Indishka Felea, Graduate Scholar of Blackwood Academy, Gozran 14, 4707 – Eran’s Rest
Dear readers, we leave Eran’s Rest early this morning under a thick blanket of fog for which the Ciucas Mountains are well known. Last night I enjoyed a hearty stew prepared by the innkeeper wife and daughter. I find I am enjoying meeting the people of Ustalav in these travels. A colorful sort, and far more hospitable than I was led to believe from my studies in Blackwood. I daresay I could get used to this, and I wonder if I may have found my calling: travelling scholar for hire. I could choose to accompany only reputable groups such as this one, advising nobility and maybe even successful mercenary companies, well-behind the lines of danger of course.
There are challenges to this lifestyle though. The air here is much colder, and a bitter wind lashes us, mingled with icy rain. And of course, as you may have observed from my shaky script, it can be quite inconvenient to write from the back of a wagon in this weather. I shall have to keep my entries to our breaks. Persephone tells us the road will only get more steep, and the roads more slick. I wonder what roads she speaks of. We travel on little more that a hunting trail, and Pharasma bless, the drop off disturbs my breakfast. I have just overheard the group discussing what to do. There is apparently one road that leads into the dim valley below, but most of the archeological company agrees to take the more treacherous road. They fear some sort of fey…
It has now been half a day. We went back to Eran’s Rest and retrieved a somewhat reluctant scout by the name of Marik Oltean. He claims the paths are dangerous this time of year and that he takes the trails after the thawing season. Only fools and the Kavapestan pilgrims take the trails this close on the heels of winter, but he doesn’t refuse the coin. He and Persephone have us following small meinirs left by the Kellids. Marik points out that the moss-covered ancient stones have different symbols carved on them and Persephone scouts for them…
* Artwork by Alan Lee
Indishka Felea, Graduate Scholar of Blackwood Academy, Gozran 15, 4707 – Ciucas Range
Dear readers, I have made a terrible mistake. We have left the land of Ustalav’s gods and entered the valley of death, a place called the Vale of Forgotten Heroes. I am vaguely familiar with its history, but now I am beginning to understand our history in a new way. The Whispering Tyrant’s cursed touch can be felt on this damned place and every step we take to go more deeply into the Vale is a step into a world still half in the world of death that the arch-lich brought.
Last night, just as the last rays of light disappeared behind the dagger peaks of the Hungry Mountains, an abyssal shriek came the eastern peaks ahead of us and then a great shadow launched into the sky as big as a dragon but a thing of death – the leathery face of a man, enormous wings that dwarfed an entire fully loaded cart and horse, talons like obsidian daggers, and half-man, half-bat creature that I only learned the name of this morning. A varghulf. Its cry unhinged my mind, and set the horses into inconsolable panic. We unhappy few were pulled at a mad pace forward, wheels nearly skidding off the narrow ledge entirely unsuitable for wagon travel, only saved by the quick-thinking driver Villem of Wolfbend, good page to Sir Elias Redcliff. The back wagons were not so lucky – as the horses, with no where to go, turned and road each other off the ledge, leaving only the back wagon and the one behind us. It was sheer miracle that no one was on those two wagons – no one except Sulayn and Vargan who leapt off in time.
* Artwork from Warhammer Fantasy
They had gathered together on the mist-thick path with a seventy foot drop to one side and sheer mountain on the other, facing the nightmare that swooped down on us. It dove and crashed into our smallest member mercilessly, impaling Halda on its many talons, crying in triumph. Quickly Sir Elias and Vargan came at the creature. Sir Elias said a word and his sword glowed red like a hot poker, its warm light like the light of Sarenrae! Even for us up ahead – Mishka and Pyotr, some hundred feet, at the front in Villem’s wagon -even that far ahead the dim glow inspired us briefly. Vargan attempted to push the creature off the ledge with an impact so creature I thought a boulder came loose, but the monstrosity merely dug its heels in and blocked with its great leathery wing. Sir Elias swung his sword fiercely, dark shadows flying all around him like a thousand demons spurring him to even greater speeds. What inspired me at first now began to worry me. Who were we traveling with? For what purpose? To what hells had they led us?
