Children of the Night

From the pages of Halda's Journal, Part 4
lightning strikes

A search of Karinsky’s house revealed a stash of his personal writings.  Much of it was insane gibberish about how he was destined for immortality and an evil power which would usher in a new age of darkness.  But we discovered that he met regularly with his master “Dominicus” at the shrine of a saint in the Caliphas Cemetery.  It seemed a logical place for him to go in a situation like this, so we headed there.

Throughout I said little.  To the others I must have seemed lost in thought.  So many changes had happened in the last year I had spent almost no time exploring the limits of my psionic powers.  I had progressed very little since the training I received at the Temple of Irori.  Truth be told, I had gotten complacent.  And that complacency had now come back to bite me in the battle against the zombies.  Perhaps my deity, whose domain included self-improvement, was trying to tell me something.

I focused on the psychic energy pulsing within my mind.  Rather than simply projecting it, I tried to shape it.  With a little practice I found the energy could be molded, compressed or stretched.  I began to believe I could transmute it into physical form.  That required a different mental pathway from what I was used to. 

After Atherton and Elias talked the guards into letting us pass, we attempted to stealth through the cemetery.  Sulayn, Persephone and I were quiet.  As for the others – CLOMP CLOMP CLANK CLANK – the less said the better.  There was no chance we would gain the element of surprise with all the noise Atherton, Elias and Vargan were making. 

Sure enough, Karinsky was prepared.  We spotted him talking to an ominous shadowy figure which the shrine obscured from our view.  Upon seeing us he cackled and uttered an incantation.  A half-dozen armed skeleton warriors appeared.  They advanced on us, their empty eye sockets glinting with malevolence. 

The time had come.  My mind strained as I tried to channel psionic energy through an unfamiliar mental pathway.  Arcs of psychic lightning shot from me and slammed into two of the skeletons.  The first began to convulse as if in shock.  The second shattered into hundreds of bone fragments.

Success!  Using The Power this way felt crackling, tingling and dynamic — different from anything I had done before.  The sensation was almost addictive. 

I saw that Persephone and Sulayn had advanced on Karinsky.  Blood dripped from the hits they had landed on him.  He turned and began to run.  Not so fast, I thought.  I channeled more bolts of lightning in his direction.  But hitting a running Karinsky was not as easy as the slow-moving skeletons.  My bolts struck the ground, missing Karinsky by several feet.

Karinsky whirled around and seeing no one between us, charged me.  Fortunately this necromancer was not a very strong warrior.  His attack bounced off my leather armor. 

I responded by transmuting the strongest bolts of lightning I could.  But I channeled more energy than I could handle.  Pain spiked through my head and for a few seconds I was aware of nothing but the burning feeling that accompanied a psychic backlash. 

When I came to I saw Karinsky lying in the grass.  Black scorch marks lined his skin from which faint wisps of smoke rose.  The scent of ozone was mixed with the smell of burnt flesh. 

A quick medical examination showed Karinsky was still alive.  Vargan stabilized him and we carted him off to the wine cellar of the Lowls Estate.  After a prolonged argument, we agreed to not kill Karinsky.  We would put him in a sanatorium in exchange for telling us the location of The Dawn’s Requiem.  He agreed to this.  I would rather have turned him over to Whiteshaw and collected the reward for the Hawthorne Murders, but Atherton said some bullshit about defrauding the crown.  Whatever.  Vicar Moldenhauer would have agreed with me that the wounds on the bodies were consistent with the Hawthorne Murders.  Nobles don’t understand what it is like to have to work for a living.

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From the pages of Sulayn's journal, Part 3

Caliphas

 

30th of Arodus, Sunday

It was very bad tea. Turns out my meeting with Korinsky was meant to be a death trap. The rat catcher had planned to drug me and turn me over to some vampiric master. I was only saved by the timely interruption of my friends from Vauntil. Actually it was Vargan that saved us all. I’ve never been so thankful for the big brute. He shrugged off poison and managed to keep his wits enough to feed us the antidote, a springy, yellow herb Korinsky had been chewing. By the time I came awake the room was spinning and full of walking corpses. Halda had taken a bad hit and was cursing up a storm in dwarven. Reaching out my fingers closed on spear and I struggled to stand. One of the monsters lumbered past me and I impaled it. As it flailed about stuck Vargan split its head apart with his axe. With all of us on our feet now, albeit shakily, we cut down the walking dead and went down the stairs following the fleeing Korinsky. Downstairs we were stopped by more fresh zombies, their chests ripped open and still dripping gore. The sickly sweet decay was overpowering but marginally better than the sewers. Quickly the dead fell to the flashing blades of Persephone and Vargan. Not wanting to seem useless I leaped forward and skewered the final one.

Gagging on the rotten stench we rifled through the rooms looking for survivors and especially for Korinsky. He was clearly as dangerous as he was mad. The desecrated corpses that had attacked us bore were disemboweled in a manner that matched the description of the Hawthorne murder victims. This left me puzzled as those victims had been left where they died and these had clearly been captured, killed and animated with dark magic. A small chest held a handful of possessions, probably from these unlucky victims. Under some boards in the farthest room from the stairs a hole in the floor dropped a half dozen feet into a tunnel. In the dim light my eyes could just make out that it stretched off in two directions. As I bent to listen we heard noises coming from upstairs.

