George Longcloak - In search of a legend
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...
The familiar scene has changed somewhat. A different room, a different apartment.
A few luxuries more, furniture of better craftsmanship. A slightly larger window. The sword in the corner replaced by a halberd on a stand. The young man slightly less young.
Yet, some things remain the same. The young man sits at the table in his underclothes, gathering his thoughts over his journal in the warm light of wax candles. The same old lares set on the same old pedestal, with incense and fresh fruit at their feet. A bright white cloak with blood red lining hanging from a peg. Ridiculously bright clothing on put away in a wardrobe, one could almost mistake him for humble.
He looks over the journal, which consists of more than one book now, running quickly over the earlier sections detailing the start of his journey in Chondath, the many wars he'd joined his company in around the Sea of Fallen Stars, past his first visit to Narfell after ending a campaign in Thesk, his return to the company at the insistence of his cousin to fight a campaign in Impiltur, and the decision to return after that ill fated campaign, to end at the blank page before him. At long last, he decides to write.
I have returned. To be fair, my dear reader, I made Narfell again a while ago, but times have been hectic. Yes, this land seems to have changed much since my last visit, and I do not know where to begin. You will forgive me if the following entry jumps to and fro
Perhaps I should start with what has remained. Some faces. Isolde. Of all the people I met on my first stay in this land, only she remains as I remember. I will admit I am glad for it. Still friendly, still bright and mischievous, still convinced I will meet a dragon and have her fall in love with me. This time she added the caveat that only her personality might be that of a dragon, however. Cheer. Raryldor, too, seems to frequent this land still. Though we got off on the right foot years ago, I'm at a loss now. His cat dislikes me. Apparently the creature up and decided I am no good, and its master is now upset with me for frightening it. I swear I was not trying anything of the sort. Still, I was never any good with cats.
And that is it. Of what I knew, just about everything else has changed. Peltarch's royal line has all but disappeared, and the city is slowly turning into a merchant republic. If the city survives at all. The people of the city seem happy enough with the change in leadership after, as rumours tell me, teetering on the edge of a civil war following a period of complete indecisiveness that saw the rulers lose their grip. This culminated in an attack on the city that left such scars I am still surprised people live there at all. An attack by creatures from the Nine Hells, no less, along with countless unsavory mercenaries and bandits, where the heir to the throne disappeared. Someone must have gone through great lengths to hurl that amount of strength at the city. Many buildings and walls were torn brick from brick, and I will not describe what it did to some people.
They feel like desperate times, even with the brave face of the commoners. Such times bring opportunities, of course, but always for both sides of the conflict. While the guilds are rallying their strength in an effort of showing they can lead this city and bring it back to prosperity, the vultures are already circling.
The other day I was standing with a group of adventurers to keep lizardmen and kobolds from invading through a gap in the wall large enough to run four wagons abreast. The lizardmen were strong and out in force, but it felt like they were simply probing. Feeling if the city was weak enough for the coup de grace. Fighting at my side were a young Tormtar named Kalen and a large fellow named Erilo, and I was glad for their company in that fight. I will write more on them when I know them better.
The other end of the gap was held by more adventurers, but the only ones I know by name were Eve and Tory. Of them, too, I will write when I know more.
The Black Band could stand to make a lot of coin, if they decide to show up.
Yet, outright violence from reptilians is just the tip of the iceberg. Since arriving, I've been down a mad dungeon beneath the city ruled by an elder brain that played games of chance with the lives of commoners. I've searched for missing sailors only to learn they were dead for the purpose of some ritual. To learn such things about a city that seemed so beautiful at first glance rankles me. I must be growing soft.
Meanwhile, the gravity of political influence seems to slowly be shifting towards a place called High Hold. If the city of Peltarch does not get itself together soon, I expect the city's decline to lead to High Hold becoming the power in the region. This matters little to me, in the end, but it is an interesting development, and serves to show how such a fair city can fall. I wonder how Nan would feel.
I returned to Jiyyd. I found no undead. No more gnats. No more carrion crawlers. No more scavengers. The atmosphere has changed. The land is seemingly letting go. That is one change I was truly happy to see.
