Children of the Night

Trouble in Tamrivena
Month of Erastus, 4709

A night spent scouting the ghouls’ trail revealed deep, long tunnels that looked to go on for miles underground. Dozens of corpses chewed to bones lay piled around the entrance but that was only perhaps half the villagers taken. Without even a sound of the ghouls or the prisoners they took Halda and Sulayn decided the townsfolk were as good as dead. Back on the ship they explained the futility to Aetherton and Elias. Marching their two hundred into those tunnels would be sending them to their deaths. The ghouls outnumbered them and had the advantage of terrain and lighting. Elias struggled most with this decision, soul crushed at abandoning the hundreds. He looked more haggard and worn than Sulayn had ever seen him.

Exhausted but very concerned about the murder of one of the ap-Blutte Sulayn and Halda conspired to search the rooms of seedy trio Elias had hired to control the barges. As a mouse Halda slipped into their rooms and found some damning evidence but not being a spy by trade made the unfortunate decision to take it with her. When the two confronted Elias with a handful of horror writings and cult like trinkets he was all excuses for them and tried to shame Halda and Sulayn for invading their privacy as if such a notion as a right to personal privacy had already been conceived. Elias promptly returned the stolen goods and came out of the room stinking of cheap liquor. The three sailors eyed the rest of the group from that point on.

Collapsing onto his cot Sulayn managed to get a few hours of shut eye before the barge docked in Tamrivena. They were greeted at the docks and sent on their way towards the city council still in session despite the late hour. They walked past an ugly cheering mob ringed around a demagogue frothing at the mouth and shouting of the evils of various kinds of sinners who didn’t look or dress like him. Sulayn had seen plenty of this before. It seems even the outskirts of Ustalev were full of hate. He wondered if the orcs were any different than these people. He had heard they ruled the neighboring nation. Perhaps they had learned there what these people had not. Sulayn made his excuses and after pointing out an inn he had stayed at on his last visit separated from the group to gather some information.

The bright lanterns at the gates faded quickly as Sulayn left Tamrivena behind and headed towards the crowded tents of Narthus, the Sczarni village sitting in the shadow of the city’s wall. The deepening shadows of dusk seemed to only enrich the varied hues in the camp before him. His elven eyes taking in the tangle of colors and the melodic tinkling of bracelets and chimes. Dark brown eyes lit on him only briefly before turning to the evening’s chores. Moving through the Sczarni he mixed questions with coin and was eventually directed towards a larger tent draped in green and decorated with silver dragonflies. Inside he could hear two men in deep debate.

Sulayn was up until dawn learning about the Sczarni’s situation from a handful of village leaders. Orc raids had been growing more bold, the latest burned down a ranch less than a mile distant. Displaced people of the road had been gathering here swelling the size of the makeshift village but outside the city walls they were no more safe than out under the stars. Never much trusted to begin with it hadn’t been hard for voices within the city to work up the locals, some even suggesting that the orcs would be doing Tamrivena a favor by wiping Narthus away. The others in the tent seemed to defer to one man, Harnin MIrgravos above the rest. He admitted that while the safety of all the Sczarni here had to be his chief concern he had been lost in desperation and rage since his daughter had gone missing six weeks prior. Gabriel, the daughter’s favored explained the rest. Harnin’s daughter Kiaria had been seduced away from the village by a wealthy local named Toladda Johvanki. It seems the man, the same orator the group had witnessed spewing hate near the docks, had a fancy for hiring young girls and in his pleasure taking roughly to them. Both Harnin and Gabriel were beside themselves with worry since Kiara had went off with him and not returned. Gabriel had been caught twice prowling Tamrivena after dark. After taking a finger the city guard banned him from the city at all under threat of hanging. The girl’s father tried to hire Sulayn offering five hundred crowns. He declined the coin but promised he would look into the matter with urgency.

It was nearly dawn when Sulayn scaled the city walls to slip back into the city. It would be smarter to wait until the gates reopened in an hour or so but he was tired and ready for bed. In the predawn light the wall guard spotted him and gave chase only escaping after a lucky quarrel glanced off his shin guard. Given the orc armies less than a day’s march it was probably a good thing the guards were so alert.

After a short nap Sulayn was woken by the Innkeep’s daughter and told his friends had arrived. He met with Halda and Elias and caught them up. Elias seemed to know this Tressa that Gabriel had told him about and was very excited to hear she was in town. For their part it sounded like their audience with Tamrivena’s council had gone pretty much as Sulayn had guessed it would. A lot of posturing yielding very little useful information, the most interesting of which was that there was a prolific murderer in the city who dumped their victims marred bodies on the same cross roads. The three ate a greasy breakfast and set out to gather information trying to prioritize between the various leads that pulled them in different directions. Sulayn abandoned the two at a formal tea party to go make ready for the Navid’s funeral. Aside from the five on duty at the barges the rest of the ap-Blutte, as well as Aetherton, were at the service. It was short and honest, just like Navid.