As if to confirm my worries, I saw Persephone hiss like a true vampire lord, eyes red in the night, and draw her dagger – as if she didn’t really want to hurt her own kind. She leapt across the rocky wall and landed beside Sir Elias screaming, “the creature needs cold iron.” We were doomed.
Sir Aetherton Lowls V now strode bravely into battle along the cramped ledge, but he could find little to stab at, and when he did it brushed off the creature’s black fur to our dismay. This is what our ancestors saw – and now I understand the hopeless fate they endured. Sulayn, had rolled off the wagon and grabbed his glaive. All hopes were now on his great killing scythe and the demons that Sir Elias had command of.
Vargan, lost in the bloodlust of battle, threw his axe on the ground and leapt onto the creature, his great muscles straining against its massive sinew. It gave a great screech so that the sky shuddered and my ears bled. Sir Elias attacked and attacked, cutting the creature with his sword, distracting it, while Vargan pulled back on its neck, exposing its chest. Persephone set a firm jaw and moved in deadly close, stabbing it deep in the chest and rending downward. Then, Sulayn found a couple feet to lunge in beside it, cutting deeply all through its intestines, spilling dark red blood onto the path. It looked for just a moment, as if we would be miraculously unharmed – well, except for poor Halda.
But the creature’s wounds sealed almost instantly, and though it staggered from the surprise it looked down on its assailants and roared terribly. It threw Vargan down on the ground with a crunch and pushed its wings outward, forcing everyone back. But readers, unbelievably, our troupe did not falter in its faith. Instead, Sulayn threw his glaive down and rolled under the creature to grab one legs, pulling with all his might to unbalance it. Vargan leapt right back onto the creature, dangling over the edge of the roadside cliff, and shoved a Flash Bomb into the thing’s face. A miniature sun exploded, and everyone blinked, and then it resumed, but now the creature cut and tore in every direction, enraged. It was weakened, cut in several places, dazed, and held by the unrelenting savage strength of Vargan, as well as Sulayn at its foot. But it nonetheless managed to finally sink its talons into Persephone and rent a thick piece from her body, relishing in the blood that spilled from her gasping form. It licked it talons. But it celebrated victory too soon. In its arrogance, it left itself open. Sir Elias stabbed deeply, and Persephone somehow picked up her dagger again and launched from the ground to simultaneously impale it in the belly.
It shook, then gasped, stretched its wings out, letting Sulayn let go of his grip and Aetherton step back from its other side, then lurched. And then it burst into a could of bats that claws at the heroes. We all covered our faces from the beasts for just an instant, and in the next we saw, to our dismay, that Vargan was falling through space where the varghoul had been – through the mist, to the long, long drop below. Sulayn was the only one quick enough to react, stabbing his glaive into the ground as an anchor and flipping over to Vargan, reaching out his hand – but Vargan’s fingers just missed his, the mists curling their fingers around their prize, pulling his downward.
I must confess I shed a tear, deer readers, even for the brute. Maybe especially for the brute – for Persephone lost no time pulling out a potion. She lifted Halda’s bloodied head and fed her the potion. Meanwhile, Sulayn lost no time barking orders to bring him rope. He was going down after Vargan. But surely no one could live through a fall like that.
Moments later Halda opened her eyes, and they lost no time in telling her what had happened. Wincing she stood up, her small frame shaking. But she stretched her arms and then disappeared, but in that same instant small wings and a beak burst from her clothes which dropped to the ground beneath her. Halda was now a bird. I had just witnessed some sort of druidic magick, perhaps some dwarven runic version of what I’d heard the Kellids were capable. The bird, like a phoenix, rose in the air, then swooped down. Sulayn gathered her things and used the rope to descend. He quickly found Vargan and then Halda joined.
