Children of the Night

From the pages of Sulayn's journal, Part 1
A Record of the Children of the Night

Late into the night I was woken by a small woman entering the wagon to rent the second bed. A second woman, with a strong Sczarni accent was profusely thanking her as they talked through the open door, rather loudly, for several minutes before my new roommate finally said goodnight and settled in. I’ve had more peaceful nights in the barracks. I buried my face in a pillow to fend off her lantern and my travel weary body fell quickly back to sleep in the cozy cushioned bed. That night I dreamt of my cousin’s ranch in Greengold. Mostly the dreams were of mucking out the nests while the rude elven children of the wealthy came visiting from Iadara. In my dream though I was a full blooded elf and a child as they were. In the dream they welcomed me to play with them instead of viewing me with pity and scorn for my flawed “quick blood”. She is waking as I write this. I suppose it would be polite to make conversation.

What an awkward surprise! While exchanging pleasant banter with my new companion an uncomfortable familiarity began to grow in me. She was an attractive dwarf, fairly young as far as I can tell and a merchant and healer of some sort, although she was strangely cagey on the subject. It turns out that we have met before, years before at the Salty Siren in Greengold. Well, that explains the dreams. Met, is a bit understating it actually. An awkward night of youthful experimentation fueled by that summer’s excellent mead. I’m afraid I’m sure I performed badly and she had already left the barn loft before the hippogriffins crowed me awake for their breakfast. It was my only experience with a woman and, and while my heart was never into it, I don’t regret that night. Inside the wagon Halda and I chuckled at bit, embarrassedly recalling that night and how much time and life had changed since then. It was much less uncomfortable than it could have been and for that I was grateful.

After that strange reunion I believe I’d like to get out and see this wonderful festival the traders have been talking so much about. First order of business is a new shirt. This rag is bound for the trash. I should put an ear out for some work today as well. My coin purse is getting light.


The day began with an awkward reunion and ended chasing down murderous goblins in a race to beat them to the safety of their mountain homes. It has been a long, exhausting day and we are still traveling but as we stop for a brief rest I feel compelled to put this down as I don’t want to forget such an extraordinary day.

The beauty of the rolling terraced hills I had seen at sunset spills into and nearly surrounds the small town of Vauntil. The market was already open and bustling by the time I awoke. Leaving my spear and armor behind in my rented wagon I wandered the market drinking in the scents and smells of exotic foods and intoxicating perfumes. Everywhere there was something interesting and strange. Nostalgia tugged at me when I passed a table of imported Kyonin sweetbreads but I was here to sample something new. The octopus and squid was popular but more expensive than a night at a good inn. The festival attendees were colorful and friendly and quite cosmopolitan compared to the wary looks and not too slightly subtle warding gestures I’d seen traveling through Varno and Versex. I paused at a stall to examine a book on the local flowers and the bookseller and I got wrapped up in conversation with a noble from nearby Caliphas, my eventual destination. The vendor told us of a madman who pulled an ivory handled dagger from some nearby ruins, ruins from the age of the Whispering Tyrant. The noble and he seemed to believe there would be more artifacts to pull from the ruins. I asked after employment and the noble referred me to the captain of his guard at Redcliff estate. I noted it as a potential when I arrived in the capitol. The work sounded solid, but not very interesting. I also learned that a friend of my brothers was here, possibly with Ecaeris. Our conversation was interrupted with a crash as a large brute upended the squid cart spilling his slimy wares on the cobblestones. He was yelling about being poisoned and he did look unwell. His skin had a sweaty, shiny sheen to it. I ran through obvious symptoms of poisoning my father had taught me to recognize but it matched none that I could remember. In fact he still seemed strong as an ox and angry as a bull. Without my spear I felt as if I was missing an arm but I took a step forward and laid a hand on my dagger hilt. A half dozen town guard pushed through the crowds and cautiously circled him. These were professionals and had seen what I had. In his agitation the big man shifted his bulk easily betraying the appearance of his corpulence. He never reached for the axe on his back but we all watched for it as one of the guard tried to talk him down. The noble Sir Elias Redcliff pushed his way past me clearly not wanting to be protected. After a tense few minutes the big man threw down a handful of coins and stomped off roughly shoving the pressed crowds away and some to the ground. On the far edge of the crowd a young girl bravely stepped into the angry brute’s path. She exchanged a few words with him and unphased by his snarls reached up to hand him a yellow flower from her basket. “I think you are” her little voice squeaked. He tore it flinging petals to the ground but stepped around the defiant little girl. The whole scene left me intrigued.

