Children of the Night

Serpent Milk

Serpent’s Milk – Abadius, 4708

A heavy cold rain fell in Abadius when Vali came into the Serpent’s Milk.  Just holding the thing in his backpack made him nervous.  The memory of the otherworldly entity that had slithered against his mind was still fresh.  He’d been handling “the cup that was not a cup” with all the care he could, using gloves as he compared it to drawings he found in old tomes at the Quarterfaux Archives. The object in question was a smooth ceramic cylinder, but on tapping it, he discovered it rang metallic and he began to notice inscriptions illuminated by its metallic shine.  All of it appeared to have been crafted by a master craftsman, Vali realized, as those layers he only now noticed revealed nested layers of carvings, each one deeper, each one revealing a little more of the pattern.  He’d purchased a vial of Hobgoblin Spit to study the object more clearly, and at Quarterfaux he sprayed the mucus into his eyes. Unfortunately his arm bumped the book beside the cup and it tipped toward the edge of the table.  Instinctively, he reached out to grab it, holding it barehanded for just an instant.  For just a moment he’d let his guard down, and that was all it took.  He touched it with the tip of a finger, tracing its curves like the body of a lover, sliding along its surface, admiring its construction.  And then it slid back against his mind.  That was enough for Vali to come to his senses.  He did, however gain some insight from that moment, since he’d been using the Hobgoblin Sight at the moment. 

The object flared in magic, and appeared to establish some sort of connection with its holder or to feed on him, just as the object in the Gernikov Estate did.    After that he wrapped the cylinder out of sight, but it always waited for him to hold it again.  Waiting inside his bag.  Knowing he had no place to rid it.  He could give it to Aetherton…but that was out of the question, after what he’d shown of his motives.  No, Vali had to discover enough about what he dealt with so he could adequately rid himself of it and put it someplace safe.   He cancelled all of his appointments, closed his shop, made himself unavailable for everything.  Persephone seemed not to notice.  She’d been coming home late, or early rather, with bruises, crashing on her cot.  Vali realized she’d found her undead prey at last.  Vali could only hope that she remained one step ahead of them.

During the day he researched doggedly, skimming tome after tome, strange Thassilonian tomes, arcane tomes, Versex history tomes, art and sculpture tomes – looking for any reference to the “cup that is not a cup.” The first night he slipped a hollow coin over to Taighis, the elven bartender at the Serpent’s Milk with an unaddressed letter inside, a letter he knew would make its way to Diaudin.  He didn’t receive any word back for three days.  In the meantime he took a blue lantern to the warehouse on the western side of the Rows.  There he met with Percy Loghain and showed him sketches of the object -never the actual object; it always remained inside his pack, never seeing the light of day.  Percy promised to look into information about such an object, but he came up dry.  No one seemed to know of the object. 

On the third day Vali discovered references to objects such as these called the Crucibles of Awakening found in occasional ruins within the county. Their appearance was incidental to their true purpose, and one author mused that they might be an existential pun on their true purpose, which is to establish direct contact with beings of another realm, and in so doing intermix a mortal soul with their “magnificence,” creating a new entity, one which occupies both worlds at once. The author continued to elaborate by saying that the Kellids seem to have gone through considerable effort to hide or protect these items, though for what purpose is unclear. It seemed that "holy" sites to Umsizi seem to have been a favorite location for the storage of these things. 

Following that line of research Vali decided to research the second item he’d secured from Bicaz – the sacrificial dagger.  He had started by researching tomes on demonic forces but now he returned to those tomes with a clear focus.  He found similar designs were identified in the Kellid ruins around Versex. It seemed that one entity associated with the dagger, a devil to be precise, was perhaps worshipped, at least respected, by the Kellids in some significant sense, and scholars suspected that this tie never quite died off among locals. Strangely, the Kellid attitute towards the entity seems to have regarded it as a protector of some nature. In any case, the name Umsizi has been consistently used by the Kellids to refer to it (the word roughly translates to benefactor), although the scholars felt relatively certain that this was not the being’s true name, but instead something used in common parlance either because they did not know it's true name, or were unwilling to say it.  Vali took up his things for the night somberly.  His instincts had not betrayed him: the cup could could not be returned to Otepeni, nor entrusted to Aetherton, who would no doubt distrust Vali as a mere commoner who could not be seen to stand in the way of a noble’s word.  He’d made that clear with every single action while in Versex. The dagger had to be safely disposed of as well. It, too, could not be returned to Bicaz. As he was leaving, the librarian passed Vali some change for the tomes he’d paid to see – a hollow coin.  Diaudin was ready for a meeting – this one at a small office in Eskcourt. The note said to bring anything Vali thought might be worth discussing.  Vali understood perfectly.  He could almost sigh in relief.

Now at the Serpent’s Milk, Diaudin listened to the whole story of the events in Versex. A warm tea sat untouched and cooling in front of him. The lantern light lit his face, and his eyes reflected black against it.  “Why didn’t you just tell Aetherton about your suspicions about the Crucible of Awakening when you discovered it?”

Vali sighed, clearly troubled.  Diaudin noted this weakness in his pupil.  Was he a pupil?  When did he become a pupil?  “He did see me take it off the oni’s body.  But if I’m going to be honest, I think he lost track of the object.  And I took the opportunity to leave the very next morning with Saint Josephine.  I…” Vali looked down at the table, at his hands. “I didn’t trust him any longer.”

Diaudin took his first sip and asked quietly, “Did you suspect him of diabolic worship?”

Vali glanced up, suddenly worried.  “No, not at all.” He searched for the right words.  “The way he single-mindedly pursued Saint Josephine, even before there was any evidence of her wrong-doing.  The way he abandoned the search for Saint Josephine to sleep in his comfortable bed at the inn – even after we’d spent the day retrieving all the information we could at Resita.  His repeated reminders that whether she was an oni or not, responsible for the deaths or not, she was fomenting insurrection.  It silenced all of us.  Eventually no one spoke.  Everyone just gave up when he took her in, despite the fact that he attacked her unprovoked.  Whether it was because we feared being put to death, or if it was because of a trained docility, or just sheer surprise…no one spoke.  And I knew that Aetherton had promised the cursed object to Otepeni.  Everything pointed to the fact that he would simply honor his word above my warnings.  And if there was even a chance that I was right – that he’d ignore everyone to honor his word – then I could not risk it.”

Diaudin considered all of this, as if he was putting it all into a jigsaw puzzle in his mind – but what the puzzle pictured Vali could only guess.  Was it a picture of Aetherton?  Of the Lowls and Versex?  Of Vali? Or simply the events?  “You’ve become considerably more cautious Vali.  I think it’s time you and I started the hard work.  The crown has need of someone like you – someone willing to disobey, but only when defending against the dark arts.” Then he smiled that ever so slight smile of his.  “For now, you might be interested in a man named Everard Maltaigne.  He’s a noble in good standing with the crown, who has an extensive private collection of strange objects, and would likely be interested in the dagger you have remaining.  It has no power on its own, but you’re right to also secure a safe keeping for that object.  We wouldn’t want it to fall into hands that might have other uses for it.”

Before he left, Diaudin assured Vali that he would obtain him compensation for the object – not as much as he would on the black market, but neither of them had any interest in pursuing that option.  Vali made a mental note to himself to share the funds equally among his friends.  He also knew that doing so would start a conversation, and hopefully re-orient the group toward stronger bonds of trust.  They would need it, Vali could see.  There would be many things to test that trust in the future.

Vali met Everard in a quiet salon in West Cushing named the Hook and Alder. Everard turned out to be an older gentleman with somewhat wild grey hair and outfitted in well-made but outdated and slightly worn style. He greeted Vali with a wide grin and immediately handed him a rather large shot of Irrisian Vodka, inviting Vali to down it "to new friendships!" Vali enthusiastically smiled back and toasted in kind – having not expected such a character in Everard.

Before Vali even had a chance to speak more he launched into a tale of digging through "yards of ice" on the coast of Irrisen, excavating the remains of a Thassilonian ship. He spoke in quick excited bursts, punctuated by thoughtful stares that felt uncomfortably direct, seeming to gauge Vali’s reaction for a moment before plunging onto the next point.  Vali, for his part, enjoyed the fresh conversation and responded by asking many questions.  “How would a ship have gotten into the ice?”  “How did he know to look there?”  “Thassilonian you say?  I know the language, but I confess I’m unfamiliar with their ship-building.”