With the arrival of Elias and Aetherton the night was beginning to feel like a play. The corpse strewn dining room of a murderous rat obsessed bachelor was an odd place for a reunion but I have to admit I was quite happy to see them. Apparently they had followed some message from the others that led them here. Gathered together Elias and Persephone translated Korinsky’s notes and we pieced together a little more about him. As I noted above he was planning to sacrifice me to his master, someone or something named Dominicus. Persephone believes it is a vampire, but based on a few other things she said I’ve started to think she sees vampires in everything. Korinsky also knows how to get into an underground club called the Dawn’s Requiem. For some reason I’m still not clear on Persephone, Vargan, and Halda have been trying to find its location and visit it. I would have guessed it would be more Aetherton’s thing.

The notes revealed that the rat catcher meets frequently with his master at the shrine of a certain saint. It was not one I had heard of and in the chaos that followed I’m afraid I’ve already forgotten it. Whoever it was, Aetherton knew the place. Halda pointed out that since Korinsky had poisoned me tonight he may have been planning to meet his master there just after. This sounded at least as good a lead as delving into more tunnels following a trail gone cold.

We found the shrine in a patrolled and well maintained graveyard in the Eskcourt district. Elias talked our way in and as we approached the shrine we spotted first Korinsky, then something shadowy rippling in the air behind him. As we crept closer the rat catcher howled and was joined by another clutch of animated dead. These were skeletons, better armed and better coordinated than the fresher corpses we had fought just hours earlier. I don’t think they were intelligent exactly. Perhaps something was manipulating them or maybe they retained some memories from a past life. Their clothes had long since rotted away but could have been military garb. They hit hard and fast and nearly dropped a few of us. Elias moved in front of me closing tight with the spear fighters stealing their advantage and taking the worst of the hits on his shield. Aetherton was a dozen feet away facing a pair by himself. Having little effect stabbing the fleshless things he pummeled one with his rapier’s basket guard. Persephone rushed backwards appearing to flee the fight but I knew by now that she was more eager than any of us to put these abominations down. As we fought off battering blows from spears and swords she turned and sprinted using her momentum to leap and pull herself up to the roof of the tallest crypt, all without dropping her crossbow. She was hunting for Korinsky and she spotted him. But even at her new height she was unable to get a clear shot as he crouched behind moss covered stone.

It was then that Halda surprised all of us, maybe even herself. In her frustration and fury she expelled crackling bright bolts blasting the skeletons into smoking blackened bone shards. Persephone used this distraction to drop down and close the distance between her and Korinsky. In one fluid motion she raised her weapon and buried a bolt in the rat catcher’s chest turning his cackle into a shriek. His horrified expression was brief though as he broke off the bolt and glared at her licking his dirty cracked lips. Struggling to keep awareness of my comrades in the battle I was surprised when Vargan came crashing up from behind us to slice his axe into one and at the same time slam a second into the stone wall in front of us. With his arrival I didn’t feel so bad leaving Elias and Aetherton with the remaining dead.

I could say anger drove me towards Korinsky but the truth was it was probably more fear. He had nearly killed me and I was determined not to let him flee to try again. Springing over the nearest skeleton I ran joining Persephone to cut off Korinsky from fleeing. Like a rat he ducked and found an opening but instead of running the madman charged towards the heat of the battle. It was quick work for Aetherton to step forward and pierce him clean through. Korinsky gurgled and, still smiling, dropped to the ground as Aetherton pulled his rapier free. Regrouped now, we cut down the rest of the skeletal fighters quickly.

Our struggle had drawn the cemetery patrol. They were initially very suspicious but the honeyed and moneyed tongues of our nobles managed to talk their way out of our mess. We retired to the wine cellar of the Lowls House where Aetherton dismissed a nervous looking butler. We had Korinsky prisoner couldn’t decide what to do with him. He was nearly oblivious to his predicament ranting about his immortality and his Master’s imminent rise to power. In his ranting he did say something about his master’s master. With threats and bargaining Korinsky finally told us how to find and enter the Dawn’s Requiem. In return we took him to be locked up in the city’s sanitarium. We assured him as important as he was his master would surely come for him, and who knows, maybe that’s true.

With the sun well overhead I headed back to the Hearth and Trail where I had just missed breakfast. My stomach growling I tried to beg at least a little something from Gosti but he just pointed me to the sign hanging above the kitchen alcove. Written in both Taldane and Varisian it read “No Seconds, No Exceptions, No Princesses”. Not quite sure what that exactly means except that I won't be getting anything to eat. Too tired to walk the block to ‘Soups of Yore’ I climbed the stairs, keyed opened my door, and collapsed onto the bed.

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From the pages of Sulayn's journal, Part 2

Caliphas

 

27th of Arodus, Oathday

Not in the damned Hooktongue Slough  or in the dingiest brothel in Thornkeep have I ever felt so filthy! After a week of dealing with bureaucrats I had actually been looking forward to getting to work hunting the non-human variety of rats. That was before I had seen the bowels of this vile city and waded, quite literally, knee deep in its shit. The bounty on my one lousy giant vermin head barely bought enough cleaning solvents to salvage my leathers. After tonight’s hunt I tiptoed through the yard of a fancy manor in West Cushing, stripped off my gear before taking a good, long dip in the freezing waters of Lady’s Harbor. A lone guard dog lifted his huge head to follow my progress back out of the yard before lying it back down to snooze away the last of the predawn hour.