From the pages of Elias' Journal, Part 21

29th Erastus, 4709

What a day. My mind is practically full to burst, and I have but an hour or two before I’m off to meet Tressa! It truly is a pleasant surprise to find her here, should do wonders to relieve some of the burden of all the rest. I’ve been quite eager to see her since she disappeared from Marian Leigh, off on this adventure I suppose, but it did worry me, it was so sudden. Especially considering the tension that seemed to sit between us there. She has certainly excelled in school in a way I never quite did, but she must understand that I am as ardently in support of some of these new philosophies as she. Perhaps we’ll find a moment to discuss it tonight between other activities. I wonder if she will wish to join us tomorrow, her blade and wits would certainly aid our cause quite substantially.

Ah, but I am sure I have left you quite behind my dear reader. I am in Tamrivena now of course. The journey today could have been more enjoyable though. I forgot to mention in my entry this morning that on our return to the ships last night we found one of the ap-Blutte stone dead at his posts with not a mark to be seen. The whole thing set off quite a stir, but nothing was to be found until a few of my companions did a bit of unscrupulous snooping on the crew.

As I mentioned before, I have brought along a few companions from a favorite drinking spot in the city as advisors on this voyage. These few, Serana, Giorgi, and Marcel, are not exactly what one would call upstanding citizens. As I understand it, they have made a life of piracy for themselves, but through their growing acquittance of me are seeing the faults of their ways I believe. I made a personal point of hiring on these few. While a life of crime may be just that, a reformed man is worth far more than a dead one, and I have just the means to enact the reform of these few lost souls, along with their considerable skills. Rich as their ship may make them, the respect, companionship, and not inconsiderable pay they may find in Redcliff employ will do a great deal to demonstrate what a better life might hold for them. In any case, despite whatever past deeds they may have committed, they have shown themselves to be hard workers and wise counselors onboard.

Sadly, Sulayne and Halda did not share my point of view, and targeted them as culprits in the death of the ap-Blutte man, despite the dubious gain they would get from such an act. A few trinkets of the sort one would expect of rough men and women were found, but obviously no damning evidence. Simply put, Sulayne and Halda stole from men under my employ, and this was simply unacceptable. They tried to convince me that some gothic poetry and religious trinkets were “evidence,” forcing me to speak rather sternly. I had thought them above such things, but I suppose the minds of the lowborn are prone to such suspicions. I should not judge them too harshly though, they were doing things for the best, and to be honest we are all on edge. A search of the ship was certainly in order, I just would have hoped that they would respect the fact that I have made a solemn contract of trust with all aboard. I had no choice but to compensate Serana and the others for this slight, along with returning their property. Whatever may happen, I am a man of honor, and I shall not let prejudice besmirch that fact. Thankfully, I believe Sulayne and Halda were somewhat chagrined, and have backed off these suspicions for the time being. Perhaps it is simply an artifact of life aboard a ship, for I almost feel that a grudging sort of respect has been built between hem and my hired help. I should ask Sulayne, he knows of these matters of the sea better than I.t

In any case, with that trouble smoothed over we arrived in Tamrivena, though the welcome was not quite what I could have hoped for. I suppose it is what I should expect at this point, but the arrival of this cities heroes had only bureaucracy, impatience, and begrudging service for fanfare. The place really does seem only half held together, on the streets a quite outrageous doomsayer ranted at an adoring crowd. I wish I could say I was shocked when he turned out to be a member of the ruling council. Thankfully, they did at least do the bureaucratic part correctly, with quarters reserved for the men as well as Aetherton and myself. Not wonderful quarters, but as good as they can manage in this sort of outlier I believe, and I certainly had worse in the Worldwound, though I suppose that was an altogether different situation.

After a bit to settle in, we were of course granted an audience with the council, and they proved to be quite a cast of characters. There was of course Charidian Vanx, the portmaster that I’d been asked to deliver the countess’ message to, though I’m biding my time on that for now. He seemed quite the man of taste, recommending several excellent establishments in the city.

He was joined by the fanatical Toladda Johvanki, a church leader, and as Sulayne was discovering, kidnapper and abuser of young women. Oh, he is the “orator” I referred to earlier. According to what Sulayne found out from the Sczarni, he has been anducting young women for months, including Kiaria Mirgavos, the daughter of the Sczarni leader, Harnin Mirgavos. Apparently, Tressa herself is quite involved in the hunt for this young lady, as the two of them had formed something of a bond. All the more reason to participate in the destruction of this scumbag. I have already assigned Serana to route out information that may expose him to the people and I quite trust she will be successful. Even if not, I shall not see his sins go unpunished.

There was also Theodore Burke, a guildmaster and co-owner of the profitable and increasingly infamous Burke and Glass Antique Dealers. Alongside the troubles with a member of the council being hypocritical scum, it seems another’s key business is also the dumping ground of a serial murderer. Over the last twelve months the bodies of notable men among the city have been left here, heart carved open in the shape of a “T.” We later spoke to the Foreguard Captain, Doladmin Quin, but sadly he didn’t have much beyond the location and the mysteriousness of the whole thing to offer. We shall have to look into it, but as shall be made clear soon enough, we have bigger problems to attend to first.