Everard gladly indulged Vali with details. “The ship itself was badly damaged by something and seems to have either drifted North off its course, or there may be Thassilonian settlements in that region that are yet to be discovered. In either case, it wound up colliding with an ice shelf, slowly being encased within it over the years.” He gave a few quick words on the Thassilonians, an ancient Empire with advanced magics, before delving into the subject of their shipbuilding. Vali learned that the exact methods of long distance travel had been a matter of debate for some time, but the consensus was being built that they used magic as a supplement, rather than replacement, for more traditional means of transport.  The ships had only recently been discovered, within the last 20 years, deep beneath the ocean surface. The vessels themselves were quite remarkable, being constructed largely of stone inscribed with vast networks of runes, the magic of which still lingered faintly. The details of how they would have operated were still unknown, but Everard hoped that once his notes from this excavation were compiled he might be able to understand more.

Toward the end of their discussion, Everard suggested a book on the Thassilonians, Runes in the Ruins: The Burried Secrets of Thassilon. Lissala was of coruse the chief deity of Thassilon, and he recommends From Humane to Bestial: The Sad Fate of The Mother of Runes, and of course The Seven Virtues of Rule, “if you wish to gain a more in depth knowledge of the subject.”

After finishing describing a magnificent statue of Lissala he returned with from a recent expedition, he paused, then, with a smile, asked what it is that Vali wanted to speak to him about.

Vali pulled out the dagger, tucked in a simple sheath and wrapped in a silk handkerchief, and said, "But yes, here I am drinking this Staraya Slobada vodka. I had better make it worth your while." 

After listening to an abbreviated story of the cultists’ use of the dagger, Everard admitted he had been hoping to expand his "occult collection" of late, especially since some of "those idiots" at the Ardis Academy disputed his treatise on "the distinctions between contractual and possessorial relations with demons in the instance of a known true-name."  When asked about it, he suggested Vali read the treatise, entitled, The Devil's in the Details: Navigating the Art of the Deal.  He adds that he had suspected such rituals might still be carried out in Ustalav. The Kellids had quite extensive knowledge of demons and devils and he doubted such traditions could vanish as easily as some might hope. “In any case, let’s have a look at that script you recorded, Vali.” He eventually noted that it'll take some time to analyze it properly but he appreciated the details of the meinir scripts.

He was certainly interested in the dagger, and wondered what Vali’s asking price might be. Vali asked for a modest sum, far below what he actually expected to receive with an art collector.  His goal wasn’t to make the best bargain.  Everard laughed, "I would have asked for at least 200, but a novice like yourself must learn your lesson. Next time we'll hash things out properly, just make sure you come to me first. We don't need those damn Ardinians making a mess of the findings." As they finish up, he said, “I hope you'll come visit me once you've finished those texts, ‘can't have you misinterpreting things,’” and went on to say where Vali can find his estate in Wrenhyde.  It was a sum Vali noticed barely paid for the Hobgoblin Spit, Percy’s bribes, and the Quarterfaux tomes rentals, but he didn’t care.  He’d found a safe home for the objects, he’d succeeded in handling them without corruption, and made a new friend in the process.  Add to that, he had some new reading he could add to his list.

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From the pages of Elias' Journal, part 1

Fireday, 18th of Arodas, 4707 AR,

At last we've reached Vauntil. After nearly two weeks of inns with barely enough stuffing to make a proper bed between them the vineyards along this last stretch have been positively majestic. It really has been too many years since I've made the journey, although I must say it is not improved by visiting each pitiful little hamlet along the way. (note to self, the peasantry seem far less filled with heroic requests than one might guess)

In any case, dear reader, I should explain just what is going on, especially since an inpatient few of you may have skipped the earlier volumes. I understand as well as you that this is where the true excitement begins. Still, a little refreshment on what brought us here is in order.

I was born on the 24th of Neth in the year 4690 AR to Matthias and Svete Redcliff. Which reminds me, if you have not already learned the history of House Redcliff, both illustrious and tragic, I must recommend you do so, for it is sure to have some bearing on my own tale. In any case, I seem to have been their last, making my way into this world just a few minutes after my twin, and finding myself the youngest of six. I'm sure you shall get to know the others, Gregor, Petros, Merigold, Albin, and Rennis, in due course.  Being born into such a setting ensured I was raised in the finest conditions, given the best education, and taught all the proper manners of the nobility of Ustalav. I am as well positioned as any to know both the virtues and the vices of this highest class of person.

From a young age I knew I was not destined for the drudgery of the family business, and thankfully Gregor seems to have taken that mantle up with pride. Nor was I destined for the church and order like Albin, or the purposeless academic squabbles Petros so loves at University. To occupy myself I enjoyed the best that Caliphas has to offer.  The most glamorous of parties, the most beautiful of women, the most moving of poetry, the most daring of mischief. It was certainly fun, but as one goes on in years a certainly self capacity for reflection does grow, and this is how I came to realize that I must work towards more noble goals.

You see, I could not help but notice the pettiness of what my family has become. Merchant enterprise may be a useful foundation, but what good do we do with it? This country is a wreck, and has been for many years. But we, descendants of heroes, let our legacy lie still as the principality rots around us. Well, no longer.

The nobility must lead by example again. Courage and heroism in the face of evil. Maintenance of justice and the rule of law.  Obedience to one's betters and responsibility for one's lessors. Wisdom and benevolence in leadership. Sacrifice towards the common good according to the means of each. If others will not take up the mantle of re-igniting these virtues, then I suppose the task falls to me, just as it did to Filip and Odric.

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From the Pages of Elias' Journal, part 10

Calistril 13, 4708 A.R

Marian Leigh is not quite what I expected, though certainly interesting. The town hardly has the sort of revolutionary joy or splendor I had expected, though it doesn’t entirely lack joy or splendor. As a whole though, the whole matter seems to be taken deadly seriously by these most modern of women. Though I’ve of course returned a few blushing smiles, I was actually warned on entering to “not accost a woman after dark.” I hardly think it fair to assume I should do such a thing against a lady’s will, but it’s clear they trust no man in this place, and perhaps not even foreign women.

 

Calistril 14, 4708 A.R

Not sure whether to be surprised, but the city functions surprisingly normally, aside from a few strange oddities like asking me to clean my own dishes. Even had a delightful little lesson in the technique of doing so by a most charming young woman. It was quite novel for a night, though I soon tired of it. Thankfully Villem and Pytor are at hand. I’ve visited gardens, galleries, shops, and bars, and all seem just as expected of a modest sized city like this. It all feels quite normal until you realize you haven’t seen another man in hours. You might expect it to be titillating, and that can be the case, for there are certainly many lovely women here, but that is not the overall atmosphere. It’s like everyone here treats me with a weary politeness, and breaking through the outer shell is certainly harder than normal. I’ve plans to visit the Academy tomorrow, and perhaps that shall give me greater insight.

 

Calistril 15, 4708 A.R

Made my way to the academy this afternoon after a hearty breakfast, and was quite taken away by the grounds. Here is some of that splendor that I though the feminine touch might produce. While I can’t quite nail it down, it is clear that some different perspective has gone into the landscaping and ornamentation of the place. I was quite happy to realize that I seemed relatively free to wander the grounds for a bit, though slightly confused at the lack of formal entrance or introductory opportunity. I did of course sight several students upon the grounds, and I cannot deny that they are each more breathtaking than the last, in body and demeanor. These are women who know themselves in ways few others seem to, at least in the circles of nobility. Strangely enough, they struck me as almost peasant like in their practical self-confidence, though with the clear trappings of class and taste that is rarely found in the former. I wonder how Persephone would fit into such a place. The women are certainly not flirtatious in the way so often rumored, or at least not in this context.