None of us slept well, readers. But we did survive. All of us. Halda managed to heal at least some of Vargan’s broken body. The man, and I am now beginning to wonder if he does not have some of the blood of a troll in him, continues to grin and move and eat and …well, defecate, just as if he did not fall from a very disturbing height. Halda spent herself healing everyone, and Persephone spent many potions so that we were all able to make camp.
It is now the next morning. Sir Aetherton is livid and now blames Marik for leading us poorly, and Persephone for not warning everyone earlier. He believes she should have known they would have encountered vampires like the varghulf, and should have told them about the cold iron weakness. She muttered that she told them everything she knew when she knew it, and that she was doing her best leading them through dangerous land. She now stalks the camp in a sour mood, anxious to go. Aetherton, unsatisfied, has everyone working on a proper plan, which I can’t really disagree with, but I don’t know what kind of plan we can form, let alone I can help with. He’s scolded me into conferring with the backwards scout and the priest. Sir Elias and Sulayn have been encouraging, with Sir Elias bring me of that delicious breakfast gravy that Pyotr managed to cook up. But I’m not sure what good it will do…
Still, the morning light, gray and thin as it is in the mountain mists, has brought me new inspiration. I believe Marik and I have deciphered some of these papers Aetherton has pulled out for us. They were quite interesting in their own right and I was glad he saw fit to share them. It turns out we are exactly on the correct path. I was able to recognize one abstract diagram as a set of constellation points, and Marik then ventured an inspired guess that the abstract diagram was actually a map, marked by constellations, constellations that may have been used to navigate through the vale in the time of the Whispering Tyrant. From there it was child’s play to determine what constellations were present where and when on the map, and I could identify the symbol of the skull as the burial place for the Tomb of the Three Sorrows.
We are now only two and a half days away readers! From history!
Indishka Felea, Graduate Scholar of Blackwood Academy, Gozran 16, 4707 – Eran’s Rest
Just a quick note readers. Persephone has noticed a gleam in the setting sun. Someone is following us. She believes it from a shield, a weapon, or maybe a spyglass. They think it’s a dark elf they remember from Caliphas, though I thought dark elves only lived in the deepest recesses of Golarion’s underdark. I hope she’s wrong. With only three wagons and one and a half days, frozen and wet to the bone, I hope we don’t encounter anything else…
* Artwork by Alan Lee
Indishka Felea, Graduate Scholar of Blackwood Academy, Gozran 17, 4707 – Eran’s Rest
Blessedly peaceful. But cold. Tired. Keep staring into the mists looking for varghulfs. Not sleeping well. I keep dreaming of skeletal horsemen. Persephone saved my wagon from falling from the cliff twice today. The second time I didn't even scream, numb as I am from the fear and the high altitude air.
Indishka Felea, Graduate Scholar of Blackwood Academy, Gozran 18, 4707 – Eran’s Rest
We have arrived. Or almost. Sulayn, Aetherton, and Elias debate what to do. They all want to set a trap for our pursuers. There's no telling how many of them they are or when they'll attack. They discussed sending us away, and did indeed escort us eventually, Aetherton and Elias doing it, but now we've been brought back. They waited a half day and Persephone came back, alone, from her own reconnoitering. She suspects there are only two.
* Artwork by Alan Lee
Sulayn and Persephone were able to open the doors to the tomb. We are all to go inside…But I have lost my excitement. I am told we are to walk across a plank Persephone made, which stretches across a foul watery pit in which bloody, tentacled skeletons swim and wait for anyone to fall. They tell us it's the safest course of action. And they tell us they have disarmed the guillotine spiked pit collapsing floor trap at the front entrance. And they believe there are other traps.
We huddle together praying for the end to be swift, caught between the varghulfs, the dark elves, and the freezing "spring" rains outside, and within …whatever new horrors await within.