The Wallguard Captain Bhalton Rhasrakin, seemed a bit more wise than the rest, though also swayed by personal hatred of orcs according to some. In any case, he spoke earnestly of the city’s attempts to defend itself from ever growing raids from the followers of the great hordes of orcs from the west. If I remember correctly, they are led by some beast called the Faceskinner. He, and the others, emphasized this as the paramount threat to the region, though they also were apparently completely ignorant of the hundreds of ghouls just a few miles off. He also led discussion of the concerns of increasingly grisly and regular hangings in the village of Ravengro, and the way the people of the region have been growing more welcoming of Barstoi fanatics.

Finally, and perhaps most interesting, was Zoenessa Thell, a recognized leader amongst the local community of well to dos, and clearly of Sczarni descent. We were in fact, through Halda, invited to her manor, and treated to a quite revealing experience. I’ve always been a fan of the sczanri’s “Tarrot” card readings, but Zoenessa was either a true master. Whether in fakery, or mystical talent, I suppose one can never really know, but whatever the case, she left a lasting impact. Since I cannot pretend to know all the impact of her words, I’m going to attempt to transcribe what I can remember. Halda took a few notes, and I’ll be including that as well. First, Halda’s reading (Sulayne sadly declined and departed, leaving us privacy for our own readings).

Halda’s Recent Past

  • The Black Goat
  • Described as “Shub Niggurath,” one of the great old ones
  • Apparently this being has held some sway over what has befallen Halda of late

Halda’s Antagonist

  • The Black Fingered Woman (who could this be? One of the Hags?)
  • She has killed eleven of the twelve (who are the twelve?)
  • She waits for Halda

What lies beneath current events for Halda

  • A champion has been taken and will be used to bring forth the Black Goat (who ahs been taken? Some sort of sacrificial ritual to build the power of an old god?)

An inspiration for Halda

  • Blood rivers run from Tamrivena and Caliphas to the “town of Ravens” and then to “two towers in a ruin.” (this must be referring to the village of Ravensgro, and the ruins of Belkzan)
  • In one the Black Goat waits (the cult of Shub Niggurath?)
  • In the other the “Red Queen” waits, a secret way (who is the Red Queen? Seems separate from the “Black Fingered Woman)

The “Web of Fate” for Halda

  • A necklace is waiting for her, a last gift from her aunt Valmae, who wants her to pursue her fate and choose a better path than Valmae did (I believe Valmae is dead, is she returning from the grave, or is this some other force at work?)

And now, for my own reading.

Recent influences upon my own life

  • “she has never forgiven you for stealing her heart, she will take your heart and eyes, she is already lost without a miracle, but she had no hope.” (I don’t understand, I have stolen many hearts, but I can’t help but think it means Tressa, but the rest?…)

My present situations

  • Two black towers (presumably the same as in Halda’s reading)
  • One from a great betrayal unknown to him (who is “him”? The Tyrant?)
  • The other because of a great betrayal done by man
  • There is only until the swarm moon to make a choice between them, unless somehow both are achieved through great speed and valor (only eight days…)
  • The Red Queen rises, but so does the Black Goat (who is the Red Queen?)
  • The choice would make one rise, but the Red Queen waits a little longer (best to confront the Black Goat first)

What lies beneath my present situation

  • He of the silent voices seeks three keys to escape. There is a shield, a lock, and a test. (the Tyrant, it must be, and three things that hold his spirit from this world)
  • The shield is in one tower, the second in another (one of the two towers I would think, but the second as well?)
  • The third we have already opened (the Tomb, I ate to think of it, but I know it is true that we unleashed a part of him there)

An inspiration and solution for me

  • I must sacrifice that which is most precious to find a way through (…)
  • The Red Queen will not fall without great sacrifice, just as the man who could not be wounded could not fall without great sacrifice, I must follow in the steps of my ancestors (I am fated to defeat this foe, but what must I sacrifice?)

What fate holds for me (I swear a fell mist crept through the door as this card was revealed)

  • I have drawn the attention of powerful beings which are keen on my fate (one should only hope! Yet I fear the meaning here is dark)
  • My decisions shall hold great weight and even greater danger, that which I fear might happen is close at hand (I shall not speak of that here)


And with that the reading was done, and Zoenessa quite exhausted. We returned to the Noble Prancer to prepare to head out tomorrow. Clearly, Ravensgro is the priority, followed by the ruins of Belkzan. We shall ready ourselves and head out in the morning, while Serana conducts an investigation here. I do hope Tressa will join us, her companionship shall be a great boon, and surely lesson the blow of whatever is to be sacrificed. And what’s this, a knock at my door?  Someone does have good timing!


Postscript – alas, not a surprise visit from Tressa, but instead an old friend with some interesting advice. It sounds as if not all is well with her, but that I may yet be her salvation. I cannot imagine what could be so dire as he made out, but I’m sure things will be alright. What can’t a night of love put right?