Still, I did not come merely to gawk. This is a fighting school, and I knew I needed to test my mettle against these warrior women. After all, who better to be bested by than a famed fatale of Marian Leigh? I set about finding an opponent, speaking to a few of those wandering about, but my suggestions were met with little more than playful giggles and light teasing. I must admit to being a bit taken off guard, and little this only increased when I found Tuscenda Balzac herself approaching me. Perhaps my appearance had brought more attention than I realized? In any case, it was both an honor, and a bit intimidating, to have my challenge so directly met by the master of the school, and I couldn’t help but blush when she chastised me for challenging mere students on the grounds. Obviously I had been approaching the matter all wrong, and yet, she called me by name on first meeting. I’m not sure whether to take this as flattery, or evidence of the depths of her knowledge, but I certainly was pleased by it. The duel itself was practically a formality, although an educational one for me. Each time I’d try to mount a defense she’d worm her way in, catching me unawares with practically every strike. Each time I’d go on the offensive, it was like I was practically a child, throwing obvious strikes that she snaked around or swatted away with ease. My eyes never left her, hardly could have if I’d wanted to, to be honest, but it was as if that made her even harder to track!  Never have I been so truly and wholly bested, but it was thrilling, and I felt my heart beating fast from more than just exertion at the end, though I couldn’t name anything more than a flicker of a smile on her lips to have caused it.

Graciously, Tuscenda arranged for treatment – apparently I have a rather severely strained tendor, along with a helping of bruises – from several of the students, and I can offer no complaints whatsoever about my accommodations at the academy tonight.

 

Calistril 16, 4708 A.R

Been at the academy all day receiving treatment, they are demanding I stay the day in full for “proper healing,” and it’s been a real delight. I’m practically doted on by the nurses here, and I believe I might have made something of an impression. Or perhaps they are simply practicing their skills of enticement. If so, they have quite succeeded.

Had some time to wander the grounds again and I observed a few of the students at practice. Tuscenda is not just a singular talent, she is truly turning these women into some of the most formidable fighters I’ve seen, though my knowledge of other fighting academies is hardly complete. I wonder what Tressa would think of this place. I daresay she would fit right in.

Addendum:

Spent the evening reading poetry with a few of the nurses here, and shared a few of my own pieces. They seemed quite enamored, which is a most pleasant surprise. I’m still quite new to the art, but a good poet has always been able to grip my heart, and I am sure developing some talent in the subject can only serve me well in the long run. I’m told I’m to leave tomorrow, which I suppose is fair. I can’t deny that it is a bit intoxicating here, but this trip has been long indeed, and it is time I started heading for home. I’m quite eager to see what my new friends have been up to in this time, and Tressa will surely be thrilled to hear about these adventures.

 

Calistril 17, 4708 A.R

Was quite firmly shown the door this morning. I was quite willing to go, and to be honest it almost seemed rude how clear they emphasized that I was to leave now. They asked me to stay after all, and I’d done nothing wrong, unless Fiona had quite a turn of mind since our poetry reading last night, which hardly seems likely. I do believe I might be able to return in the future though. They said nothing to the contrary, and I should certainly like to. Need to spend the rest of the day stocking up, and I’m hoping we can find some group to travel with through the Amaans.

 

Calistril 19, 4708 A.R

Did indeed find a band of merchants heading towards Eran’s Rest, and it has struck me that the Vale of Honorless Graves is supposed to be nearby there. This will be a perfect opportunity to pick up some more details about that! The Amaans themselves are quite desolate and grim, though we’ve encountered no real trouble so far.

 

Calistril 21, 4708 A.R

Have arrived in Eran’s Rest. It’s a lovely little town, thanks to the incredible views more than the village itself, though the inn isn’t bad. It strikes me that this may be the highest I’ve ever been. The clouds feel so low up here, and indeed can be seen passing through the valleys below us! Was treated to a spectacular sunset, golden light framing the steep snow covered peaks, the desolation of the Amaans below stretching out like a canvas left blank to emphasize the nearer majesty of the mountains.

 

Calistril 23, 4708 A.R

Have indeed picked up some details about this Vale, though it sounds as if I’ll need more than just Villem and Pytor to have any good chance of making it there. The woods to the East are said to be haunted by Will O’Wisps. I’ve heard a few stories of these forest spirits, though I would be quite lost attempting to combat one. Locals say they are some sort of ancient local gods, perhaps angry at being forgotten, for they have a reputation for leading people to their deaths in the maze of steep cliffs and treacherous stones in the passes, especially once they start thawing in Gozren. Still, spirits aren’t insensible, and it might be possible to befriend, or at least appease them. No one knows how, but if done they would surely know the location of the Vale.

Orcs are a danger here too of course, and the people tell of Rotten Tongue sorcerers lending foul chants to the howling winds, bewitching those who listen too closely, though I wonder if it might simply be the savage’s celebrations giving poor villagers a fright. In either case, these mountains are practically swarming with the beasts. I do hope it will not come to scouring every camp of them. While a noble cause, I can only imagine the difficulty in rooting out so many isolated bands of orcs in this terrain.

I have picked up some useful information on finding the Vale by more normal means though.  Apparently people back in the time of the Tyrant would mark their paths with distinctive stones to keep them secret, and following them should lead one through the Ciucas. While numerous such paths must still exist, it seems likely that at least one would lead to the Vale.

I’ll have to look into building an expedition when I get back home. Perhaps my new friends might be interested?

 

Calistril 27, 4708 A.R

Have made best possible speed since leaving Eran’s Rest, and made it to Vauntil late this afternoon. Thankfully I recalled having made a friend here, and Shaelynn certainly does make a lovely sight by the fire here. The Dancing Bear is a fine inn, and this whole night has been a lovely reminder of the beginning of my heroic adventure.

 

Calistril 28, 4708 A.R

Good lord, this morning was quite a mess! Shaelynn’s father, Ven Vinder, practically broke down the door before I woke up and got to it. Man was having quite a fit about my relations with his daughter, and it took all my restraint to not force him into a state of calm when he started taking swings. That sort of display of power could only have caused more trouble though, and thankful Sheriff Cheslyk arrived soon enough and pacified him. I sometimes forget the strength of some people’s scruples about this sort of thing, but I can only hope that places such as Marian Leigh will help put a rest to such archaic beliefs about denying women their enjoyment.

Addendum:

Had a talk with Cheslyk before leaving. He cautioned me that there have been a few disappearances of late. Apparently undead have been roving the area in packs, terrorizing the townspeople. I’m quite disturbed that more hasn’t been done about this. Is the crown so complacent that it lets the undead prey on its very doorstep? Something is deeply wrong here, and I believe it shall be my duty to put it right. I’ll pay a visit to Caliphas first to restock and see about organizing a posse. At the very least, I’ll have to speak with my new friends on the matter, they may well want to aid me in this quest.

 

Calistril 29, 4708 A.R

Passed by Fenglove’s estate today and took a quick look. It seems abandoned, all dark and starting to get overgrown. I hope the undead haven’t gotten the man. More likely he’s run off with this new wife of his to a foreign land. I’m sure he’ll be back within a year, looking to his old mistresses to sooth his broken heart.

 

Calistril 30, 4708 A.R

Home at last. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again at last, and I’d practically forgotten just how much Pytor’s cooking is improved by a fully stocked kitchen and pantry. Still, I can’t settle in too much, there is so much to do with this undead situation, and apparently Persephone has asked for us all to meet tomorrow. That, I’d already missed out on an invitation to some event from Sulayne, and Rennis has gone out for a hunt with Altain just yesterday. Too bad, I had hoped to hear the full tale, but I’m sure the two of them will have hashed it out to exhaustion by the time they return. For now though, to bed, and then to see Tressa tomorrow before the meeting. I’ve so much to share, and I daresay she does too!

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Contract for Expedition into the Vale of Forgotten Heroes
From the Quarterfaux Archives contract & Regan Sarumal

Regan Seramul sees the expedition team in the his offices at the Quarterfaux Archives:

  • He indicates where recent finds north of Albria Woods were located, and remarks that this previous expedition had to fight orc tribes near there.  From this first expedition, about a year ago, researchers identified the Vale of Forgotten Heroes in the Valley of a Hundred Vales.

 

  • He indicates Eran’s Rest as your launch point for the Valley of a Hundred Values.  Records in last archeological reveal that a significant contingent of the Shining Host stayed in the Hungry Mountains, and in fact went deeper, by way of a pass on Mount Ciucas, hidden by the Ciucas range.  Eran’s Rest lies on Mount Ciucas and leads to that pass. He mentions limestone deposits made stone soft for digging and sculpting funerary monuments.

