerûn.
I spoke of making friends in earlier writings, but now I question the wisdom thereof. I had friends in childhood, but I left that behind when I started campaigning. The life doesn't lend itself to something so... Permanent. Too many don't return, and despite having been returned once, a next time it might be me.
Isn't it selfish to head into battle and leave friends behind worrying for your life?
I can't afford the distraction of worrying about the life of friends at home or, gods forbid, right next to me in a war.
A while longer, he sits on the ground, looking out over the surrounding pass and forests, wondering what would make a good gift. Just in case.
The day is slowly ending. The late summer sun is already touching the the horizon, casting the surroundings in an almost mystical light. Despite the warm light, the weather is cooling, the air smells fresh and carries the first hint of dying leaves.
The family still occupies his room, and he won't press them. They and their kids are treating his room with respect, and even replace the fruit at his little alter when it's no longer fresh, as promised. Lars and Joanna. Good people.
Instead, he comes here for his writing. The royal estate. The atmosphere is pleasant, it beats trying to write in the Mermaid, and it's still close enough to the city in case things start going wrong again. Some of the household look at him like a vagrant, but so far none have come to chase him off. So far.
The young man lies on his cloak in the grass, head propped up on his breastplate, his knees pulled up and his diary resting against them as he scribbles away.
Some levity, for a change.
Interesting things have been happening in the lull after the Whyte affair. I have no other way to describe it and had you been the one telling me, I would have called bull.
I was coming back to the city after trying to earn back some of the money I owe.
I chanced upon the Princess, Isolde, Sebrienne and a new face sitting outside the Mermaid.
Small talk was had. Banter. Generally poking fun at one another. Sebrienne assuring me the lightning that had struck me while assaulting the Seafarer headquarters was absolutely not hers. Not that the thought had ever crossed my mind.
Sebrienne. She's a stunning young woman, with boundless enthusiasm, and yes, a careless streak.
Careless? Carefree? I'm not certain, but I mind neither.
Some might describe her as flighty because of it, and could assume that it was a stray lightning bolt of hers that did me in.
I disagree. I believe she sells herself short. I have seen her in combat, and while she is wild and tempestuous, inspiring and awful all at once...
If her lightning hit me, it would not be an accident, and I haven't had the chance to offend her quite that much, yet.
She was especially happy she was no longer in trouble with the law.
Mako was the new face. And a strange one, at that. Do not mistake me, I mean her no offense. The thing is, I don't know how I mean it.
Her eyes are mesmerizing. To the point where even I find it hard to speak. Too deep, too ancient in a face that young.
And I swear if I looked closely at her skin, I could see scales.
I almost found myself stumbling over words as she offered to sell me a halberd. Quite a bit better than my old one, I must say.
Yes, yes, I know I said I would pay Asha back first and foremost, but a halberd like this is an investment.
In the long run, I'll survive my line of work better, which will make it easier to pay my dues.
No, I do not know how often I will be making that excuse in the future.
Anyway, she also offered tutelage, and I'm inclined to take her up on that. Isolde was kind enough to point out I was no greenhorn myself. While I appreciate that, I have plenty left to learn. Plus, if I am not mistaken, Mako is from the lands beyond the Golden Way.
I have chanced to see a handful of their warriors when I was campaigning in Thesk, and I'm curious to learn about their fighting styles.
So I sat there, enjoying the conversation and admiring the view around the table. Others were starting to show up. Tory. Raazi. Vindel. It felt welcoming. Normal. There are times where I miss the Band, but not there. Not then.
Of course, if nothing had happened, I would not be bothering you with this entry. You have been a loyal reader to get this far, and I won't betray that trust.
So I give you... A song. ((written to following tune))
And to the town of Peltarch there came a gnomish mage
A bard called out "oh yeah, she's strong, but not much of a sage"
While on her back a heaving, a far too massive crate
Another tried to share the load, but it was far too late
The crate it broke, and it blew smoke, the magic spread about
And now a gaggle of freaks is marching doooooooown...
from Peltarch town!
The magic took its hold of us and changed our very form
The first became a rakshasa, it was the mage of storm
The people were astonished, in panic ran about
We'd have to leave the city. Quick! before the guards came out!