From the pages of Elias' Journal, Part 20

16th of Erastus, 4709

Well dear reader, the paperwork for the Tamrivena Expedition is finished at last! Worthy of a toast if anything is. All but escort services I suppose, but I’ve written to Sulayne about those, and I’m sure it’ll be sorted soon enough. Come to mine, perhaps the others would be interested in this excursion to? Most claim to mercenary intents, but I’m increasingly convinced they do hold higher virtues at heart, especially after hearing of what they did in Lozeri. Even without them though, this excursion to Tamrivena seems quite necessary. Of course, the Prince’s summons is of import, but more than that I have heard numerous disturbing rumors of troubles afoot in the region. Orc raids, cults, civil strife, all compiled atop the already shoddy leadership of the Palatinates. What’s more, with the news of forces stirring in Virlych I can’t help but worry that some foul influence of that place is seeping into affairs everyone. I hope that the 100 soldiers from the Prince that House Redcliff is to transport there will do some good, but word in court makes me worry. While I have always wondered whether the state of this country speaks well of the Prince’s rule, almost half of the court seems convinced he is a pushover and a weakling without the spirit or personal heroism to lead our country through such troubled times. While I hope these men will be enough for Tamrivena I believe that my own valor, along with what noble souls may aid me, will be the true salvation the place requires.


20th of Erastus, 4709

Just finished meeting with Sulayne and the others, and arrangements for the Ap-Blutte to provide escort services have been made. Sadly, Vali was out of town, but Halda and Vargan have decided to come along as well. Aetherton will of course be on board, assigned by the Prince himself to this mission, and Sulayne will be making sure his men do their best. I suspect Halda has some objective she isn’t mentioning, as precious little coin was on offer, but the prospect of a good fight, and some quality parties, seemed to rouse Vargan’s interests. Or perhaps Halda’s lust for coin is abating, she did mention coming along out of a sense of friendship. It’s odd to think that the incursion of goblins at the feast in Vauntil could be the catalyst, but we random lot of stern souls have become friends. An odd set of friendships perhaps, but I suppose shared danger and the knowledge of the darkest things this world has to offer can do that to people. In any case, I am truly looking forward to some days aboard a ship with them all.


28th of Erastus, 4709

Well, so far things are positively deceptively pleasant. East travel overland followed by days of smooth sailing. Good drink, solid company, and the prospects of a adventure make it all feel positively romantic. Even now I can hear Sulayne playing along with the band and the tapping of dancing feet. I believe the soldiers should arrive in Tamrivena in quite good spirits tomorrow. The entertainment I arranged for on board was certainly worth the cost. Even Vargan has been enjoying the company of some of the ladies. I’m not sure how much they reciprocate the feeling, but I do know he was excellent entertainment for all in last nights’ round of Passatella. The sight of him simply throwing off a whole squad of men who tried to mob him after declaring they were all too weak to drink impressed more than just me. Perhaps I should invite him to a round of Pennying tonight. I wonder if he’d do well with the acrobatics of it? He certainly has the stamina, the duel we fought yesterday showed me just how tough of a beast he truly he, I believe he barely felt the blows of my practice blade. I’ve noticed even Serana and her companions have mingled with the crew a bit, and I believe Sulayne was swapping a bit of gossip there. I do hope that they’ll see this is a better pursuit than pirating. Ah, speak of the devil, there’s Serana now, seems I’m needed on deck.


29th of Erastus, 4709

Well, I suppose things could not stay in such a good state forever, but a whole town… I was called on deck because we’d come across a settlement, only without the people. Obviously we quickly set about an investigation and it didn’t take long to find that the place was deserted but for some bits of blood and remains of a skirmish. Following the trail of some sort of monstrous horde the others struck out into the woods while I took tot e skies on Nike to scout the region, Halda joining in the form of nothing less than a dragon. While Aetherton had warned me to prepare for such an event it was shocking nonetheless. While I have of course heard stories, nothing quite does justice tot e majestic grace and deadly beauty of such a thing in the flesh. Sadly, there was no time for admiration as we quickly found a nearby fire in the woods where beastmen, terrible mutated husks of people, had gathered survivors of the village and looked set to slaughter them.

Halda turned back while I maintained overwatch, catching there attention and hoping to draw them away from the hostages. I had no such luck however and was forced to engage directly. On my own the leader, which I later learned to be one of the three hags of some sort of fell coven, tried to ward me off with clouds of fell darkness, but Nike’s swift wings saw me clear of that, and in no time I was engaged with the mewling beasts, a storm of limbs and blades flying at me from all sides, though I couldn’t help but remark at the ease with which I deflected the storm of blows. I suppose these quests have truly improved me, for a couple of short years ago I would only have dreamed myself capable of such a feat, but I indeed took on the whole mob myself for some time, reflexively carving off limbs and hacking down one of the leaders of the coven. I even scored grievous wounds on the hag herself before she leapt into flight, sealing her injuries with magic. Still, it was a hard-pressed fight. Though they had little accuracy, every glancing blow from the beasts spoke of just what strength they held, strength that I suddenly felt crash into me from behind just as the arrival of my companions riding upon Halda caught my attention.