 

  • The force that broke off was approximately 500 soldiers.  They divided into teams of approximately 20-50, by their units, in order to flee the pursuing undead host.  By the time the undead host withdrew it was Neth the soldiers had to wait out the winter or attempt a return through the treacherous passes in the worst months and likely be killed by patrolling undead.  They decided to construct mountain tombs to their fallen and one day return for these heroes when Ustalav was freed from the Whispering Tyrant’s rule.  They constructed an estimated 50 tombs from Rova 3823 through Gozren 3824 for a total of approximately 300 fallen comrades, at which point most of the soldiers emerged from the mountain passes (after the snows). This is what became known as the legendary Vale of Forgotten Heroes.

 

  • The Archives are particularly interested in (and paying you for) locating tombs to the fallen Knights of Ozem in the Battle of Three Sorrows (so named for the three battles near the Vistear which eventually resulted in the death of Arazni, Aroden’s Herald).  Only 10 ten of the fallen knights were believed to have been carried by that contingent of the Shining Host.  So the unnamed tomb or tombs you are looking for are likely built for approximately 20-30 fallen heroes.  It’ll be the largest set of tombs, fairly deep in the valley, and include the personal pages and attendants to those fallen heroes.  It is said that a tenth of that fragment of the Shining Host, approximately 50 people, stayed behind to properly construct and adorn the tombs, and they eventually came out of the valley to live in Eran’s Rest – their ancestors becoming many of the present day inhabitants. 

    • Detailed records of the location of the tomb, travel to it, and features around it.  Part of the initial contract with hazard pay, food, and hireling pay. No extra pay beyond this other than second half of hazard pay.
    • Each undamaged glass or ceramic item recovered will result in 50 gp. 
    • Each steel weapon recovered will result in 50 gp. for small weapons, 400 gp. for medium weapons, and 1000 gp. for large weapons. 
    • Armor rates vary from 50 gp for bucklers and leather to 1500 gp. for full plate mail. 
    • The group is also asked to pay special attention to any records, including stonework records, and tasked to take charcoal rubbings of stone writing.This will help researchers & future expeditions.These will be paid at the price of glassware and ceramics found.

 

  • Why Do We Need Quarterfaux: These are Ustalav heroes, and as such, they are technically property of the prince.  Quarterfaux Archives are acting on behalf of the state, & has received the crown’s support for research. Black market sale is forbidden.  In practice, it’s no secret that the Crown doesn’t have the resource to enforce and investigate every black market artifact. 


    • Regan acknowledges each item might be worth more on the black market or through independent sale but selling it would be difficult and would likely take years to sell it all off.So if you received twice the pay they are offering, or even three times the pay, you might still only sell a 1/10 of the artifacts in any reasonable amount of time and the group would risk discovery of the crown’s agents.
    • Halda realizes some specific items might be kept without notice if careful not to take something that appears to be missing. Taking the shining plate mail of an Ozem knight, for instance, will be missed.She also realizes, there is considerable risk.Loss of 1 wagon, for instance, could cost upwards of 3,500 and reduce profit margins by 20%.

 

  • Supplies: (to be returned or repaid at cost) – total on loan: approximately 15,000 gold lions on loan + 3000 in pay, 1500 immediately paid


    • Climbing gear for up to 10, 1000’ of rope (~1500 lions)
    • Bed roll, winter clothes for up to 6. up to 6 2 person tents & pavilion (~1000 lions)
    • 8 horses ( ~2400 sails) 4 high-quality wagons (narrow, resilient, Taldane made for Ossirian expeditions, reinforced to hold together) (~1600 lions)
    • 5 man-sized Highhelm crates capable of holding 20 medium armors total, 5 man-sized Highhelm crates capable of holding 10 heavy armors total, 3 man-sized Highhelm crates capable of holding 30 medium-sized weapons total, 2 additional man-sized Highhelm crates capable of holding small and large weapons for approximately 20 people, 2 additional man-sized Highhelm crates for shields of the estimated tomb size, 3 final man-sized crates capable of carrying 200 smaller objects & ten large objects (~8000 gold lions)
    • Food, perishables for 6 people and 3 weeks: (1000 lions); horse feed (400 lions)
    • 500 lions per person for hazard pay, ½ paid upfront (3000 lions)
    • provided- 1800 gold lions in pay for up to 6 support persons. (cook, animal handler, supply worker skilled in repair, etc.)  This will pay for two weeks of service.
    • Halda does the math, and based on these estimates of the objects, this could mean up to 55,000 in earnings if the crates are filled to maximum. Over 9,000 a person! Of course, it might be closer to only 6-7,000 depending on how many attendants are in this tomb.
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Auction Follies
Halda's Journal, Entry No. 9

Our attempt to save the ghoul fever victims had mixed results.  On one hand, we saved both Elias’s brother Rennis and Atherton’s henchman Grippa.  The villagers did not fare so well.  We raced back to Luka’s Knoll as fast as we could.  A few had already died or transformed into zombies by the time we arrived and had to be destroyed.  We lost another on the way back to the Iomedae Church in Caliphas.  The final three fevered villagers were brought into the church.   Two died during the ritual, but one had the luck and fortitude to pull through.  I imagine the Church of Iomedae has gained a devout worshipper.

Several weeks later the Quarterfaux Archives hired our group to locate the Tombs of the Fallen Knights of Ozem.  The archives were willing to pay well for items, weapons and armor recovered from those tombs.  There was to be an auction during which items which might be useful for the expedition would be bid on.

I arrived at the auction feeling apprehensive.  The auction was arranged by the Aspis Consortium, a ruthless multinational trade organization I had made overtures to.  But Persephone told me the auction was being run by the vampires of Caliphas.  Some of them would be present at the auction.  Had the Caliphas vampires taken control of the Consortium’s operations in Ustalav?  Given how embedded they were in society it seemed a distinct possibility.  And that meant my overtures to the Consortium carried an extra risk that I had not anticipated.

We decided to pool our money and have the nobles act as our main bidders.  Their social position might dissuade others from bidding against them.  Elias was much more handsome and charismatic.  Many of the ladies and a few of the lords might be so dazzled they would stop their bids against him.  But Atherton was shrewder, cannier and less likely to do something foolish. 

Then I saw Vargan talking to Countess Carmilla Caliphvaso.  Oh no.  This was a disaster waiting to happen.  As I moved to retrieve him I bumped into someone else.  “Hello,” the man said.  “How are you enjoying the auction?  I am Luvick Siervage.”

I looked at him.  Chalk white skin, red eyes and thin blond hair spun like cobwebs.  He looked like death.  And then I remembered a conversation I had with Persephone the previous week.

“I’m working for a vampire,” Persephone said.

“How the hell did that happen?  I thought you were hunting vampires.”

“It’s a long story.  I didn't realize I was at first.  He's the leader of the vampires in Caliphas  — Luvick Siervage.”

The man I was talking to was the Lord of the Caliphas vampires.  “I see you are looking at The Hand of Vechnya,” he said.  “Are you interested in bidding on it?”

“Yes.  It’s probably my top priority.” 

“Really?” he smiled.  “It is also an item I want.”

Smooth move Halda.  You just put yourself up against the Vampire Lord of Caliphas and revealed your auction priorities to him.  How much worse can you fuck things up?  “Well,” I said, “I should be getting back.  My friend Vargan is –“

“Would you drop your bid if I told you where your aunt is?”

“What?  How do you know about that?”

“I have ways.”

“For all I know you’re telling lies to get me to drop out.”

“Your aunt’s name is Valmae.  She attended the club I own, the Dawn’s Requiem.”

“Lots of vampires saw her there.  It’s not like her presence was a secret.”

“She grew unhappy and tried to extricate herself by going to the Order of the Palatine Eye.  But they did not solve her problems and she left in even worse shape.  And now her current whereabouts are unknown.  I could find that out – if you will drop your bid.”

That information had been confirmed elsewhere, so at the very least he knew as much as I did.  But he was a scheming, predatory vampire who was trying to play me.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  “But this auction item is for a friend.  I’m not backing out.”

He smiled again.  “Well, may the best one win.  It was a pleasure to meet you Madam ..?”

“Halda Headsplitter.”  I reached out to shake his hand.

He bowed and kissed my hand instead.  His cold, dead lips rested there for a moment too long.  I fought the urge to run.  He bowed again and walked away.

************************************************

As the bidding on The Hand of Vechnya began, I noticed something was wrong with Elias.  He began to wobble and I thought he was going to collapse, but he managed to remain standing.  His face was turning an ugly dark blue color.