Back at the Hearth and Trail in time for breakfast I happily gorged on the big pan of slimy eggs and broken biscuit. Tumis looked suspicious of the mixed in shriveled peppers but when she opened her mouth a murderously silent scowl from Gosti closed it before she could voice her complaint. Exhausted as I was I got talked into one game of dragon bones before I retired and of course that turned into three or four. Perhaps this city isn’t all bad.


28th of Arodus, Fireday

Korinsky was an odd man. A mutton chopped constable at the Whiteshaw Eskcourt office pointed me to him as the local rat catching expert. While a few tips couldn’t hurt I’m hoping he may know something about either the Hawthorne murders or the Ispton Gentleman. I’m especially unclear on the later. There is a large bounty on information about him but the constable seemed to scoff at the idea he was connected to the murders. The general feeling I got from the local constable was that I ought to busy myself hunting rats and leave the real work to them. Doesn’t seem like that has been working out for them though given the rising number of murders in the area.

I found Ioseff Korinsky sipping a pint at the Skinny Cat. A dingy man with patches of grey hair sprouting mismatched across a balding dome, one hand gripped clawlike around a pint of something dark. The other rested protectively on a large, beatup pack dangling with rat traps. Reeking of the sewer he was given a lot of space at the bar. Korinsky was immediately suspicious of me and but invited me to a pub a few streets over where I purchased him an expensive wine sampler. He was very talkative but I got the impression he was mostly talking to himself. Going on at length about wine vintages he would abruptly interrupt himself to suspiciously demand clarification on some small detail from me, but was never patient enough to hear the answer. I was about to write the whole night off as an expensive mistake when Ioseff’s face became serious, then slid into a wide smile that revealed all half dozen of his teeth. For a brief moment I saw goblin in the crooked, ancient face and a chill went down my spine. Ioseff told me to visit him at his home tomorrow night where he would show me his collection of extensive maps of the area.


29th of Arodus, Starday

After my meeting with Korinsky last night I spent a little time looking around Valpole. The district lies just a couple streets from my boarding house, the Hearth and Trail. Valpole houses mostly migrants to the city and includes some buildings that have been converted to a scale more comfortable for the sizable dwarven and halfling population that have gathered there. As it’s a poor neighborhood it would seem a good hunting ground for the Hawthorne killer but I haven’t heard of any reports of murders from there. Maybe they just aren’t being reported or maybe there is a reason for that. If I was a killer I wouldn’t hunt my own backyard.

Later in the afternoon I stopped by Lowls House and the Renishaw estate. I was hoping to speak with either Elias or Aetherton but couldn’t get past underlings at either. I left word where i could be reached. Hopefully I can speak to one of them about a getting less disgusting work.

I’m finishing dinner in my room tonight as I write this. I’m to meet the crazy old man Ioseff to see his maps and try to pry some useful information out of him about the murders. Before leaving last night he made me promise to bring a bottle of “the good stuff” as payment. The bastard will bleed me dry. First stop is that winery we drank at last night. There was a rich red he loved, muttered something about it reminding him of the eyes of master or some such ranting.

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From the pages of Elias' Journal, Part 3

Sunday, 23rd of Arodas, 4707 AR,

Ahh, how events can sweep one away. Well, now that I've returned to Caliphas I suppose a bit of catch up is in order.

The rescue did indeed come together quite heroically. I believe not a one of the poor peasants found lost their life after the assault on the town, and all thanks to our unflinching resolve. Of course, it was not an easy task. Frankly I don't quite recall how many nights without rest we went, but in the end we caught the monsters within spitting distance of their lair and cut the lot down. Of course, we did run into some trouble along the way. First a gang of goblin dogs staking out an ambush at a campfire, then a gang of bandits – forget the affiliation – tried to waylay us. Both turned into brawls, though we came out just about uninjured. Much more bark than bite in those lowlife types it seems, though I must remember to speak to the master at arms about proper grip on these rapiers.

Of course, the confrontation with the bandits did inspire a rather more difficult issue, While discussing our approach Vargan spat some rather crude words at Aetherton, and I believe I may have rather impetuously let my newfound abilities take charge of me in putting him in his place. In any case, the incident seemed to push Persephone off the deep end, for she ranted at my quite insensibly for several minutes and stormed off, leaving Sulayn and myself to present a front against the thugs. Thankfully she and the others did come to their senses after the fighting started, but it is clear that she is struggling with some sort of prejudice.  Sadly, it is likely due to the weakness of others of my class, but I am quite confident that all shall be right between us in the end. Vargan continues to intrigue though. He is certainly uncivilized, but seems to acknowledge strength and good leadership readily.

On the way back I had a chance to spend another excellent evening with Shaelynn at the Dancing Bear, and enjoyed a few of the leftovers from the festival. Though the village was certainly exuberant about the return of their fellows, the festival itself seems to have fallen into a bit of a mess. Uproar is the nature of it though, and tales of the goblin assault are likely to serve as inspiration for many next year. Whatever the case, this has served as an excellent beginning.