The young man sits at his table again. The room is becoming more homely; a proper chandelier for extra light, relieving some of the perpetual gloom caused by the shadows of building upon building on this side of the city.
Curtains to keep out the chill from the window as the winter months approach. The lares have been given a pedestal seperate from his table, where the incense is still burning and a small offering of fresh fruit is made.
The corners are clear of dust and cobwebs. His clothes hang from a proper rack, rather than a hook. His blanket has been joined by a pillow.
He is writing calmly, deliberately, no real questions occupying his thoughts.
They think me a bard. Well. I'm not sure they all do. To begin at the beginning. Since my ordeal in Jiyyd's plains, I have been travelling around to look for trouble. I will not attain lofty goals wasting away in a city.
I had gone many places and dealt with several creatures, though none were a real challenge but in numbers. Then, as I walked through the city's docks, I chanced upon a sewer entrance. I recalled Shesarai say she had patrolled the sewers in search of coffins.
Have I mentioned Shesarai? Another lovely young red haired women. It's as though Sune and Tymora conspired to put so many redheads on my path. I haven't learned much of her yet, but I gather she is herself a bard, though I may be as wrong as she was.
Either way, on the one hand I felt the need to find out what these coffins were about, and on the other I believed I might do her a favour as she seemed resentful of the task. And so, I went sewer diving.
I tell you now, my unknown companions through these pages, I regret it. I fully understand her resentment. I spent the better part of the day wading in cold mountain streams to get the smell out. I have swam castle moats during sieges, and I will never forget the charming scent of an army's makeshift latrine, but it all fades to naught in light of the sewage system of a city of thousands.
It is hard to describe, and you should not wish to try, but suffice to say I feel for the guards posted so near, and the cultists below must indeed be insane to host their rituals in so foul an air. One would think whatever god they worship would smite them, for each ritual that reaches their domain must bring with it the waft of all Peltarch's debauchery's morning after.
Come to think of it, that might be the reason for its constant peril.
Either way, the cultists in the sewers. I did not find coffins, but I found them. Rather, they found me, as they were charging me headlong by the time I noticed them. As you read this, you can assume I survived, and they did not. It pains to admit it was the hardest battle I've fought so far, even if the opponents were just three. A normal man, and then some manner of priest with its summoned creature. The man fell easily. The summoned creature disappeared into thin air again before it managed to hurt me. The priest? That bastard managed a spell, and I felt feverish. Then he took my hilt to the face. He managed a second spell, and I felt a golden light burn away at me. For that, I gave him a gash across his leg. A third spell, and he sent wracking pain through me. I knew he would get the better of me if he kept it up, but I also knew he would if I ran. Despite the pain, I managed to cut his arm, and his next spell fizzled. I saw his eyes widen and he almost tried to flee, but there was nowhere to run. Three more spells he tried, three times more I stopped him. The last was fatal. Sadly, I destroyed his armour along with it.
I walked away then, with my life and a brewing fever. Luckily it never took real hold, and I lived to tell the tale to Shesarai and Gnarl.
Gnarl. Gnarl appears a kindly dwarf, even if his speech is short and to the point. He's also offered to buy any coal off me that I manage to find, and then encourages me to spend my hard earned coin at the Edge. His store. He's also a redhead, for what that's worth.
Gnarl mentioned he had a good scroll that would protect me from the spell with the red light, and I said I couldn't use it. Shesarai who'd joined the conversation by then was honestly surprised. 'But you're a bard, aren't you?'. A bard. I own, I hadn't given them much evidence to the contrary. My clothes imply the lust for life and all its vices which bards are known for. My speech, I'll admit, is verbose and lyrical, but as these people themselves are so eloquent, they bring it out in me. The manner of speech I used among rough soldiers has gone like snow before the coming of spring. And all they have seen of me is talk. Talk of past deeds, talk of future aspirations, and the spinning of a tale. Could I be a bard, though? I would never say I am so skilled.
They took me to the Kuo Toa in the caverns near Oscura that day, and I should hope my actions have proven me to be more than just talk. I'd like to think they did, as Isolde now teasingly calls me brute, gifting me a fine club, which I will cherish. A small part of the loot has paid for some much needed niceties in my room, the rest I shall keep to finance future endeavours. Gnarl, again, advised me that any loot I kept could be easily and freely spent in his store, and indeed, a crossbow bolt effortlessly ripped my chainmail as a reminder that I need something better.