“Elias, what’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure.  I – I drank the wine and now I feel so ill.”

Damn that Luvick Siervage.  He was going to hear it from me.  Fortunately he had not counted on my psionic powers.  My energies boosted Elias’s natural resistance and fought off the poison.

“Thank you Halda.  I feel much better now,” he said.

The bidding started at 1000 gold pieces and quickly rose to 1500.  At that point some of the bidders began to drop out.  It moved higher to 1700, 1900 and then 2000.  Now there were only two other bidders still in the hunt.  The bid increased to 2200. Then Elias said, “I bid 5000 gold!”

“Going once, going twice, SOLD!”  the auctioneer said.

“We won!”  Elias said.

I looked on in horror.  In my mind I saw Elias throwing my hard earned gold in his chamber pot, taking a big shit and then dumping the whole mess down the Caliphas sewers.   I felt a sharp pain in my chest, my vision swam and my breath came in gasps.  I tried to say something, but only a croak came out. 

Elias must have noticed the expression on my face because he said, “Don’t worry, Halda.  Persephone put some extra gold toward this item because it was so important to her.  We can cover it.  I'm sure it was the right move.”

This is how noble houses fall into ruin, I thought.  I wanted to scream but couldn’t.  Because Elias was a nice man who had done the best he could.  And this was my fault.  I agreed to let him bid because I got smitten by Lord Pretty Boy and overlooked the fact he was also Lord Dimwit.  I knew the risks and took a chance he might do something dumb. 

I walked over to the window and tried to compose myself.  It was a beautiful evening, the stars twinkling against the backdrop of a gorgeous blue-purple night sky.  I thought about the day we had all met at that ill-fated Last Breath Festival in Vauntil seven months ago.  This auction was going almost as badly.  The only thing missing was a surprise attack.

As if on cue I heard a distant thud coming from somewhere I could not pinpoint.  I considered investigating but found myself looking at the exit instead.  Maybe I could get out before the horde of goblins crashed the auction.

 

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From the Pages of Elias' Journal, part 9

Abadius 25, 4708 A.R

My arrival in Carrion Hill was quite fortuitous! Could see there was trouble from miles off, smoking rising ominously on the horizon just as I have heard Sulayne speak of, and I made most haste to the outskirts. Good thing to, for the streets were positively swarming with Rat-men! Grasping my blade, heart filled with the stories of the crusades of old I charge into the heart of the fight, cutting down vile beasts by the handful, Villem diligently guarding my rear, and acquitting himself well on his own wright. He’s learned as much as I on these travels I think. Our brazen charge scattered those milling about the town hall, inspiring the beleaguered “Crows” of the town guard inside. I quickly rallied the lot and led them to clear the streets. It was a long day and fighting, the rats having squirmed their way into every nook and cranny, and I impressed even myself. Maybe it was my time at Castle Urion, but I think I am truly coming into my role now. I could feel the inspiration of the men behind me, and the righteousness of the cause guiding my blade into the hearts of the rats. I think it is not simple flattery to say I saved the people of Carrion Hill today, and my soul sings for it.

 

Abadius 26, 4708 A.R

Had time to speak with the townsfolk before leaving Carrion Hill today, and it seems the “Skaven” were no new problem. Based in the Vista Maere they’ve been growing increasingly aggressive, with yesterday’s attack being something of a culmination with the middenstone vats being the target. We killed many though, and hopefully the survivors will spread word that Carrion Hill is nowhere to mess with. The people offered me a reward, but I turned it down. Despite the victory, the town was damaged by the raid, and these people need the money far more than I. It is more than enough to know that I did my duty with distinction, and that my name will be remembered by these folks.

Heading towards Langitheath now. The abandoned estate has quite a reputation for spirits and other fell deeds, and I am curious to see the truth of these tales. If they seem mostly exaggeration, perhaps the Redcliffs might be able to finally make good use of these extensive, storied, and rich lands.

 

Abadius 30, 4708 A.R

The stories are no exaggeration! We were riding through the abandoned wheat fields, surveying the property, when everything went south. At first I thought it was only a northern breeze that chilled us, but then thing started going dark, and mists seemed to belch forth from the ground itself. We gathered round, lighting lanterns, eyes peeled, hair rising on our necks, but for long minutes nothing else happened, except the growing wind sounding more and more like a ghostly howl to our strained ears. Eventually we decided we had no choice but to move forward, and almost within seconds we found ourselves stumbling across some long abandoned barn, windows shuttered with moldering boards. We approached, wondering if we should take shelter, but heard a rather ominous clanking of chains from within. I want to say it was only the wind, but I suspect otherwise. We didn’t enter, and just as we were turning to leave we saw them. Wraiths, I don’t even know how many, but they stood, no, floated, all along the edge of the wheat field behind us, tatters of translucent black cloths flapping in the breeze, mimicking the movement of the wheat, faces obscured, showing just the faintest traces of long lost humanity. For a few long moments they seemed only to watch, but then the wind reached a peak, and a great shriek, as of tearing metal, came from everywhere at once.

We ran. Perhaps we could have fought, but who knows if our weapons could even affect such specters, and there were so many, and it was all so cold. I hardly even remember looking back we rode so hard, though I know they seemed to have gotten no farther off when Villem’s took a tumble in a ditch. I pulled him up onto Caliphas behind me, and thankfully the terrified beast followed. I don’t know what would have become of it if those wraiths had reached it, but nothing good I’m sure. Eventually the wind seemed to calm, and I realized we had exited the fields and found the road again. Looking back, it was if nothing had happened. The sun still shone, the fields still swayed in the breeze, peaceful as before, almost pastoral.

I suppose I got what I came for. Langitheath is haunted indeed, and it will take more than three travelers to put it to rights. Perhaps a worthy quest, but not today.

 

Calistril 2, 4708 A.R

Have made it to Ardis. Nothing much happened after Langitheath, but it’s comforting to be in the city again nonetheless. I’ve spent weeks on the road now, and the warm glow of civilization shall do me good. Found an excellent inn, the Countess’ Arms, and am enjoying the best wine I’ve had since leaving Caliphas. To be honest, I’ve not really considered what I’ll do here, but I’m sure the ancient capital will provide the answer.

 

Calistril 4, 4708 A.R

Had a chat with an old friend today and I think it has helped right my mind after the scare at Langitheath. He’s always been a good guide to me, and I owe him much for everything he has helped me learn. Without his help, I don’t even know if I would have made it this far. I hope he knows I’m doing my best, he seems to, but it’s clear he knows more of my future than even I. He gave me a warning about “truths I will now discover,” asking if I thought I could handle them. I wonder what truths he spoke of. I feel ready, but if I have learned one thing these last few weeks it is to be ready for surprises. At the very least, I think he was well pleased by my work with the Steelborne. That was the deed of a true noble.

We also spoke of Korinsky of course. I’ve tried to reform him, make him complete the full cycle of his transformation, but he spoke true when he warned that I’ve been away for some time. Who knows what mischief the doctors of that place might have wrought while I was gone. Or what new sway Dominicus has gained. We need to put an end to that vampire for good.

He asked of the talisman I picked up back in Corvischior, and to be honest I hadn’t paid it any mind since leaving, though I’d kept wearing it. To be honest I don’t even know why, it is quite silly really, peasant superstition, and doesn’t suit my style at all. I agreed that I should be rid of it, falling prey to superstition will only obstruct my work, but for some reason I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. It sits in my bag now, and I don’t see what harm that can do.

Before departing he gave me what I took to be a compliment, but upon reflection seems almost another warning. “How high your star rises, Elias.  But all things are kept in balance in the world.  When one star rises, another falls.  Our purpose is to see the right stars shine.  Only the brightest.” If my star is rising, whose is falling, and what does that portend?

 

Calistril 7, 4708 A.R

Ran into Vali, of all people. I’d picked up on his skill as an alchemist already, but I’ve seen another side to him here. He isn’t just a tradesman, but a party animal in his way, and quite the flirt! Once I helped him overhaul his wardrobe he has been making quite the splash, I think I even saw him snag a dance with Countess Heremore at the gallery opening last night. But really, those sleeves haven’t been in fashion in at least two years! How can people be so blind to good taste?

We’ve plans to meet up for a drink in a few before heading over to the dance at the Palisades, and I’m quite excited to see if this date he’s been talking up can match my Cassandra. Until next time my dear reader.