 

Starday, 29th of Arodas, 4707 AR,

Thank the ancestors that is done with. After the festival and goblin hunt this last week has been terribly boring.  Father was of course pleased by my contact with Halda, and is thankfully eager to have me continue to grow the relationship. That should provide more opportunity to get out into the world. I really must devise a proper plan of how to get away from business more permanently. The old man still seems to have some illusion that I'll turn out like Gregor. No fear of that!

I did do a bit of poking around about the Black Blade, since that could provide both adventure and excuse, but had little luck. Perhaps a tomb near the Amaans, but that is far too vague to be of much use.

I suppose I should mention what little of interest there has been though. I saw that alchemist again, Vali was the name I think, at a guild party. Obviously quite poor, but I snagged a card. He may not have had much success in money, but if that potion and the samples he left are any indication, he does have some real skill. Perhaps the family can bring him in. I could certainly use a steady supply of those potions in my new line of work.

The Venianminov's was a real event I suppose. The dancers were absolutely marvelous, and Adja gave some excellent insight into the details. Must remember to visit the Barbed Boot down by the docks again. Altain Fenglove invited me boar hunting, which should be a decent enough diversion, especially since the others seem to be invited as well. I wonder how they impressed old Altain? Perhaps his libido getting away from him again, Persephone is not without a certain dangerous charm. Also possible that he put Vargan up to whatever he did to that noble though, that fellow really does need someone to take care of him.

Well, it's about time I'm off to court, and then to see if I can extract what old Altain is up to, I heard that some of the Barstoi are to give a report on possible demonic incursion so things should not be too dull.

Till next time!

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From the pages of Halda's Journal, Part 3
a cup of poison

Persephone, Vargan and I showed up at this flophouse because Persephone had gotten a tip that the man who lived here, Ioseff Karinsky, could get us into The Dawn Requiem, a bar which supposedly was frequented by vampires.  Going there sounded like a shitty idea to me, but Persephone was determined.  She is a vampire hunter and particularly keen on killing her sire.  I can’t blame her given that sire killed most of her family and turned her into a dhampir (half-vampire).   Her status as a dhampir left her as much an outsider in her community as my psionic powers did in mine.  But I was concerned her thirst for vengeance would push us into a situation we could not handle.

 Ioseff cracked open the door.  I could see the thick door chain lock which was still preventing our entry. He was a small man with an oily complexion, greasy hair and a chin which looked like a rat’s.  Which was pretty funny given he caught rats for a living.  He looked like someone who would pimp out his own daughter for two copper pieces.  

“What do you want?” he hissed.

“We heard you can get us into The Dawn Requiem,” Persephone said.

“Go away!”  Ioseff barked.  But then we heard a familiar voice from somewhere in the back.  “Who’s there?”

“Sulayn?  What are you doing here?”  Persephone said.

“You know these people?”  Ioseff said.  The door shut for a minute and there was muffled conversation I could not hear.  Then the door opened.  “Come in,” Ioseff said.  “You can wait in the living room.  I will make tea for everyone.”

We talked with Sulayn as we waited.  He said he was investigating the Hawthorne Murders.   Ioseff reappeared.  “A cup of tea and a glass of wine for everyone,”  he said.  “Drink one, then the other.  You will find the flavors blend wonderfully.”

So I did, not wanting to appear rude.  Coming from a merchant family, I knew it was bad manners to refuse refreshments from a host.  But I should have considered why Ioseff had suddenly become so friendly.  The room began to spin.  I saw Sulayn collapse.  Before I blacked out I heard Ioseff shout “You will make fine meals for the master!”

-———————-

I was awakened by a loud cracking sound.  Vargan was shouting something I could not make out.  I tried to stand up and vomited blood instead.  Nausea swept over me like a tide.  What had been in those drinks?

Vargan was engaged in fierce combat with Ioseff.  Persephone was on her feet, but she looked almost as bad as I felt. 

Ioseff threw open the basement door and ran down.  The foul stench of rotting flesh filled our noses as zombies poured out of the basement door and into the room.

Vargan, Persephone and Sulayn engaged the zombies in melee.  Struggling against my nausea, I pushed my psychic energies into the minds of the zombies in an attempt to stun them.  But it was like firing a blast into empty space.  There was nothing there.  One of the zombies rushed forward and landed a blow on my side.  I felt my ribs crack and vomited more blood. 

Through the pain I desperately tried to mentally stun the zombie again.  Nothing.  The creature had no mind to affect.  The zombie raised its fist – and then it collapsed.  One of my companions had struck it down from behind.  In the confusion of the melee I was not sure who saved me.

We destroyed the rest of the zombies.  Vargan did a surprisingly good job of patching my wounds.  I was grateful to have been accompanied by three warriors but frustrated and embarrassed that I had been useless as tits on a boar hog.  This was the first time I had fought undead creatures.  If they were immune to my psionic attacks, how was I to deal with them?

As we headed down into the basement after Ioseff Karinsky, I still had not answered that question.

 

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Persephone's Log and Internal Musings
Dinner with a Devil: Part 1

The nights have been slow since we fought the goblins and freed the villagers. The group of us found ourselves in Califas and went our separate ways,  The nobles went off to socialize and smooze with other nobles. I'm not quite sure where the others ran off to, I had other things to attend to.