An ogre, a little imp, a walking bunch of stone
Two goblins and a massive cat, a floating light that shone
The Rakshasa completed the pack, and then the little gnome.
She said we'd have have to follow her, she'd fix us at her home.
And from the town of Peltarch there came that little mage
Experiments that crazy should just land you in a cage.
They say that she was heaving a far too massive crate
Another tried to share the load, but it was far too late
The crate it broke, and it blew smoke, the magic spread about
And now a gaggle of freaks is marching doooooooown...
from Peltarch town!
A massive band of bandits was set for Peltarch town
They came upon our bunch of freaks as they were marching down
The leader he had seen enough, and quickly ran away
And without the city knowing, the monsters saved the day!
The magic was unstable, the bunch kept changing forms
The magic made a porcupine of the mage of storms
A ruby giant, a manticore, a walking, living flame
A fire was set among the trees, and all denied the blame!
And from the town of Peltarch came still the little mage
You'd think she was mummer, and all the Pass her stage
They say that she was heaving a far too massive crate
Another tried to share the load, but it was far too late
The crate it broke, and it blew smoke, the magic spread about
And now a gaggle of freaks is marching doooooooown...
from Peltarch town!
The brave men of the Legion, they started giving chase
The goblins wanted to be free, it turned to quite a race
The Legionnaires got left behind, the goblins they got clear
The gnome said we must find them, they're hiding somewhere near
The magic kept on shifting and dragons joined the bunch
They hunted both the goblins down, they'd nearly been their lunch
They gathered up their monster friends and then took to the skies!
And flew the whole bunch farther south, where old Spellweaver lies!
And from the town of Peltarch flew down that bloody mage
Oblivious to the hand she had in causing quite the rage
They say that she was heaving a far too massive crate
Another tried to share the load, but it was far too late
The crate it broke, and it blew smoke, the magic spread about
And now a gaggle of freaks is marching doooooooown...
from Peltarch town!
From Peltarch town! (ad infinitum)
Banter aside, it was quite the night. I know what it is to fly, now.
To soar among clouds, carrying the weight of four on my back as my wings push me on as easily as my feet carry me walking.
Not quite a legend, yet, but I will cherish that for a lifetime.
I was almost sad when we reached Spellweaver, knowing it had to end.
It seems I have written quite a bit. Well. I promised levity. Not brevity.
Nodding to himself as he finishes the diary, he copies the song to a separate piece of paper. As the light fades, he gets to his feet and gathers his things, leaving the song among the papers in the central table, unsigned.
Time to figure out where he was sleeping tonight. He wasn't about to push his luck in hanging around the estate -that- far.
Night has fallen over the city of Peltarch. As the rain comes down outside, falling on rubble and still smoldering embers, a warm and inviting light streams from one of the dock district windows that escaped the carnage.
The room is uncharacteristically busy. A gaggle of children lay on the bed. Two are awake, whispering. Their mother, or a woman he found guarding them, lies on the bed with them. Asleep, exhausted after the ordeal of the past few days.
The father, he assumes, is pacing, occasionally stopping to stare out of the window. The eyes haunted by things seen. Or perhaps, by the days ahead and the task of rebuilding hearth and home.
By custom, the small lares are displayed on the pedestal. Two new figurines have joined the others at the end of the pattern. One is a small knight, holding up his right, gauntleted hand, palm facing forward. The other an ivory disk with the face of a woman engraved on it. Before them, a cone of incense, nearly burned through, and a fresh offering of fruit.
The children hadn't even tried to nab it.
The young man is slouching back in his chair, still dressed because of the company, looking at the troubled family as he gathers his thoughts. Hours passed like this, before he finally straightens himself up and sets to writing.
Almost dead yesterday. Possibly dead tomorrow. Gloriously alive today.
These were words we lived by. All of us. It is the harsh truth of a sellsword's life. It is why we live the way we do. Why we embrace everything life throws at us to the fullest. Why so many of us know so little shame or humility. It can all be over in the blink of an eye, especially in our profession.
And for a brief moment, it was. I was dead yesterday, my dear reader. Quite obviously, today I am not. Otherwise the goodly priests would already be banging on my door to put the evil to rest, believe you me.