He then puts the quill down and throws some salt over the ink to help it set. Bending over from his seat, he reaches beside the table and opens a small, velvet lined case. He takes out an old, worn mandolin and sits himself upright, back straight against the chair, crossing his left foot over his right knee.
His fingertips slowly slide over the strings, pressing them down and taking in the feeling. As the winds in the city pick up and drive the rain relentlessly on, a first few unpracticed and uncertain notes can be heard from an unremarkable window in an alley in the docks.
Once again, the young man is found at his table, quill in hand, though he is not focused on his paper. He is gazing pensively at his arm, where the tiniest red mark denotes an infected insect bite, already healed and fading. His eyes then travel down, and his hand runs along smooth skin, a vague frown on his face. He gives a light shake of his head before turning back to his writing.
I returned to Jiyyd, today. Or rather, the area around it. Instinct tells me I should not head into the village alone. Part of it is morbid fascination, I suppose. To see how a land could be blasted the way it was. Another part is my belief that I should steel myself against sights like these. It unnerved me to the bone, to see such destruction and decay, but something tells me I will see worse if I aim to stay. Worse, and more personal. Then there's also the idea there is yet more to learn of the area, that it might yet be important to me. And last, there is the fact that there seems some coin to be made, at least.
No, dear reader, the irony of scavenging among scavengers that I called desperate just a few days ago does not escape me. It is actually quite bitter on my tongue. Hunger, however, would be all the more bitter, and there does not seem to be much paid mercenary work available. I might even have to resign myself to enlisting with the city's standing army, if this keeps up. Imagine that. My mother would throw even more of a fit.
I tried to press on farther, last time I got a glimpse of an old fortress before I turned back, and I wanted to see what secrets it held. Alas, it did not go as planned. Before following the road even halfway there, I bumped into one of the carrion crawlers. I thought to make short work of it, but they are hardy beasts. As I slew one, another showed up. And another. And another. I was backed into a corner as I defended myself, but I thought I would win the day. Until, of course, one of those damn corpse gnats stung me. That sting felt worse than any bite of the crawlers could give, and I damn near dropped my sword, fingers cramping and arm shaking, like a page the first day he holds a sword. I know not what filth it carried, but it got me good. Still I fought on, I had no choice. Eventually, I managed to slay the beasts, but just as I kicked the last corpse aside and finally started swatting the damn flies, four of the scavengers saw an opportunity. I'll not lie, my heart sank. I raised my blade to greet them and started the montante's dance to clear a wide street, in order to create a space to flee through. Just then, I felt another sting. And I caved.
I could feel my stomach heave, forcing the rest of me to bend over and hurl my breakfast to the floor. The first scavenger saw his shot and leapt at me. I could barely move. Barely drag my armoured self around. Still, I managed to force myself upright and swing my sword at him. Like a butcher. Like a barbarian. Like some dim witted oaf of a knight who swings his sword the same way he swings a cudgel. The dance was lost in me. Yet I struck home. He died instantly, giving his compatriots pause, but I must have seemed easy prey still. I do not know how I survived. Yet, some minutes later, four men lay dead, and I not among them. I bled, though. I had a hard enough time dragging myself out there, but I still stripped them of everything they had. Perhaps I was delirious, but not a chance in the Nine that I wasn't making coin off of this.
After bandaging myself up, I dropped my spoils by the girl with the wagon. A fair enough price, and the road back to the city would be too long dragging all that. I looked like shit and felt like death, but money made, right? Still, I balked at the idea of coughing up the coin it would take to set all this right.
But I didn't have to. I stepped into the Commons of the city, and the first thing I knew, Isolde sprang up to come to me, she hummed a song and touched me, and gone were the wounds. At her asking, I mentioned I wasn't quite right yet, so she picked up an instrument and continued her healing song. And gone was whatever filth ailed me.
The price? The smallest joke at me expense. She did it for free. Not even a hint at wanting coin or favour.
Healing magic was something I always thought of as precious, to be shared with the officers, and even then for a price, but here was this young woman who stepped up, bright and chipper, to help a man she barely knew, just for showing up.