I excused myself from Redcliff and broke away from the crowds. Hawkers resuming their cries and melodic music sprung back up nearby. Not liking feeling that vulnerable I returned to my wagon to don my armor and grab my spear. On my way back to the town square I spied the man that had caused the disturbance. He sat thoughtfully in amongst a caravan of wagons. We talked for awhile and it wasn’t long before his wariness softened. His name was Vargan and he had lived here sometime in the distant past. He seemed to take some offhand comment I made as an epiphany roughly slapping me with what I learned was his idea of an affectionate gesture. He departed eager to return to the squid cart but with a kind of eager zeal, not anger. When he stood to leave I noticed the stem of a small flower sticking out of a pocket on his rough shirt. Interesting. I suddenly remembered the lead I had on my brother and cursing myself hurried back to the town square.

The sun was low on the horizon when I finally found my brother’s friend Vali. He was playing violin outside the city hall near an old stone brazier as tall as a person. Vali said that Ecaeris was supposed to meet him at the festival today but he hasn’t seen him. I learned from him that Ecaeris spends much of his time at the academy in Caliphas and was courting the queen. The word queen earned a snort from a richly dressed man standing nearby, and someone in the crowd corrected Countess. I clearly need to catch up on local politics. The sun was setting as we talked and I gazed out over the festival to admire the lamplighters at work. A crash here, shout of alarm from the other direction and a scream. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a hand dart from under a table and grab a bottle of wine. A dog erupted in barking and then yelped and gurgled in pain.

It was goblins and they were everywhere. Not the pathetic, cowering whelps I’d seen in the Echo woods or the bumbling, almost cute goblins of a child’s story. These things were vicious little killing machines reveling in destruction and cruelty. It was difficult to pick them out amid the chaos and I’m sure even harder for the local humans. Intelligent sounding barking behind me drew my attention to a small clutch of them harrying a cart pulling wood and oil for the bonfire. Spear in hand this time I ran to engage. I was quickly mobbed and it took all my attention to bat off their teeth and chipped little blades. At the periphery of my awareness I heard pockets of fighting amongst the screaming and panicking locals. Guards shouting commands to steering merchants and customers to safety. The fiends on me slid under and around me stealing quick, angry stabs and tumbling away in impossible tumbles. Even when I managed to hit one the slippery runt would slide off the blow with nothing but a nick. I dropped one but another had snuck up behind me and nearly sliced my ankle tendon. I only just avoided the disabling blow with an reflexive kip. A couple of their weak strikes slipped past my guard but I don’t think anything drew blood. Desna’s stars! I’m glad I armed myself when I did! The newest goblin seemed to remember their task and croaked a command causing the goblins to break off to spark the fuel wagon a light. The flames ripped across the oil burning into the wood and cart. The goblins cackled their excitement but in the distraction I cut a second one down.

I stole a glance at the despoiled festival square and saw only a handful of dead or dying, most goblins. But several still howled and struck at a handful of scattered survivors. If they had had a little training they would have grouped up and pushed the creatures back. Several of the goblins looked in rapture, their blades hanging stupidly by their sides. A woman’s blade slashed in deft arcs, but like me her measured skill betrayed her in felling the unpredictable scrappers. I saw my new friend Vargan was having more luck. He had a goblin’s head in his hands and in the instant I watched he squished it like a ripe pumpkin muttering to the wretch as it died.

And then a shrill shriek from high above caught everyones’ attention. We turned to watch in amazement as one of the little creatures jumped off the roof of city hall straight down at an oblivious gentleman below. Did I write everyones’ attention? I’m afraid this poor fencer, wrapped in a battle with both his blades flashing, was the last to realize. He looked up just in time to see the plummeting goblin crash into him knives flailing. The blade scraped across the noble’s chest as the little beast crashed with a crunch onto the ground. A nearby woman, seemingly just watching all this chaos as if it were theater let out a gasp and reached a gloved hand towards him yards away. But the fencer staggered and kept his feet. I don’t think that goblin ever got back up. A grunt alerted me to backarm block a chopping bite and I pivoted back to my own dance, determined to finish them off.