We met Altain Fenglove while the goblins attacked; his poor dog slain by the brutish goblins.  I stepped in to protect him. Goblins at his feet, with the blood of the attack still wet, he extended his hand and an invitation to his estate on the outskirts of Caliphas in gratitude.

Driven by a deeper goal, I decided to take him up on his offer.  From experience, I don't trust nobles. They are often backstabbing or have they're eyes set on a greater prize. Altain definitely had deeper motives.  We met at his hunting cabin, alone.  He claims to be a great huntsman, and self-made artist. I think he just enjoys preying upon unsuspecting subjects. I did not end up being the subject of his delights. I did, however, agree to a hunt on the following Starday (Saturday), on the last weekend of Arodus (August) for a local wild boar.  If I should succeed, I could ask of him information about the local vampires.  If he succeeded, then I would have to be subjected to dining with him again.

In my off time, I stayed with the Sczarni outside of town.  They were wary of me at first, with my pale shin and sharp teeth. I'm sure I did not make many friends, but I did attempt to by honest by sharing my tale with them.  I was stopped halfway by an old matriarch. She warned me that there are many within the city who work for the very beasts I track, and that I should be wary.

I did the occasionally job, not too much to draw attention, just enough to make a little income. On the day of the hunt Vargan and Halda joined us. Tracking the boar took a few hours, but in the end I bested the beast, with Vargan close by and Altain watching with some slight adoration. His eyes can sometimes be unsettling. We ventured back to his hunting lodge for a meal and some wine.

He upheld the end of his bargain. From what he shared, there is an underground bar, The Dawn Requiem, in Caliphas where vampires meet to dine on and sometimes with mortals. He shared with us the name of  Ioseff Korinsky (meaning "of the root" in old Virisian), "the Rat Catcher", who had ways of getting interested parties into The Dawn Requiem.

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Vargan's log: Part 1
Session 2

Translated from orc:

Today I went to war and felt strong again. I smashed through goblins battling a group of food makers to protect a shaman of Lamashtu. The Shaman showed me her through a tasty squid snack. Weak goblins stole women and children. Lamashtu says we must protect families so a warband formed with me and we went to get the taken people back. The band lacked strength but had tricky fighters and a witch doctor. Two of our band were also of Lamashtu, a pale female named Persephone and dwarf named Halda. I am happy that Sulayn travels with our band. He is shunned like me and fought many goblins without falling.

It felt good to be on the hunt again. While Seph tracked the goblin cart holding the captive families, Halda spoke to me about her family. They protected her while her clan rejected her and her gifts from Lamashtu. My birth family was unworthy of having me as a child. I still want what Halda has.

We followed the trail until we found a camp. I climbed a tree that was too weak for me and it threw me to the ground. Dog-goblins attacked while I was in the dirt and wounded my ax arm. I showed them I only needed my shield arm to fight. The rest of the group proved their prowess and killed all the goblin creatures. My shoulder soon healed itself after the battle. Halda says she healed me but I know my body heals itself. I thanked her anyway.

As we continued my horse struggled to handle my weight. I miss wargs. We found a different camp. This one had human mercenaries. We wasted time talking about what to do. Elias the noble took forcefully took charge and talked to the mercenaries. He was the strong leader we needed. Most of us went around to attack the mercenaries flank while Elias spoke with them. They attacked first. The other noble, Atherton, charged on his horse and delivered many strong strikes. The battle was quick. Orc children would make better bandits.

Elias continued to lead forward but lost strength as we traveled. Soon he was no better than the others. We left our horses and went on foot. Seph and I pushed the group forward. I was unhappy as we got closer to the hungry mountains. I did not want to go back there. We caught the goblins on the winding trail before the caves. Harpies came out of trees to attack us. I ignored them and went to fight the goblins. I stopped the goblins as they attacked me many times. I only heard screams as the group cut the harpies into pieces. My warband came to my aid and the goblins fled like cowards.

I hope Lamashtu forgives me for killing goblins and allowing harpies to die. Saving families is what matters and I did that. Now I will go back to town to talk to the shaman.

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From the pages of Aetherton's Journal, Part 1

 

The trip to Vauntil was uneventful, despite leaving the bodyguards in Rozenport. The custom at the Last Breath is to attend sans entourage, which both precludes attendance by the highest-ranking nobility, and ensures that those who do attend have a reasonable chance at a room instead of being forced to make do in a tent. Having nobles squabbling over rooms like common merchants is hardly the image anyone wishes to present, so reservations are made far in advance, and secured by deposits. This is not a perfect guarantee of accommodation, of course- there is still a bounty on the prankster who forged a cancelation for some Baronet’s reservation three years’ back. The innkeeper ended up offering his own room to the Baronet to honor the reservation, with some unspecified enticement to make up for the inconvenience. The poor fellow ended up spending the festival sleeping in his cold, damp cellar, and there are still rumors- denied, of course- that his wife was the enticement. Nobody has identified the prankster, and it is unknown if the Baronet or the Innkeeper was the intended victim of the prank.