Isolde. I haven't written about her yet, have I? A beautiful young woman who I've come to understand is a bard of some prowess and note at the city's College, always a smile on her face, a ready wit and an eye for mischief that puts even mine to shame.
She asked me for the first chapters in the story of George and the Dragon, joking how I would come to meet a gold dragon who falls madly in love with me, fiercely jealous of any human competitors. I could live with that legend, I think.
For her kindness, I told her of my youth. Of running away to join a mercenary band, as my mother tried everything in her power to shield me from the military life, of the band I joined together with my cousin, and a short view into the adventures had, and my choice to come north, to Narfell, chasing the stories my grandmother told. She seemed genuinly pleased, and even the others around the Commons listened and asked or interjected.
It was strange. In the Black Band, you were barely spoken to when you arrived. You were arrow fodder. Meat for the grinder. The first sent in, and the first to die. At best, they learned your name so they could order you about in between fights.
Surive a campaign or two, kill more than a handful of men in a single battle, earn some good loot off corpses or ransoming wealthy opponents, make enough money to wear their fashion. Then they'd speak to you. Then they'd call on you. Then they'd count on you.
And it made sense. New kids died. If not in battle, then from wounds. There was always more fodder, any that climbed the ranks were a bonus.
Not so, here. They want to know you. Your past. Your experiences. Your wants, needs and desires. They want to know what drives you.
Perhaps I am focussing on the wrong type of wealth. Perhaps it is allies and friends I should be seeking.
The same familiar scene. The young man behind his table, the burning incense before the lares, his freshly oiled and polished sword in the corner, his cloak and hat over the hook. There's a snazzy new leather jacket to add to it now, though.
And a blanket.
He sits there, quietly writing away, far more determined this night.
If it is indeed luck, I begin to suspect it's of the sort the Smiling Lady has a hand in.
I started my day as I said. Running through my drills again and again. I must not have been a fearful sight, though, as even something as low as a bunch of feral cats felt like I was prey. They were wrong, of course. I have to admit it was something else, however, fighting cats. And I do believe I learned at least some little things. I pray I need not apply it to these man eating tigers I heard about any time soon.
The damnable weather and cold eventually gained the upper hand, though. This land can be so dreary and desolate. Being cold and wet doesn't exactly help. So, south I went, in search of new sights and people. I eventually made Norwick, and saw a new face.
A pale elf, clad all in silver armour, the symbol of one of their gods on his belt, an ornate sword in an ornate scabbard. He held himself with grace and dignity, and showed the signs of age, so rare in his kind, that I'm unsure how ancient he must be. I greeted him as master elf, and he challenged me on that perception in a mild mannered way, asking how I figured he was a master of anything. He had a strange sense of humour, and it was at my expense, though there was no malice there as far as I could tell. Still, eventually he seemed satisfied or even amused at my explanation, and we introduced one another. It was Raryldor, the famed elf I was told to seek out by Kaitlyn, just the day before. The only friendly face I'd seen all day, and it was a living legend. No, I no longer think it was just happenstance that I chance upon these people.
For good or ill, I turned this way at the earliest opportunity, and fortuitous meetings have been thrown at my feet since I arrived. I think I shall see what else this fate has in store for me, and rent this room a while longer.
On old glories, however, he wasn't too talkative. A part of me understands. A life as long and filled with conflict as his must eat at him more than I can imagine. He felt it better not to speak unless I had a specific question, which I admittedly did not have yet, and instead look forward in life. He did explain the lay of the land to me, where what creatures dwelled, and which would or would not likely get me killed. I thanked him and moved on. The lessons taken from past conflicts will have to wait.
Instead, I set out to find my own conflict. I have scoured the restless dead, exorcised possessed swine, cleaved through goblins, but I learned little. I decided to ferry across the crater, to see this Jiyyd with my own eyes, Now, I have seen the wholesale slaughter of a pitched battle, the merciless culling in ambushes and the brutal reality and cruelty of siege warfare. I have yet to see something quite as oppressive as Jiyyd, however.