To begin at the beginning, since I am getting ahead of myself yet again. I found myself hiking in the Nars Pass. It was a pleasant day, the sun was out, the wind was mild. I'd just gotten a new suit tailored to embrace the coming autumn. The people at the Vanity Plates know their craft. The colours are spot on, and the fit so snug I could hike all the way to Damara and feel like I'm wearing nothing at all.
Suddenly, that all changed. The very air seemed to tear up with a massive explosion, louder than any I'd ever heard, from the direction of the city. Needless to say, I turned about and headed north immediately.
Every step closer brought new explosions, and I found myself hoping I would not come up, alone, on the back end of an invading force. Perhaps it was imprudent of me to keep going, and a voice inside me kept telling me I owed this city nothing, but something pushed me onward
By the time I reached the city, I could clearly make out the sound of battle, yet the gates and walls seemed unaffected. Heading into the city, it was chaos. More buildings burning, more people screaming, small skirmishes happening, muggers and thieves abusing the opportunity. It's a chaos you become familiar with over the years, and I allowed it to lead me to the docks, where the thick of the fighting was happening . At first I could not make heads nor tails of who was fighting whom, or why. What a clever sellsword normally does is stay out of such things until someone pays him, and I advise you to do the same, my friend.
As I watched the fighting, however, I started to make out the factions in that fight. Seafarers and assorted ruffians on one end. On the other, I saw Reemul. I saw Isolde. I saw Tory. I saw Asha. I saw Erilo.
Now, I do not have a lot of compunctions. I do not generally feel obligated to act one way or the other, and I will not preach to you about doing "the right thing" often.
These people. I own, I barely know them, but they are people I have spilled blood with in the past, who I have trusted to guard my back, and who have shown me the same trust. These are battle brothers, and you stand with your battle brothers.
I will be brief on the actual assault. Of the cannons fired into the city. Of the ballistae and the summoned storm to end their ships. Of the alleyway fighting. It was not a thing of beauty, though possibly bravery. We stormed the headquarters, and I was among the first in, as is my place. They tell me I stepped on a trap. Lighting struck me dead in the chest, and that was it. That was the end of George the Longcloak. One of a thousand ends, known and unknown, of a man in the Black Band
Or it would have been. Do not get me wrong, I am no uneducated berk. I know miracles can happen at the hands of priests. I also know such miracles have a cost. You may recall in earlier writings that I was amazed at magical healing being shared freely, that the expense meant a lot of my old company went with scars, old wounds that acted up, amputations. Never had any of us been raised from the dead. Not once. Not even the officers. We were each of us expendable. Even my cousin.
Yet here I am.
I'm not sure who my benefactor was. The magistrate Shannon raised me by Torm's might. Asha footed the bill. But who of them decided I was worth not simply burying me with the other dozens that died that day? Was it one? Was it all of them? Despite not knowing much in the way of shame, I dare not ask straight out.
And now I walk the face of Toril again. For a price that could have hired the company for a month. It feels ridiculous. Wrong, somehow. Do others that have been there feel this?
The fight was all but over when I returned. We had to stop some clerks from burning ledgers and turn them out to the guard, but it was really just the aftermath. They tried to apprehend Jessica Whyte of the Seafarers, the city's main player in the game that saw the royal line fled and devils accosting the city, but she poisoned herself. I took a copy of the book that, hopefully, sheds some light on this thing I've only seen the last days of. Well, last days. She might have been the main player in the city, but instinct tells me she was not alone.
Regardless. I am alive now, and I owe what I owe. I will repay Asha as soon as I am able, no matter how pleasant, patient and understanding she is. Just a damn shame I'll probably have to sell my little hoard of gems. I was thinking of having my armour studded with them.
He puts the quill down, then throws some salt over the ink to have it dry quicker. Nodding to himself, he gets to his feet, gathering up his things, a copy of the Iconoclast and his halberd. As he turns to the door, he looks at the stranger pacing in his room. He puts a hand on the man's shoulder and squeezes, offering an encouraging smile. A few weeks in the inn, or out in a field while this family tries to recover won't hurt him. He sings softly to himself as he heads down the stairs and into the street.
Haul away... And be glad that you can see another day...
With another storm, it might have blown away...
Haul away, boys, haul away...