 

I was not the victim of such shenanigans. Both the room and the stall for my mount were ready as specified, with an armor rack and hot bath waiting. After changing from my riding armor to festival attire, I reported to the judge’s booth to register. This was my first year attending, and my friends in Rozenport had strongly recommended that I act as a judge, heaping overly-exaggerated praise upon my 'refined' tastes and laughing at some private joke. Signing up was uneventful, the orientation boringly mundane. At first I was a bit perplexed at why the committee put so much emphasis on ensuring judges knew the locations of the exhibitors of seafood, and the alchemist’s. Once I left the Judge's tent, it quickly became apparent that Judges were treated differently- upon seeing the amulet, I was all but dragged from booth to booth, and ushered into ‘private sampling tents’ where I could ‘enjoy and focus on the delicacies without distractions’. 

 

Without distractions? Ha! The event is a contest, winning can make someone’s reputation and fortune for years after. Even placing second or third can attract sufficient clients to ensure prosperity. High stakes intensifies the competition, which is conducted at every level. While the same delicacies are served, the booths for attendees are all about serving as many as quickly as possible. In the tents, presentation is raised to an art. Wine is poured slowly, by attractive ladies in low-cut dresses, who invariably turn the pour into a bow. The cheeses, sweets and other delights are served from platters held just so. Choice bits of beast are served, with a running commentary on the creature it came from and how it was prepared, by a buxom lass who spares the judge the tedious effort of making his own selections, picking it up, and putting it in the mouth. All one must do is open the mouth, chew, and swallow, opening the mouth when ready for the next morsel. And always, the offers of more, to be delivered to your room that evening, to freshen one's memory after a busy day. 

 

It was by far the most decadent experience I have ever had. Moving from tent to tent, I eventually came to one serving sugary confections. I was the only judge present, and began to succumb to the abundance of good wine and rich food, closing my eyes for just a moment. I heard my server ask if I wanted to try the next morsel ‘au Taldan’, and she took my ‘hm?’ as an affirmative. After a moment of rustling sounds, I felt her move onto my lap and place her hand on the back of my head. When I opened my eyes, I saw she had placed the next treat in her décolletage, and was pulling my head towards it. 

 

I contemplated resistance, but before words could escape my lips, integrity was smothered in an abundance of soft flesh. My heartbeat quickened, and I experienced a moment of perfect clarity, as the wine I had consumed earlier in the day suddenly ceased to cloud my mind. An epiphany struck, all the oddities I had noticed fell into place like pieces of a puzzle. The reason the registration staff had emphasized the herbalists’ booths and the seafood vendors. Why so many of the exhibitors have private tents for the judges. The profits to be made by the winners. The offers of additional samples in the evening. Why the organizers can charge such an absurd amount of gold to serve as judge. Unfortunately, this moment of insight into the economic workings of Ustalav was derailed as the blood flow to the brain dropped below the level required for deep analysis. What was left was the Nobility’s cosmopolitan tradition of respecting local custom, and one point of intense physical discomfort. At least, that’s how I think of it now, after twenty hours on horseback chasing goblins through a forest. Truth be told, starting the day sampling the wines had been a mistake, even if I had managed to secure two casks of the Prince’s favorite. In that moment, all that mattered was that she was beautiful, in my lap, and clearly willing to satisfy my need. Perhaps she expected a quid pro quo, but nothing was said. Lust took advantage of the distraction to ambush my conscience, and discreetly disposed of the remains. If anyone outside the tent suspected the moans of delight were due to anything other than the sweets, they kept it to themselves. 

 

After exiting the tent, I looked at the festival with newly-opened eyes, and resolved to make the most of this unexpected opportunity, with the ambition and vigor of a 20 year old… and perhaps a bit extra. Spotting an Alchemists’ stand, I walked over, and requested a sample. The vendor, a Dwarf who was clearly not new to the festival, saw my judges’ amulet and promptly handed over a vial of light blue fluid, beginning a spiel about how it was the strongest formula he could responsibly sell to humans,  “…guaranteed to ward off all forms of exhaustion, weakness, and fatigue for a day and a night”, with a wink. I popped the cork and took the dose in one gulp, disregarding the strong taste and slimy texture. 

 

“If it lives up to that claim, you’ll have my vote in the morning”. 

“I assure you, m’Lord, you will not be disappointed.”

 

Our eyes met, and we both smiled, understanding each other perfectly. 

 

The next stop on the itinerary was the latrine- it would be at least a few minutes before the elixir took effect, and it was time to make room for more wine. Returning to the festivities via an alleyway, I heard a commotion ahead- shouts, sounds of alarm, some screams- a pack of goblins had snuck onto the grounds and were attacking attendees! One came around the corner and began to accost a lady, with whom I was unacquainted, but she was clearly noble, and defenseless. Drawing my rapier- and wishing mightily that I had a more substantial blade- I leapt to her defense, running the goblin through with a single blow. It fell to the ground, the lady made appreciative noises, but I was too busy evaluating the scene of the battle to attend to her words. To my left, three goblins were rampaging through the stalls, more concerned with creating chaos and stuffing their faces with snatched delicacies than causing harm. Directly ahead, another pair were engaged in a struggle with a large, misshapen fellow- possibly a caliban. He appeared more than capable of handling himself. Beyond him, some goblins were tormenting an unfortunate dog. To my right, things were more serious, a half-dozen goblins, led by one that was almost man-sized, were engaged in melee with two of the Vauntil guard and a half-elf- possibly a mercenary, he was in armor, but not wearing guard insignia. Behind them, more goblins were attempting to ignite a fire. This appeared to be the main body of the enemy. I swept to the right, joining the guards and running through another goblin, hoping my sudden arrival and decisive strike would help overwhelm the goblins and allow us to take the offense. 