 

Calistril 8, 4708 A.R

Dance last night was spectacular, and Tatiana really was quite the catch. Hats off to Vali. We’re meeting for a late lunch, heard rumor of some disappearances and thought we might mix in a bit of work with our play.

 

Calistril 10, 4708 A.R

Well, the matter of the lost boy took a good bit of work, but we solved it alright. Lad, well, young man really, had been picked up by some local gangs who are causing trouble, and seemed to have become pretty enamored of them. After putting an end to the ruffians I gave him a stern talking to, and sent him backing back to his mother. I doubt he’ll fall prey to the lures of such low “glamour” again. Tomorrow must sadly be my last day in Ardis. The city has been fabulous, but I have work to do, and Vali has things to attend to as well. I think I’ll stop by Marian Leigh next. I’m quite eager to see the fabled city of women with my own eyes! I’ve plans to do a bit of shopping tomorrow, and Vali and I are set to attend a concert by some rising star, but then I must bid the city farewell. Hopefully not forever though. While its glories don’t match those of Caliphas, they are refreshingly different, and steeped in the confidence of a city that has held importance for millennia. I am finding myself rather sympathetic to the many young nobles here who resent the capital moving to Caliphas. Ardis might not be the best capital, but I think it must be given a grand place in our future.

 

Calistril 11, 4708 A.R

Found an absolutely lovely necklace that will do just what I was hoping for. While I’ve courage of my own, the incident in the wheat fields has convinced me that just as the supernatural will twist our minds against our will, so must we use the supernatural to shield them, and this amulet will do just that.

The concert was wonderfully subversive, and I really enjoyed the shocked gasps of old timers and young “sophisticates” alike. This Stravinikov has real talent, and I made sure to meet him briefly afterwards. I made sure he knew that he would be welcome at Renishaw anytime, and I know my sister would be over the moon if he did. It’s exactly the sort of thing she loves. Perhaps we can see about commissioning a symphony? Supporting radical innovation in the arts cannot be forgotten as an essential piece of my quest to reclaim the lost nobility of my class!

To Marian Leigh, and all the modern wonders it is sure to highlight!

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From the Pages of Elias' Journal, part 8

Abadius 12, 4708 A.R

On our way to Maashinelle we ran into some of these Black Eagles I’d heard about. Quite the get up with their darkened plate and beaked helms, though perhaps a little self-impressed. Seem to think the local power of this Arnefax makes them quite the authority figure. Still, they do seem to be taking the fight to the Razmiran fanatics. Tried to impress the Steeleborne into their army, but thankfully I put a firm stop to that. If they’re to join it’ll be by their own decision. I haven’t taught them the ways of the world to be enslaved. These “free kingdoms” seem more like a haven for abuse of power by the day. A true testament to the importance of a functioning system, and perhaps an ominous portent for Ustalav if things are not put back on track. Anyway, put these locals in their place and even got directions to Maashinelle and a reference to Cullerton wool. Seems that for all of their pretentious of power they are quite eager to develop outside connections that might boost their economy.

Once we arrived I helped find the Steelborne accommodations. The people of Maashinelle seemed friendly enough, perhaps recognizing that the Steelborne can offer much to them, both in their mining industry, and as impressive warriors. The Steelborne themselves also seem to feel they have found a proper place here. They fit in. They are needed, valuable additions to a place like this, and I believe an impression has been made no the Black Eagles that they are not simple property. We all had a good long talk it is decided they will stay here, at least for the time being. Some as smiths, others as militia, and a few involved in the mining operations. I made it clear they shall always be welcome at Renishaw as well of course, and I have hope they will visit in the future. While still learning much, I am proud to see the Steelborne negotiating with the locals as equals. They understand that they must exist within society, and see a way to do so here. What I’ve seen of the River Kingdoms does concern me, but if anything I hope that such steadfast characters as they might even add a bit of stability to this place.

Did get a chance to talk with Cullerton Wool, and made some arrangements for a deal. They’ll be sending word to Renishaw, and the Steelborne will serve as an additional contact. Perhaps the Redcliffs can help see to not only the economic prosperity, but the useful social development of this corner of the chaos that is the River Kingdoms. On some future journey I should make an effort to meet with this local lord and see what can be done about that. For now though, an economic link will be a good beginning, and I look forward to returning to Ustalav. First though, I think I’ll pay a visit to Castle Urion. It’s a place of some legend, and I might even discover some more about my family history from these modern crusaders.

 

Abadius 14, 4708 A.R

Had to stop in Lockridge again for the night. Hardly a warm welcome, but no harassment. Saw some Black Eagles patrolling the docks, but no one seemed willing to open up about why. It is clear that they rule these lands with an iron fist.

 

Abadius 18, 4708 A.R, the Ides of Abadius

Have arrived at Castle Urion and it truly is magnificent. Though I have of course heard tales, nothing truly prepared me for the majesty of the griffon’s circling in the skies above, resplendent knights on their back. That this is a last bastion of real civilization is quite clear. The battlements speak strong of practicality, with those bits of ostentation which exist speaking more to intimidation than beauty.

I’ve secured lodging here for the next few days, and am thrilled to have made it here in time for the ides. There is supposed to be quite a feast, and many tales of the Crusades, tonight.

 

Abadius 19, 4708 A.R

The feast of the Ides of Abadius was fantastic. While I have of course heard tales of the Shining Crusade and Iomedae before, these were told with singular conviction and skill. It’s not just stories to those here, it is a guide for a worthy life. I’m learning much.

 

Abadius 20, 4708 A.R

This is a real castle, and the resolve of its residents speaks to that fact. Paying lip service to the Black Sovereign must way heavy on them, but their dedication to a higher ideal makes such a sacrifice worthy. Groups of knights and squires on their way to Mendev truly are common here, and the place is a strange contrast of joyous gathering of the likeminded, and grim reminder that past this point only the grim work of crusade remains. I am quite moved really. While I have my own mission, these men and women are sacrificing everything, their lives, perhaps even their souls, to curb the demons of the World Wound.

I also got a chance to visit the aviary, and learn a bit about these magnificent griffons. The trainers, quite scarred I must note, really know their craft. They’ve dedicated their lives to these beasts, and it has paid off. Griffon and rider in synch beyond what most achieve with a horse. I’m quite tempted to return some day and see if I can learn the same. Imagine cruising through the skies! A feat as practical for inspiration as for travel.

 

Abadius 22, 4708 A.R

I’ve gotten a chance to speak with a few scholars about my own family history. I had hoped to pick up possibilities on the location of the Black Blade and was not disappointed. During the Crusades many dead heroes were stolen by vile necromancy, their body being used for ill after their soul had passed into eternal glory. Arazni is of course the most famous of these, and as the crusade wore on many sought ways to thwart this terrible fate. As such, many brave knights were buried in secret in hideaways and unmarked graves. Some apparently referred to these as “honorless graves,” recognizing the injustice of such a fate. How official the practice even was is unclear, especially combined with the fact that so many were posthumously sainted. It is clear that the struggle of the Crusade left little room for ceremony and record keeping, and the legitimacy of these sainthoods seems to be a matter that the church has chosen to gloss over rather than delve into. Better to simply accept that all of the Shining Crusaders were worthy heroes, rather than examining each individually and angering their descendants because sainthood was illegitimately granted by their bereaved comrades rather than church leadership. Personally, I think these heroes were sacrificing a glorious remembrance to ensure their remains could not hurt the cause, and perhaps out of a desire to not be defiled by the black arts. In any case, this has led to little more than hasty notes in ancient church ledgers marking the location of their burials, Filip included.

Thankfully, I did learn some specifics of his Blade’s possible fate. After the defeat of Arazni the Shining Host retreated into the narrow maze of mountain passages in Ulcazar. If Filip’s body and blade were reclaimed, as I hope, it would have been taken with them there. In Ulcazar though, the host was relentlessly harassed by the local Rotten Tongue orcs, with many bands being picked off, and countless relics of this most desperate time fallen into savage hands, or being lost in the recesses of this merciless landscape. It is possible these beasts laid claim to Filip’s remains and effects, and might still be in their grasp. Hopefully, he instead found himself buried in The Vale of Honorless Graves though. There, the bereaved and desperate crusaders staged a mass burial of those who were lost, hiding them away in a remote vale to rest in perpetuity.