The next I knew I was coughing up blood, Halda’s hands guiding my wounds shut with her power, and the herd of the beasts dead around me but for one survivor. Mind still cloudy, I saw to the wellbeing of the hostages briefly before aiding in the interrogation. While the beastman had blenty of bile to spill about the end of man, four important pieces of information did emerge. First, it was beyond any salvation, firmly holding its support of some fell elder god. Second, the hag we had just killed was but the weakest in a coven of three, with “Ossiso” as the leader, a name which Vargan seemed to recognize. Third, these beastmen had only taken a few of the villagers, the rest being carted off by a vast horde of ghouls. Fourth, they were assaulting these villagers to gain strength against the coming of a greater foe, one which originated in Virlych…

My folly in this, of course, was that throughout this interrogation, the freed villagers stood by, learning not only of the potential doom besetting them, but of the magics that these beasts were tapping into for their rituals. Blood magic, vision stones, the like. While I strove to ensure that my companions did the proper things with these items, it slipped my thoughts that such innocent minds were being exposed, and in so doing, I fear I may have damned the souls of these people. The heat of vengeance and love was clearly driving their hearts towards the use of these magics, which can only lead to greater destruction if they should ever follow through. This sin against my ideals cannot be forgotten lightly, and even this next morning I can feel the burning shame upon my soul. Still, things can be made right. For a start, even if the other villagers have been consumed by these ghouls, I can ensure that such a fate does not befall Tamrivena. The hypocrisy of a Prince who would claim 100 common soldiers can aide in such a situation shall be exposed, and my own blade will put things right instead, whatever the cost.

I Saw That He Was Not A Man
3 Calistril, 4709

"I saw that he was not a man," Calalan Tamry once wrote, on why he moved from Lake Encarthan to the Five Mountains Kingdom.  He had seen one of the fae.  And I knew his warning.  I thought I had it firmly in my mind.  And maybe there was nothing I could do here.  But I know I didn't truly understand until today…

In Chastel

As we prepared to leave Chastel we discussed our possibilities.  I’d talked to Daniela and Florin about who else was still alive from the Lodge.  In the dim shadows of their room, still bound, Daniela whispered, “We Draenor Wolfblood and Vaena Yringor just before they went out looking for the treant.  You know, the one where Elena Midvale fell to her death.  That’s all we know.  Haven’t had contact from them since.” I wasn’t sure if I was reading into them what I wanted to see, but I thought I detected some hint of sadness.   When I asked them about how to wound Papa Bordgibash, they were strangely forthcoming.  “The fae would know how to do it, if any such weakness exists.”  The fae, mysterious denizens of Shudderwood.  I considered the research I’d done on fae before coming here last year.  And Arvindhal, that regal being I encountered once I’d killed the demonic boar.  He was enchanting, but I knew the fae were alien beings one should engage carefully.

“Or,” Florin offered, “You could seek out the werewolves of Shudderwood.  They love to to fight in the local boxing competitions of the Shudderwood villages and particularly love Morcei’s.”  I considered this.  They have inhabited the forest for a millennia and though lycanthropes are seen as spawn of Lamashtu, I knew enough about them through Lodge stories and folk story to know the werewolves of Shudderwood were closer to fae creatures of the wild.  Either the fae or the werewolves might also know more about how the use the tainted hearts of Papa’s lieutenants safely.  I returned to the others and laid our options out, intent on thinking this through.  Our next course of action could very well decide the fate of all our company and all the inhabitants of the region.  We needed cool heads. 

Aetherton argued we should seek out each of three villages in Shudderwood, Morcei first among them, and to kill each of the three remaining lieutenants to use all four hearts more safely.  It was a fine plan, magically sound, but it would take days in the least.  Probably a week or more, and in the mean time many would die and Papa Bordgibash would grow.  Sulayn quietly urged us to seek out the treant, “the elder race” as he called it.  I could see some shadow of his sylvan upbringing playing behind his eyes, something I’d only seen in his stories of Greengold’s hippogryphs.  Halda remained unsure, but she indicated interest in these fae or werewolves – what weakness they might be able to provide.  And Vargan, of course, was ready to take the fight to Papa immediately.  Barring that he thought we should seek out the werewolves. 

I suggested a plan that would marry efficiency and thoroughness.  We could strike out into the forest, hunting for Papa with all the show that might impress the fae masters of the hunt, and I could lead us to where I last saw the treant a year ago.  There we could speak to the treant if it still survived and it might give us some insight into where the fae are or Papa Bordgibash.  From there we could travel to Morcei which would be less than a day’s travel.  If we had found no better solution or aid, we could begin to cut away at Papa’s lieutenants as Aetherton suggested.  Inwardly I worried that if it came to that, even more people of Ustalav would die. 

All agreed. I shared what I knew of how to attract the fae of Shudderwood.  “One must lead a great hunt through their lands and impress them with its spectacle.  Pomp and circumstance.  Horns and dogs.  A noble’s hunt.” I looked to Aetherton and saw that he grasped my meaning quickly and set about gathering instruments from town, and some from the dead we’d killed a couple nights ago around the Mother of Nurses. 

The Hunt, In Shudderwood

The next morning, I prepared Tracker’s Scent for our trip and took us onto the hunter’s paths I’d followed a year ago.  Their oozing thorns twisted close to us menacingly, and everything looked foreign in the dim overgrowth and mist, but somehow I managed to keep us on track.  Sulayn warned Vargan not to eat the juicy fruit, the “blessed gifts of Papa” as Vargan called them. More than once Aetherton helped me find the tributary we were supposed to be following.  On the way we discovered a single stag.  Aetherton directed Sulayn to blow the horns and beat the bushes and Vargan roared.  I shot but only wounded the creature.  Halda sent electricity through the fog and lit the stag up, nearly splitting it into pieces with her bolts. 