The guards were rather less proficient than I had hoped, wasting the opportunity. The goblins were more competent, recognized the danger, and immediately reinforced, including one who leapt from the second story of the in to attack me. The attack came from an unexpected direction, and wounded me, at a cost- he broke his own leg in a bad landing. The half-elf was doing the work of four, holding off several goblins single-handed, forcing them to face him instead of lighting the fire. The festival attendees who could fled the melee, and the goblins shifted focus to those who remained. After a few more swings, the half-elf landed a telling blow on the man-sized goblin, which seemed to have broken their morale. Without fear of the largest to keep them in the fight, they snatched up whatever was near and fled, leaving their dead and wounded. 

 

The next several minutes were spent helping the wounded and assessing losses. While there were many wounded, remarkably few were dead. The tactics the goblins had used suggested that their goal was something other than murder. If they had wanted to just kill people, quietly ambushing drunks at the latrines or inside the tents could have gone on for some time before anyone noticed. As I discussed this with the guard Captain, a runner came, shouting about a wagon full of people being driven by goblins, departing from the north. 

 

…Continued…

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From the pages of Halda's Journal, Part 2
A monstrous man

I grimaced, clutching the reins so hard my knuckles turned white.  I might be thrown from the back of this infernal beast better known as a horse at any moment.  When I dreamed about an adventuring career it didn’t occur to me that horseback riding might be part of the work.  Dwarves are NOT built to ride horses.  Our party was to rescue the prisoners captured during the goblin attack. Atherton, Elias, Persephone and Sulayn galloped forward on their horses with a skill and ease my body could never manage.  Bitches, I thought.

But one rider was having as much trouble with his horse as I was.  Over six feet tall and built like a brick shithouse, his horse seemed grumpy at bearing so much weight. 

“Looks like we’re bringing up the rear,” I said.  “I’m Halda.”

“Yes, I saw you during the festival attack.  I am Vargan,” he said.  His voice sounded like a low-pitched croak.

Vargan was so hideous I wondered if his mother had to get drunk to breastfeed him.  His pale white skin had a faint greenish tinge and oily complexion.  He had large bulbous black eyes and an unnaturally long tongue, both of which resembled a frog.  I suspected he was a Caliban. 

“A dwarf,” he said.  “We see few of those here.”

That got under my skin a little.  It felt strange and patronizing being recognized for my race alone.  But it was something I’d have to get used to if I was going to live in a human dominated country.  “I just moved to Caliphas,” I said.  “But I was born in Highhelm.”

“What made you leave?”

“Things happened and I did not fit in there anymore.  Many were glad to see me leave.”

“People are always glad to see me leave,” he said.  “Why did you not fit in?”

“It’s complicated but basically people were sacred of me,” I said, not wanting to bring up my psychic powers.

“Do you have family in Highhelm?” he asked.

“Yes.  They were sad to see me go.  But the situation was difficult.  I had seen it happen before and it didn’t end well.”

“You are fortunate to still have your family.  Mine rejected me,” he said.

“Because of the way you look,” I guessed.

He turned red with anger.  “Yes.  As a child they tormented me every day.  Then they threw me out and left me to die.  Someday I will make them pay for what they did.”

I began to feel bad for him.  I thought the treatment I received in Highhelm had been difficult – the whispers and suspicious stares as I walked down the street, the friends who began avoiding me, the rumors I was a Duergar mind witch.  But through it all my family had supported and loved me.  What if they had turned their backs the way the rest of society had?  That was the reality Vargan faced.

“I have another reason for moving to Caliphas,” I said.  “It’s the last place we heard from my Aunt Valmae before she disappeared.  I am hoping to find some information about what happened to her.”

“What was she doing in Caliphas?”

“I’m not sure.  She was exiled from Five Kings Mountains 20 years ago.”

“Most people would not want anything to do with an exile.”

“It’s complicated,” I said again.  “High King Borogrim exiled her.  My family did not agree with the decision. ”

“Oh, one of those high and mighty king types,” Vargan muttered.  “I will help you find her.  Family is important.”

“Thank you Vargan,” I said.  “I’d offer to help you find your family, but it sounds like you might be better off forgetting about them.”

His face darkened and he pushed on ahead.  Staring at his slumped shoulders, I had no doubt I was looking at someone who had been hurt badly by this world.

-—————————-

We had just spotted signs of a campfire in the distance when the goblin dogs attacked.

They were so stealthy we did not spot them until they were uncomfortably close.  Their foul stench gave them away more than anything.  They were the size of large dogs with the face of a rodent and a nasty bite.  Even worse, they were notorious carriers of disease.  I was not sure how many of them there were but I was pretty sure they outnumbered us.