It is clear that I must make my way to Ulcazar, first to check this vale, and second to take revenge on these Rotten Tongues for atrocities ages past. Either way, I now have true hope, and direction, to reclaim my family blade!

Sadly, I must depart tomorrow, by I won’t forget my time here in Urion, and perhaps I shall return one day. If fortune smiles on us, perhaps we might even lend aid to these heroes of the modern age. It will be  nice to be back inside Ustalav though, and Carrion Hill holds promise of some interest itself.

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From the Pages of Elias' Journal, part 7

Kuthona 28, 4707 A.R

Have reached Rozenport. Left the Steelborne outside the city this time. After recent events bringing them inside could only cause trouble, and there will be plenty of opportunities for socialization later in our journey. Sent word to father that I’ll be away for some months, and a bit of a teaser to Tress on the adventure I’m beginning. Had to pick up a bit of ore for the Steelborne to “eat,” which certainly got a few strange looks, but what else can be expected. Word is there’s trouble to the north, perhaps I shall investigate on my return trip. We leave for Redleaf tomorrow, and I shall miss the Lady’s Lapel once I’m on the road to be sure. The wine is excellent, and the fireplace quite delightful, not to mention some decent company, for Versex at least.

 

Abadius 1, 4708 A.R

Have had a good opportunity for talk with the Steelborne over the last several days. I’ve described the roles of our different classes of people to them. How the peasants harvest the raw materials and foods that enable society. How the tradesmen transform those goods into valued commodities. How the merchants distribute goods and wealth across the lands. How the petty nobility advance the arts and sciences. How the rulers co-ordinate and ensure the safety of all the rest. How the soldiery is but an arm of the ruler. How those who are left out of these roles, or take themselves from them, become the dregs and bandits of the land, simply preying on the others. Even had Pytor try to teach them a bit of history, see it all in practice.

It’s difficult to gauge their reactions at times, but they seem to readily grasp these basic concepts. They have spoken of themselves as having been built for war, and many seem to feel that soldiery is their natural role, though I have encouraged them to think hard on this matter.

 

Abadius 2, 4708 A.R

Arrived in Redleaf a few hours ago, and decided to take along the Steeleborne’s leaders, Vek, Vefla, and Vum. It’s fascinating how even uncultured beings naturally arrange themselves into this overriding pattern of society. A leader truly is always needed, even if one doesn’t understand why. Redleaf itself is a bit of an interesting spot. As Pytor pointed out quite perceptively, the five estates that make up almost it’s entirety seem practically fortified against one another, and I suspect some savage history weighs heavy in the minds of the families within.

Madame Millair did welcome us most graciously though, and served some delicious local dishes. Quite enjoyed the plăcinte cu brânză dulce, a soft kind of bread that they fry up with sweet cheese, and Ciorba rădăuțeană, a vegetable soup blended together with local spices in a manner which surpasses many of those found in Caliphas itself. Truly a unique blend, I hadn’t expected such culture out near the borders. The slanina afumata was a fine addition to meal as well, the smokiness contrasting the other flavours wonderfully. Had Pytor pick up the recipes. The house even found some steel for the Steelborne, which they seemed to like. How appropo!

Madame Millair herself was a gracious host, and was quite excited to join our ongoing discussion of social classes. I believe she managed to impress some of the subtleties of the role of class in social interaction on them, which can only be for their future good.

 

Abadius 4, 4708 A.R

Have arrived in Corvischior, a rather sad little town to be honest. The people here are positively skittish, barely even acknowledging our entrance at first. Once we got settled in at the Dog Rose things warmed up a bit though. Bought the house a round of drinks which got people talking. Enjoyed some ciorba de burta, a local beef tripe soup, while the locals broke out into some raucous country songs. Leave for Lockridge in the morn.

 

Abadius 5, 4708 A.R

The people of Corvischior have positively insisted I don’t head out into the mist. They seem quite terrified of it, babbling about this being a sign of Varno’s dead being restless. Normally I would be tempted to dismiss this as superstition, but the mists did seem unnaturally thick, and some poor stooped old woman, eyes milky with cataracts, practically commanded me to stay another night, while the innkeeper launched into hysterics. I suppose another night with such earnest people can’t be so bad, and I am quite touched by their concern to be honest. Those mists really don’t look right either.

Addendum: Vadoma, the old woman from before, approached me just before I retired to bed. She pressed a rather pretty silver talisman into my hands, speaking just a few words. “The old Prince rides tonight for the west, use it if he comes.” There is something unique about that woman, though I can’t put my finger on quite what. In any case, I thanked her for the gift, and made sure she would be well fed for tonight at the least. Pytor says it’s a Desnan talisman. It’s about my neck now, and there is something rather comforting about it, especially with those mists stills swirling outside. I wonder if I shall dream of hooves tonight.

 

Abadius 6, 4708 A.R

The mists have cleared! Woke up to a lovely sunny day. It is easy to forget sometimes just how beautiful our land can be, even, or perhaps especially, clothed in snow as it is now. We’re off to Lockridge!

 

Abadius 8, 4708 A.R

Just arrived in Lockridge. This is my first time crossing the border, and there is a tangible difference here. The West Sellen river is quite a pretty thing, and the fields here seem well tended. The people themselves have a certain energy I hadn’t quite expected, and were quite welcoming at first. Once they got a better look at the Steelborne though, they soured considerably. Was Sulayne mistaken in thinking they would be more accepted here? I’ll have to speak to the people tonight and see what I can learn.

Addendum: Found a decent inn and settled in for the night. The people here are clearly a friendly lot, just not towards us. Chatter and song fill the air, but not as is well at all. I finally caught a cute young couple in conversation and learned the people are afraid that association with us might attract the attention of a “Black Eagle,” local enforcers in the employ of “Lord” Arnefax. He seems to be some petty tyrant who has gained dominance in the region, and the people claims he rides a “nightmare,” though I confess I’m not sure just what that is. Perhaps drink has led them to exaggerate, but they seem to imply it is supernatural.

 

Abadius 10, 4708 A.R

Have made it to Sezgin, an unimpressive settlement on the Tolemaida. Picked up information on the border town of Maashinelle. Sounds like it is a bit of a mining settlement, which has quite intrigued them, and it is in need of strong warriors to guard against Razmiran.

Addendum: The hospitality is terrible here. The people seem to have decided the Steelborne are nothing more than goods and a veritable mob assaulted us. They claimed they had every right to take them by force if they could, ostensibly this is what passes for the rule of law in the River Kingdoms. Thankfully, my recent exploits have turned me into quite the swordsman, and the Steelborne are no slouches. With a good few of them dead the townsfolk scattered, and I got my first real chance to see the type of destruction these things can unleash. Let it simply be said that they are quite efficient, but that efficient has rather gruesome results. We’ll rest up for the day outside of town, and they head to Maashinelle post haste. The River Kingdoms seem rather hellish so far, but perhaps it will be better there. I’ll have to speak with Sulayne about all this when I return. In any case, it all goes to reinforce the importance of a functioning social system. Without it, anarchy reigns.

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From the Pages of Elias' Journal, part 6

Kuthona 25, 4707 A.R

These last several weeks on the road seem to have quite distracted me from my writing. When I began this enterprise I had hoped to provide some insight into the life of an adventurer, but it seems that that very life has done some harm to that goal. The sad truth of the matter is that one finds oneself so busy that prose can feel like a bit of a chore. Busy whenever you’re stopped that is. The innumerable hours of travel are nearly unbearable. Riding and walking and trying to stave off sleep. It’s remarkable how great a portion of a life of adventure is mind rending boredom on the road. It certainly doesn't seem to make its way into many of the tales.

In any case, I recently paid the Chateau Douleurs a visit, a remarkably cozy lodge really, and found them in great need of my services. After weeks of not much more than peasants needing rabid dogs or the occasional bully dealt with, a missing maiden was quite an opportunity. Sadly, this venture did not end happily. The poor lass had been quite drained by the spiders that took her by the time I arrived, and soon as I am finished writing I must inform the family. Another thing they’ve left out of the tales. Still, I can take some personal solace in knowing I was days, maybe even a week, late to have any opportunity to help her. Truly, this incident is a testament to the land’s great need of heroes.