Moments later, the real test came.  A herd came barreling down upon us.  Vargan, took an unexpected pity on the creatures and tried to wrestle them into submission and leave them alive, but I called out to the others, “It’s a challenge.  Let none pass.”  And so we slaughtered the majestic beasts, Vargan roaring in lament.  Dimly I was aware of the carnage and not particularly pleased with it, but as far as grim work, we’ve done grimmer. Sulayn’s large polearm swung in deadly arcs, bringing stag after stag crumpling down, spraying the forest with their blood.  Halda sent fearsome bolts into several others who nearly made it past, their bodies rupturing from the jolts.  Aetherton met his with deadly grace, stabbing and dodging.  I shot a couple down with my few mundane arrows, but found myself clipped and on my back.  Vargan let out a hard laugh at my carelessness until he too was clipped and sent staggering into a bush.  I flicked Quickness into my hand and sprayed it onto my shoulder.  In a blink I was up and shot the one that clipped me, bringing it down, and then sprung ahead of the last to shoot it square in the forearm, just as I had the boar a year ago.  It came down crashing at my feet.

Moments later the will-o-wisp emerged.  It spoke with Arvindhal’s voice and gave us a new task.  Find the werewolves outside Morcei and aid them.  I told the wisp we would accept Arvindhal’s task.

We continued without much rest and soon found the treant’s spot.  It remained, more alone than ever.  Placing my forehead against it I felt its tremendous wisdom, and shared its vision – of a black lodge in the forest, of fae masters of the hunt trapped outside, unable to enter and to finish Bordgibash.  They needed someone else, someone of this world. They could not leave this plane, but we could.  And then I felt the great sadness of the elder race, alone here, its world ill and dying, forsaken here.  It …appreciated my presence. As an old friend.  I suddenly found myself ashamed that I had left it alone for so long, and let all this happen to it.  And my world. This land. Its people. Its history.  So much irreplaceable memory and substance in my old friend. 

I promised to return when the work was done.

When I finally pulled away I saw Vargan and Halda chatting about me, Vargan with a smile in his eyes, and Sulayn eyeing me inquisitively.  I told them what I’d seen and my theory: the Ascanor Lodge was the black lodge of the vision, but it was in a shadow realm.  The mists and Papa Bordgibash’s influence had made a sort of pocket realm.  We discussed going straight to the lodge.  Sulayn produced a letter from a philosopher and revolutionary in the Palatinates inviting him to meet him at the Ascanor Lodge.  So he would be able to get it.  I would likely be able to pose as a servant again, as I once did to get inside, but that wouldn’t help the others.  But Aetherton said he was no longer a noble and he would be unable to get it.  It was the first I’d heard of it, though I do remember him alluding to it when we all met up in Ardis a couple weeks ago.  Apparently something more serious had happened in Versex of the past several months to discredit him. But at the moment he seemed unwilling to discuss it, so we decided to stick to our plan.

It was approaching nightfall, and I remembered the town fights started after sunset and lasted no later than midnight.  We would have to move.  Outside Morcei, we heard wolves howling…

Outside Morcei

It wasn’t long before we found them.  Just two made themselves visible, but we had heard more.  Their leader, Fargas pushed forward toward Halda.  He smelled their blood on her.  Sulayn stepped in the way, but he was shoved backward by his massive arm.  Vargan stepped forward then and the two snarled, grappled each other, muscles straining, like two stags locking antlers, neither giving way.  For a moment, one got the edge, then the other found some supernatural reserve and turned it over.  Then again they were locked in equal strength.  Until at last they released each other, two giants, smiling ferociously at each other.

Fargas swore and growled low at Vargan. “You should discipline your pack mate.” He looked sideways at Halda, “For her indiscretion in the village outside Chastel – how she ate my brothers and sisters. If she can not control herself, she must be disciplined.”  Vargan hesitated, and in that hesitation he may have been thinking about that moment two years ago in Versex when he and Halda nearly became enemies.  I saw Vargan wrestle with the idea, worse than his match with Fargas.  In that uneasy silence, I stepped in. 

“I will suffer her punishment for her.” And then I added with biting insolence, to improve the show, “After all, I am partly to blame.” I glanced at Fargas, then back to Vargan. “I didn’t kill them fast enough.” 

Halda tried to step in, face red, she screamed, “If you’re going to do it…” But Vargan seized his opportunity and threw a massive fist straight into my jaw. It was like getting hit with a tree limb, and it sent me staggering.  I looked up, vision swimming, but stayed as steady as I could.  And nodded to Vargan, who returned the nod, barely perceptibly. 

Fargas satisfied Vargan and Fargas discussed what next, but they were clearly unskilled in such cooperation.  Fargas and his pack would slaughter all of Morcei to kill the lieutenant.  Vargan hesitated, but he could see our anxiety, but he was caught between choices.  I pulled him briefly aside and said, “Vargan, I hope you know there are things I respect about you, things I disagree with, but respect.  And I don’t ask of you.  I can not go in and murder the people of Morcei.”  He grunted.  “Like the babies…”

“Don’t mention them again!”  He glowered at me.  “I will never forgive Sulayn for that.”