Wagons moving somewhere nearby.. crying.. and screams. The smell of boars? Out of darkness a particularly gruesome goblin barreled towards me. He was a full head bigger than the others and better armored than I was. The three other goblins grinned madly, teeth stretching from ear to ear as they renewed their frenzied attacks. The new goblin, some kind of champion, fought with less abandon, more cunning. This I understood. I lowered my stance and focused on him alone, allowing years of conditioning to bat away the swipes of the others. He was good. Even shrugged off a pretty good blow, his mail turning a probably lethal stab into bruised ribs. Hit hard too, but more instinct than training. Kicking off the stone wall behind me I flipped past his swing into a crouch. Confused he didn’t see my spear tip trace lightly up the skin of his throat, enter under his chin and burst through the top of his skull. With a hard pull I yanked my weapon free.

Unconscious battle sense receded then and let my mind return. I realized one of the goblins near me was struck dumbly with a sloppy grin as if from a hard blow to the head. The swordswoman had closed the distance to me her armor and sword splattered with blood. A swing from her longblade split one of my goblins from ear to waist. All around us the few goblins we could see broke and fled into the shadows. I remember wishing their howling cries didn’t sound so damn joyful.

After the battle introductions were made as others started to filter back into the town square and tend to the moaning in the streets. A shadow of something I thought I was supposed to feel passed over me but it was gone before I could recognize it. Too many skirmishes and there are always the dying. Best to keep the heart out of it. The woman seemed distracted, something about the wagons. She had pale grey skin and a muscled frame beneath layers of heavy cloth and simple armor. I barely got the name Persephone out of her before she slipped away and into the darkness. Then the fencing gentleman was on me shaking my hand and introducing himself while his other hand pressed a fine kerchief to his bleeding stomach. He is a Viscount by the name of Lowls but insisted I call him his personal name Aetherton. Impressed that I held off a few goblins he offered me a job in his personal guard. The pay sounded generous. We walked as we talked and came across my old dwarven flame Halga talking with Sir Redcliff, the noble I had met earlier. Both had gotten caught in the fight but Redcliff looked in even worse shape than Aetherton. He looked as though just maintaining a proper gentleman’s posture was taking everything he had. I wondered how long he could keep it up. Vali came by as we talked, violin still in hand like he had just taken a quick break from playing. He gave me an alchemical healing potion, very expensive by the look of it. He offered another to Redcliff who sorely needed it. I don’t know if it was pride or caution but the two started squabbling. When Vali would offer no promise other than his good will Redcliff weighed something in his mind and finally took the potion. He looked much improved after he drank it although it did not look like it closed all of his significant wound. As I had managed to evade the worst of my attacks I gave mine to Aetherton. It was good magic and sealed his flesh leaving nothing but a raised pink line where the goblin’s dirty blade had kissed. Vali disappeared back into plaza, I saw him last talking to an old woman who was bent over weeping.

So the five of us gathered and tried to puzzle out just what had happened and why. Someone had seen the goblins taking prisoners and another thought they had taken them away on wagons. I remembered the swordswoman Persephone had left speaking of wagons. Turns out she was Vargan’s friend and a good tracker so we pieced together she had gone after the prisoners. Redcliff and Aetherton cajoled and bullied the town militia and were able to fairly quickly secure us a couple of horses on loan. Vargan picked up the trail and a couple hours later we caught up with Persephone who had been tailing them. We are taking a brief rest now and while I sat here writing I noticed Persephone kneel in the mud of the wagon tracks and pick up something small. In the moonlight I see Vargan crossing over to her. The two of them stare down at a small yellow flower.


 

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From the pages of Halda's Journal
a festival fiasco

I had been looking forward to my first trip to the Festival of the Senses in Vauntil.  Unfortunately it turned into a fiasco.

To begin with, I awoke to find my bunk mate in the wagon I had rented was someone from my past.  I did not recognize him at first.  He had picked up a couple scars in the nine years since I had last seen him.

“Hello,” he said, “I’m Sulayn.”

At the mention of his name all the memories came flooding back.  I was enjoying my first trip to Greengold in Kyonin.  My then-virginal self was horny and on the prowl for a man.  The Salty Siren Tavern, a rather lonely looking stable boy, idle small talk, many glasses of mead, me shoving my breasts in his face (we dwarven women are quite well-endowed), both of us staggering back to the stables, falling into the hay …

Unfortunately it was a lousy first time.  We were two clumsy kids who didn’t know shit about sex.  He had the pelvic rhythm of a man suffering from seizures.  After 20 minutes of flopping around like a dying fish on land his semi-hard cock went limp and NOTHING would make it rise back into action.  It didn’t help that I ignorantly thought giving a blowjob meant blowing air on the cock like you were trying to blow out a candle.  I felt like the ugliest, most undesirable woman alive.  We could not even look at each other and separated without saying a word. 