While on this ill-fated quest however, I had a most fortuitous run in with that same band of companions that I had grown to know in Vauntil. They had been hired by some manner of artificer to hunt down artificial men. Created they called them, though a more artful name must be found. They had slain the spiders which did the foul deed when I encountered them, and as such I saw nothing but gain in joining them on their own mission. Soon enough, we did indeed track down these “created” (metalmen? steelhearts? Steelborne!). These Steelborne had escaped the one who created them, having come to understand that existence as one of slavery to a cruel master. In this escape however, they demonstrated their supreme naiveté. For all their physical prowess, they possessed no social understanding, and soon perpetrated a massacre provoked by some sort of confrontation over a purchase. Still, as my companions were quick to point out, the Steeleborne displayed some artistic talent, evidenced by the small tokens they’d left behind. Surely, this was a sign of deep seated intelligence.

In any case, it thankfully did not take us long to track them down to a secluded cave in the woods, and after braving some terrible fungus, which seemed to drive poor Sulayn quite mad for a few moments, and a rather dastardly placed fire trap, we made contact. At first the Steelborne were quite hostile, threatening us with their rifles, but I was quickly able to calm them. As I had suspected, they were quite ignorant of the world, but through that also possessed a certain innocence, despite their misdeeds. With the Steeleborne pacified for the moment, we had a bit of a disagreement over what should be done with them. Aetherton argued for justice by the law to be done to them, meaning death of course, though even he seemed to recognize that this wasn’t quite justice by morality. Halda seemed intent on putting an end to them for the reward money, her characteristic greed overcoming her normal good sense. Sulayne and Persephone seemed quite taken with the idea of simply letting them go, but sadly did not seem to recognize the irresponsibility of this course.

Yes, the Steelborne did wrong, but they were as children, and taking vengeance upon them would accomplish nothing. Just as truly though, they had no ability to navigate the world. Let loose on their own they would either starve in the wilds, or take to a life of crime, as they had done so far. Without proper education, and opportunity, they could never grow into productive members of society. And what a loss that would be! Truly unique beings, just awakening, on the verge of realizing their potential! No, it was clear that the Steelborne needed someone to help guide them into the world, to help realize how they could fit in, and sadly the stink of prejudice in our lands would leave few capable of filling that role. Thankfully, the others saw the wisdom in my stepping forward. Who better to guide them to finding their correct role in the world, and to simultaneously instruct them in the best of social graces (and un-graces)?

And so I found myself traveling Eastward, leading a band of metal men towards the River Kingdoms (Sulayne made the excellent suggestion of that as a future home for them). These first couple of days have not been as easy as could hoped – the Steelborne are not the most personable of companions – but this is the course I have set for myself, and the one I was borne to uphold. This goes beyond simply solving some petty troubles of the people. This is the task of truly shaping our society into what it should be. Each member finding their place, fulfilling their role, and enjoying the fruits of that co-operation. If a true noble such as myself cannot help the Steelborne find this, then I would be unworthy of the title. Thankfully, I am confident that shall not be the case.

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Ghoul Fever
Halda's Journal, Entry No. 8

Cold, hard rain pelted down on our open wagon as we rode toward Luca’s Knoll.  Sulayn coughed, sneezed and whined how he felt miserable and longed to get indoors and dry.  This was such typical wimpy elven behavior and wimpy elven constitution.  Such a delicate flower, falling ill because of a rain shower!  Perhaps the reason he was unable to perform when we tried to make love all those years ago was poor health.  We dwarves were made of sturdier stuff!

In the distance I saw a figure shuffling around in the rain.  It was human sized and moving in an erratic fashion.  I slipped on my glasses of revealing to inspect the figure.  There was no glow of magic.  As the figure got closer we saw it was an old woman. 

Elias dismounted his horse and ran toward the woman, asking if she needed help.  “Halda, she’s hurt.  Come quickly!” he said.

Oh dear sweet Elias.  How many sneak attacks have we encountered?  Your empty-headed gallantry is going to get you killed one of these days.  Fortunately, this time it was just an old woman.  “My lord,” she said.  “Luca’s Knoll … overrun with undead … slaughtering everyone … please … help us!”

We bundled the old woman into the wagon and tried to make her comfortable.  Elias whispered a few words and through my glasses of revealing I saw a warm glow of magical energy emanate from his hand and wash across her body.  She stopped shivering and began to rest easy. 

Perhaps my earlier theory that Elias had learned a few cantrips from some indulgent court wizard was wrong.  He didn’t have the brains for such arcana.  Was he a priest?  Maybe a priest of Shelyn.  Given the many liaisons he had, the Goddess of Love must hold him in high esteem!

The screams and guttural growls emanating from Luca’s Knoll were hard to miss.  The village smelled of death.  At some distance I could see a group of six snarling gray-skinned figures trying to break down the barricaded inn door. 

Atherton shouted that we should occupy the town entrance and let the ghouls come to us; it would narrow their approach.  Instead, Elias wandered over to what he thought was a man.  The ghoul’s tongue lashed out at him as two more ghouls scampered from behind the building.  Sulayn and Persephone ran off to rescue a young girl being menaced by a pair of ghouls.  After all these months it still seemed like we were still fighting as individuals rather than a unit.  The group was talented enough to get away with that – so far.

We slaughtered the ghouls without too much difficulty.  The greater concern came as I examined the wounded later.  About six of the villagers were infected with ghoul fever.  It was terrible affliction which would transform them into ghouls within two to four days.  This curse was something my healing power could not fix.  Even worse, Elias’ brother Rennis had been visiting the town and was also infected.  Atherton’s henchman Grippa had been infected during the battle.

In the morning we departed for the estate of Lord Altain, the author of all this misery.  Persephone said little but she looked even more grim and determined than usual.  I think she felt bad because the note left on one of the victims suggested Lord Altain had gone down this evil path because of some dark obsession with her. 

My dhampir maiden Persephone,

I long to see you hunt again.  It makes me feel alive.

Lord Altain’s estate was a dilapidated mess, with a crumbling roof and dozens of holes dug up on the front lawn.  As we entered the hallway, we heard what sounded like someone chopping something on a cutting board coming from the open door on the left.  Vargan, Elias and I entered the room.

A woman with long flowing brown hair stood at the kitchen counter, her back to us.  Vargan tried to grapple her, only to have his hands pass through her like she was a ghost. 

She whirled around.  Her eyes were two empty black voids leaking black tears.  She opened her mouth and let forth a wail so soul crushing I felt my bones rattle with icy grief and the iron grip of despair on soul.  Fortunately Elias, Vargan and I were all able to resist the effect.

Vargan tried to hit her again to no effect.  Her intangible hands reached inside him and his face turned an ashen gray as if she was sucking the life out of him.  I unleashed a bolt of psychic lightning which struck true.  The banshee hissed in pain as part of her form evaporated and trailed away like mist. 

Elias drew his longsword.  The blade turned red hot and small licks of flame danced across it.  With a deft swing his blade passed through the spirit.  Her intangible form somehow caught fire and she burned up into a puff of smoke. 

Things must not have been going too well for the rest of the party because I heard crashing, growling and shouts of distress coming from upstairs.  Elias and Vargan rushed out of the room.  I followed, but they were too fast for me to keep up with.  As I exited the kitchen I heard Persephone shout, “Someone grab Sulayn’s spear!  I think he left it downstairs!”

The spear was lying by the front door.  Why in Irori’s name had Sulayn dropped it?  Perhaps he succumbed to the banshee’s power, which was a bad sign.  I picked up the spear.  It was not too heavy but quite unwieldy for someone my size.  I ran down the hall, trying to not fall and impale myself.  The spectacle of this would have looked hysterical if people’s lives were not in danger.  I could almost hear my brother Garin joking about harpooned whales. 

Alas, dwarves are not fast runners.  By the time I got upstairs everything was over.  Sulayn lay unmoving in a pool of blood, surrounded by the hacked apart remains of several ghouls.  Persephone stood over the corpse of Lord Altain, gore dripping from her sword.  I thought I saw a brief look of satisfaction cross her face.  I healed Sulyan with my psionic power.  He was still wounded but it was enough to get him back on his feet. 

We found a tome called The Path of Return, which explained how to cause and undo this powerful curse of ghoul-dom.  Unfortunately, the text was written in Thasilonnian which none of us knew well.  We needed someone who could fully translate the tome.  And time was running short.  We dashed out of the estate making haste back to Caliphas.

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