Taking a deep breath, I focused my psychic energies, feeling the pressure build up in my mind.  Then I thrust those energies into the minds of the two nearest goblin dogs like a hammer.  They were sent reeling, stunned by my psychic attack.  But I knew the effect would not last long.

I turned to see another goblin dog moving in behind me.  As I readied another mental stun, Persephone stepped between me and the dog.  It charged, but she jumped aside and shoved her sword up its ass.  Then she wrenched her sword out of the dog’s body in a spray of blood and gore.  The dog screeched as its entrails unspooled onto the ground.  Then it collapsed and died.

Another of the dogs slammed into me, its teeth digging into my arm.  Fortunately my leather armor held.   By Torag’s beard, the disgusting beast smelled worse than orc shit.  Focused on me, the dog did not see the figure approaching behind in time.  Its head turned just as Elias chopped it clean off.  Did he wink at me?

Then I saw Vargan.  One of the goblin dogs lay dead at his feet, but it had torn a large, gaping wound in his side and taken out a good chunk of his shoulder too.  He was struggling to keep his shield up.

Touching Vargan’s wounds, I channeled my psychic energies into him.  I hooked into the connection between his mind and body, trying to stimulate his natural recovery system.  It required painstaking, precise concentration and was harder than throwing mental stuns.  But it worked.  I watched as the wounds closed and then vanished.

Vargan sprang up.  “I didn’t know my body could do that!” he boasted.

“I did it,” I said.  Did this fool think he had spontaneously regenerated?

For a moment he seemed to not hear.  But then he crouched down beside me.  “Thank you,” he whispered.

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From the pages of Elias' Journal

Starday, 19th of Arodas, 4717 AR,

Well, Vauntil has proved to be just what I was looking for. A true adventure, and a rag tag group of companions to boot!

Last Breath itself has been much the same as usual, not to put it down by any means. I can't deny being gratified by the room at the Dancing Bear, and must commend their dedication to service.  Dinner was excellent, fresh venison and some sort of roots vegetable, along with a sampling of the events wines of course.  The company however, was a little plain. too many recognizable faces, and far too much talk of business. Luxurious as it was, I did find myself pining a tad for the times when Rennis and I encamped along the edge of the Sczarni tents, or the year I found a welcoming bed in the Lynyse tents. Still, it is a perfect base from which to explore the festival's true delights.

This morning I headed out early to see what was to be found, picking up a few tips from the horse master (the name seems to have slipped my mind). I recall a certain "fortune teller" sounding particularly interesting, though events swept me from that path. And now that I speak of it, he also introduced me to the lovely Shaelynn. I shall have to thank him for that later.

The goods I found strolling through the central square were as sumptuous as ever, and I even stumbled across a few interesting leads and persons among the crowd.

I met some fellow, name of Sullyn or some such thing, I shall have to get the correct spelling from him. Foreign, obviously, though I'm not sure where from. Said he was here looking for family, and was quite ragged really. Still, he had a certain determination to hi,, and that edge that those who have seem battle always seem to have. He'd even ferreted out news of a trove of artifacts from the Shining Crusade being discovered on a nearby mount. Even offered his services as a bodyguard, saying he'd learned to fight in the Riverlands.

Anyway, this Sullyn fellow and I were just starting to recount stories when some terribly deformed fellow made a raucous at the octopus stand, yelling that they'd poisoned him. Almost turned into a fight with the guards, and I thought I might have to intervene, but he stormed off first, pummeling a boy to the floor on his way. Still, you can't expect some poor brute to properly understand high cuisine.

After that I had to good fortune to spot who I correctly guessed was Halda nearby, listening to some drunk rave through his attempts at poetry. Obviously I introduced myself, and must say I found Halda to be a very pleasant surprise, not at all the stodgy merchant I was expecting. Instead, she seems to be in a rather similar place as myself, breaking away from the family to make a real name for herself in this world. I think we shall get along quite well.

That is when the true start of this tale of heroism began though, for a tribe of goblins seem to have gotten it into their little brains to spoil the party. My first true battle! They seem to have worked their way into the crowd, for all at once they were everywhere, with reinforcements approaching from the outskirts of town. Things turned into a rather desperate fight, with guests being cut down everywhere. Obviously I set about myself, and I was not even alone in the struggle. Halda showed herself to indeed be quite a practitioner of some sort of magic, and that Sullyn fellow, as well as the brute from earlier, joined the battle. Some noble fellow from up north, and a rather strange girl I have not properly met yet, also made their presence felt in the battle with the little beasts. Together we prevailed, quite literally saving the town from destruction. I myself received a rather nasty slash, although a combination of the ministrations of Shaelynn and some alchemist fellow have set me mostly right. The matter of glass in the wreckage of the stalls was rather more troublesome than I had supposed though. Thankfully, that poor beast from earlier, I believe he goes by Vargan, proved he had some decency, helping clean a bit of the debris.

Tragically however, we soon learned that some wagon fulls of guests had been carted off by the retreating goblins, and we quickly arranged to set off after them, my good name securing us several horses. Now, after quite an exhausting ride through half the night, we are finally to get some rest. Thankfully Villem and  Pytor are here, and I trust that a good breakfast will do my aching ribs a bit of good.

Till next time dear reader, when I believe I shall have a tale of rescue for you to enjoy.

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