For long moments we both stared at the floor.  “Well, this is awkward,” he said.

“Yes,” I muttered.

He told me a little about his life over the last nine years.  He had moved to the River Kingdoms and worked as a mercenary, but tired of it and came to Ustalav seeking new opportunities and looking for some missing family members.  I listened politely and departed.  It was uncomfortable being around a reminder of my youthful stupidity.  What dwarf in her right mind tries to fuck a half-elf?  I might as well have been wearing a sign that said “DESPERATE STRUMPET.”

I was sampling wine and cheese in the vintner’s area when I bumped into a handsome human male who made my mouth water.  He had wavy brown hair which was impeccably styled, green eyes and tanned skin.  The wine-colored tunic wore was made of very high quality silk, with puffed sleeves which looked a bit ostentatious to my mind.  In my younger days I would have gobbled him up like a greedy child with a bowl of ice cream.  But I suspected he was a noble or merchant prince and I was done acting like a fool. “Greetings,” he said.  “I’m Elias Redcliff.”

Elias Redcliff?  The Redcliffs were major players in merchant shipping.  My family’s merchant business had been trying to get a hold in the Caliphas market.  This could be a valuable opportunity.

“So what brings you here?  We don’t see many dwarves,” he said.

“I’m moving to Caliphas,” I said.  “But if you mean the Festival of the Senses specifically, I mainly came for the food.”

He chuckled.  “It is very good.”

We spent the next several minutes comparing notes on Caliphas and Highhelm.  Somewhat to my surprise, Elias seemed to be searching for a higher calling in his life.  He was also interested in starting an adventuring career.  I asked him what sort of adventuring skills he had.

“Well, I have been trained in the use of a sword, as all noblemen are.  And I have some other … unusual abilities which I think would be useful.”  A knowing smile crossed his face.

That caught my attention.  Unusual abilities?  Was Elias a fellow psionic?  “I’m interested in starting an adventuring career also,” I said.  “And I have some unusual abilities too.”

“Really?  Like what?”

Could Elias be trusted?  Hard to say given I had just met him.  “I have healing powers,” I whispered, hedging my bets with a half-truth.

He smiled.  “You are wise to be discreet about your abilities,” he said.  A small flicker of flame appeared in his palm.  It burned for several seconds and then vanished.

“There are reports that some ancient artifacts from the era of the Shining Crusade have been located,” he said.  “I was considering going –“

Suddenly I was shoved aside.  “Lord Elias,” the young woman said.  “I am so EXCITED to see you!  It is such an HONOR.  Oh, and you are looking as DASHING as ever.  How are you enjoying the festivities?  I am so INTERESTED to hear what you have been doing.”

Who was this bitch?  A Lady-in-Waiting?   She was pretty enough, I suppose.  Her dress was low-cut, which highlighted her fabulous lack of cleavage.  Her makeup was so heavy it looked like a clown and her perfume smelled like cat urine.  As she continued to fawn all over Elias I rolled my eyes and began mimicking her behind her back.

Then I saw another (human?) woman standing nearby, watching the three of us.  She had a long mane of white hair and slight grey tinge to her skin, but she had the face and body of an athletic younger woman.  She was dressed in padded armor and a longsword hung from her side.  There was something unnerving about her I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

“People can be so rude,” she said, gesturing toward the woman who had shoved me aside.

I sighed.  “The trouble with being a dwarf among humans is that they act like you aren’t even there.  I guess we’re too short to count.”

She nodded.  “I’m Persephone. “ 

“I’m Halda.  Are you a ranger?”

“Hunter.”

I waited for her to say something further but she didn’t.  “So where are you staying during the festival?” I asked.

“With the Sczarni.”

“Really?  Are you per chance looking for a roommate?  I rented a wagon but as bad luck would have it my wagon-mate is someone from my past I’d rather not see.  He’s not unkind but it’s … awkward.”

She shook her head.  “I am sorry, but I am not here for the festival.  I will be moving on soon.”

“If you’re not here for the festival why are you here?”

“I am hunting.”

Before I could say anything further there was a loud scream followed by a crash.  A small, ugly figure dressed in black went running from a tipped over cart of food.  Two more emerged from behind a building.  People screamed and began pushing and running away as the figures began swinging short swords at the crowd.  Then they started popping up everywhere, setting fires, attacking people, smashing property.  The nasty little shits were clearly goblins.  I turned to Persephone, but she was already charging, sword flashing in the sunset.

What a shitty day this turned out to be.

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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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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 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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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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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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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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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 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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