“I know. I know.  I only mention it because I knew how much they mattered.  Even if I disagreed with you…” and then more quietly, barely a whisper, “agreed with Sulayn that it had to be done.”

“I know,” he responded sullenly. 

When Vargan stepped back into the clearing with me, Sulayn watched the discussion a little further, more posturing than conversation.  Then he suggested, “Look, Fargas, we obviously want the same things.  Why don’t we help each other.”  We got them to agree to work together to kill the lieutenant.  But it was clear they would do it their way.  Their appeared no way around the impasse.  Something I am sure Arvindhal knew when he sent us.

“We could do it cleanly, and if we can’t, then you can kill the lieutenant, Nanny Red.”  Vargan looked at me irritated that I’d spoken out of line.  This was his lead.  But the words were spoken and couldn’t be taken back. 

“A competition then!” Fargas roared with excitement.  “Yes!  We go now!”  I grimaced and looked at Vargan.  We had to move fast.  I could already hear the wolves moving through the underbrush.

Nanny Red & Morcei

…we had a clean plan, to come at the most unguarded angle, to avoid engaging the crowd of children. We would avoid Nanny Red’s, once known as Louise, her abominations.  They looked like smaller Uncle Teddys.  Halda would take the form of the dragon and I would even spray her with the Quickened mixture.  She would grab Nanny Red and we would escape.  We only needed Nanny Red.  We heard the wolves howl and knew we had to move. Damn them, they gave us no time!

But Nanny changed shaped and melted into the crowd of children.  I shot an arrow of blessed water and very likely mortally wounded a child, desperately trying to flush her out, but the foul thing hid.  Aetherton, Vargan, and Sulayn closed the distance – Sulayn bounding past children off walls, and I could see our plan toppling slowly, like a tower slowly crumbling.  Brilliantly, Halda roared to scare the children, and I held my breath.  But the children all cowered around each other, their fear of Nanny Red or their delusion, too powerful. 

And then I saw the fire come down from the sky.  And burn them all, their screams echoing off the village walls, their tiny fingers reaching for mercy.  Only Nanny Red remained, amidst her charnel house.  Halda, as the dragon, grabbed Nanny Red, but she swung in a large loop back onto the square. The wolves broke into the town square, fighting the abominations, only to be met by her hellish flames.  They too burned, and though they scrambled, still charred, she gave them no respite, Quickened as she was with my mixture.  She burned them again.  And again.

…When it was mostly done in the square, Nanny Red with arrows in her and large slices from either Vargan or Sulayn, I can’t remember, the remaining werewolves continued.  Halda had fled.  I looked around while Vargan carved up Nanny Red right there in the hovel we killed her inside.  I saw him.  Arvindhal, at the edge of town, smiling with satisfaction. 

“Call them off,” I called hoarsely, through the dragon smoke, meaning the wolves slaughtering the children. “It’s over.”  Arvindhal merely shook his head, giving a low chuckle.  I met eyes with him, knowing him, truly knowing him, for what he was.


Ashes to Ashes
Halda's Journal, Entry No. 14

It’s a good plan, I thought as I winged toward the town of Rostok.  The rest of the party would snipe from a hidden location to distract the enemy.  I was to grab Nanny Red and fly away.  Killing her was fine so long as her heart remained undamaged.  A grim business, but this plague must end before it enveloped Ustalav.

A group of people stood in the town square.  There was Louise, the cult leader now known as “Nanny Red.”  Her bright red hair matched the color of her dress.  She stood among a large group of demon-infected children.  The children danced and waved severed human limbs around like toys.  Three Uncle Teddy-like monstrosities and three dark robed cultists surrounded the horrific celebration.  As I began to dive, something unexpected happened.  Nanny Red’s form shifted to that of a child and she disappeared into the crowd.  I could no longer tell her apart from the other children.

I felt a moment of panic until I remembered I was a dragon.  Nanny Red probably had the fortitude to withstand dragon fear, but the real children would not.  As I dove, I let out a roar which caused the buildings to shake. 

But instead of running, all the children scowled.  “You’re ruining everything!” one shouted.  They began throwing rocks and body parts at me.  The three dark-robed spellcasters struck me with bolts of magical energy.  They stung like sharp needle pricks against my hide. 

For a moment I considered retreating.  A monkey wrench had been thrown into our plan and now I was being forced to improvise.  But if I fled Nanny Red would get away and we needed her heart to stop this plague.  We would have to slaughter this town if we were to gain the cooperation of Arvinghal, the fey king of the hunt.  Were these children innocent victims of the plague or demon spawn like the babies we saw in Chastel?

You are a GOD among bugs.  Why should you care if you crush them?

A massive cone of fire spewed forth from my mouth, consuming the spellcasters and children below.  A multitude of high-pitched screams began as the sickeningly sweet smell of burning flesh filled the air.

As they burned to death, I found myself trying to justify the mass murder I was committing.  I must stop this plague by any means necessary.  These evil children will infect and/or kill others, they must be destroyed for the greater good.  This was a split-second life-or-death decision; the others cannot blame you.  My dragon-gut felt sick, as if I was vomiting fire.