It is dark, day and night. The ruins lay as they lay when whatever cataclysm happened, happened. The restless dead roam, along with carrion crawlers and all manner of pests, and bodies as broken as the weapons they wielded lay strewn about. When I see the old battlements of Norwick and destroyed towers in the Nars Pass, I see the beauty of nature, even if it is desolate and unforgiving, I see heroism and bravery, even if it failed.
No such thing around Jiyyd. The area reeks of despair and fear, so thick that you could feel it creeping into your soul if you stayed long enough. The destroyed natural beauty, the crumbling defensive structures, the roaming scavengers, the rumours of demons. The entire area weeps one sentence. "Here, the heroes failed." Perhaps that is why the overlooking hill is called 'Heroes Bluff'.
That is unfair of me. I know not the odds, nor the enemy they faced. Given the result and the might of some of these fine people, I think I will hold my tongue, lest my hubris is the end of me.
I was beset by a group of these scavengers when I could stomach no more and returned. What desperation drove them to assault me, I do not know, but they did not have much time to regret it.
I took the leather jacket one of them wore. There was a lesson learned in Jiyyd, on the price of failure, and I aim to keep it with me.
It looked ghastly, though.
As a sidenote, if I died a pauper, it is because of the accursed Vanity Plates.
The young man sits at his table once more. The incense he lit has smoldered to dark ashes, still giving off scent and a faint trail smoke. Even his candle burned a quarter of the way, dripping its wax on his table. In the right hand, he has his quill, tapping it gently against the wood, the ink long wasted on random spots of table. In the left, he holds one of his small figures. A fully armoured knight, sword and shield up in a defensive position. He twists it around and lets it catch the light this way and that. Given the right angle, one could see a worn engravement on the knight's breastplate, depicting a knight's chess piece.
There's no real saying how long he sat there, staring at the piece, but eventually he sets it down at the top of the pattern, next to three others, dipping his quill in fresh ink, and finally sets to writing.
I tried to collect my thoughts before writing. For my own sake, as well as posterity's. No such luck.
Luck. That might be a good word to start on. Luck. Good Fortune. Serendipity? Providence? Fate? Possibly irony.
I've spent a good few nights in the commons of Peltarch now. Seen many faces and listened to many people. I've kept myself to the background for now, however, difficult as that may be.
Everyone here seems genuinly friendly. Genuinly kind. Genuinly interested. Genuinly helpful. It is as if everyone that knows anyone is on the same team as everyone else. I suppose it's natural for a country this dangerous and plagued by war. You very quickly come to know those you can rely on in a fight, and bonds created on a battlefield rarely break.
And oh yes, it is plagued by war and dangerous, having heard and read more tales. What was I saying about luck? Ah yes. I've made my first acquaintance today. Her name is Kaitlyn, a pretty girl not much younger than myself. Don't get the wrong idea, while I own she is a looker, she's… Shy. Timid. Kind, sweet and gentle, no doubt, and probably responsible and dependable, but there seemed to be no real fire, there.
Either way, here I am, in this strange land, rumoured in the outside world to be dangerous beyond belief, trying to dig up knowledge and relics of its countless wars, and the great deeds they inspired, ready to throw myself onto the anvil and join the fabled names this place has spawned, and there she sat.
By a stray strand of fate, she was on my path.
A historian and lorekeeper. A swordsman, her manners and speech leaving no doubt that she was under the tutelage of some of the best this city has to offer. A faithful of the Red Knight Herself. Born from a soldier who she claims ascended to a celestial being in the Grandmaster's service. This, I cannot call coincidence.
We spoke of wars past, of Eastland marauders, red dragons and more. The libraries contain countless tomes, she says, but there are those who lived the wars, still here.
Aelthas, Raryldor, Thaeon. Names I should remember. People I should speak to if I want to know.
Excited as I am, I have neglected other duties. I have gone around the city to see the sights, as though it were my first campaign in a foreign land. More interested in stacked stones and pretty girls than training. And while I'm happy to have found the Ferret and have stared in awe at the temple of the Triad, I will do these kind people no good if my swordarm tires the next time some ungodly creature comes to tear down these walls.
He looks up from his writing, to where a strangely elegant two handed sword stood in the corner, then nods to himself.
At first light, I will take my montante to this land's cold hills, and I will drill, drill, and drill again, until I am warm enough to wade into the Icelace.