The children’s screams stopped.  What remained was a burnt-out pyre of charred, crumbling little bodies.  The gray ashes of their remains began to blow away in the twilight wind.  The spellcasters were also dead but the three monstrosities and Nanny Red were unharmed.  My dragon fire had burned away Nanny’s disguise, she looked like an adult woman again.  I would snatch her, fly away and tear her head off.  We could extract her heart later. 

As I reached out to grab her a strange feeling came over me.  With horror I recognized what was happening.  I was a psionic after all, I had controlled dozens of minds myself.  And I had grown to think I was immune to such things.  But the puppet master can still become a puppet.

I, Nanny Red am your mistress.  You will do as I say.  Do you see those vile werewolves entering our town?  They have come to kill us.  You must kill them so I can remain safe.

Yes, Nanny.  Whatever you say.

I bounded toward the werewolves, causing them to start with surprise.  My fire breath set their fur aflame and they howled in pain, rolling around in an attempt to smother the flames.  I burned them again and again.  Once they died, I moved on to another group of werewolves and killed them.  So much for our tenuous alliance with Farghast and his pack.  Nanny turned me into a mindless killing machine.  Or had I become that already?

Then Nanny Red’s grip on my mind was gone.  Atherton, Sulayn, Vali and Vargan must have killed her.  I looked around.  The town was a smoking ruin.  Gray ash from dozens of charred corpses covered the ground.  What had I done?  I let out a roar of frustration and took off into the air, propelled by a reptilian rage.  The blood red sky streaked by faster and faster until everything became a blur.


The Mists in the Nation That Was
2 Calistril, 4709

I touched scroll case at my waist, making sure the map of this strange land was still snapped tight inside the waterproof casing. Ustalav smelled faint but familiar through the mists we walked, the resilient pansy and purple violas of Shudderwood on the air, mingling with the moss.  We were home.  We’d found Sulayn the day before in the mists; otherwise there would be little to rejoice.  As it was, we came laden with tools and knowledge from another world, as yet undivided by our group.  I carried a strangely alchemically treated silvered great axe, as did Vargan, and similar arrows, while Halda carried a hunting knife we’d discovered on the orc crusaders of that world, and I’m not sure if Aetherton carried a sword or two.  He did carry the seven bars of silver, worth 100 sp. Nothing to sneeze at.  And one of us carried that bloodstone, whatever its function.  A powerstone maybe? There were still more things: wyvern armor from the orc leader, a Deflection ring from a ritualist, additional food which would come in handy, and a disturbing necklace of ears that Vargan wore with pride.

Aetherton had packed away the books from the ritual we had discovered.  He had tried to convince me that the lore of that world is different than ours, and how I should not take interest in such a book…after I politely informed the group on what subject one book of particular interest was on: lycanthropes.  The language was unreadable for any of us, but I had been able to decipher its material from the drawings and diagrams.  He tried a second and a third time to convince me that it would be of little use.  Ah, Aetherton hasn’t entirely changed I see, but I noted again that I have particular interest in the book for the School. We would divide the items later.

I hoped we hadn’t lost too much time, but it felt like a whole season had passed – at least in my mind.  Peering through the gray, I grounded myself in the last day before the Mists had transported us to the distant, alien land.  It was as if the Mists were testing our focus.  Before we’d lost our way in the mists, Josephine had been settling into Chastel to recuperate…

We found her in a stroke of luck, as if the Mists wanted to yield Papa’s messengers to us.  So that we could become one of his number?  We’d gone out without preparation, a necessary risk since Aetherton reminded us that Josephine had left quite some time ago and her life hung in the balance.  Sulayn had been insistent that we prepare, and as tempted as I was to brew sufficient elixirs, Aetherton was right and I packed up my kit.  Halda squinted at the dim sky and tried to gauge how many hours passed, and must have been satisfied with what she saw because she also packed up.  But though I had little in the way of elixirs I managed to shoot the inhuman thing known as Uncle Teddy in the eye socket twice, and still the thing barely staggered.  Halda transformed to a mighty dragon, shaking the leaves and the rib cages of the charmed Lodge members and Josephine’s remaining party with her roar, but her fire breath could not singe the tough hide of this abomination.  Uncle Teddy locked itself in hand to hand combat with Vargan, and matched his supernatural strength.  Finally through a combination of Vargan, Aetherton, and a massive and decisive blow from Sulayn, they rent the creature in half.  By then, Josephine had broken from its spell, but all of her company had been killed, and most of the Lodge members who were also in the group.  We left the survivors, Daniela and Florin, delirious or charmed Lodge members in Chastel, bound behind a locked door, with no access to weapons or armor, or even their bags, for I knew how capable they were.  They’d pierced Halda’s tough scales with biting arrows in a near-mortal wound. 

I’d made sure to recover their formidable array of arrows, and set aside 500 crowns to pay the group, and we stayed the night to rest and to prepare.  But we were not to find Papa.  Instead we were taken very very far away…

Everard will be very interested in these records, and Quarterfaux alchemists in the alchemical process I discovered in the tools, but Diaudin and Ustalav had a greater need than spoils from an alien world.  Our world had its own troubles. 

Form of the Dragon
Halda's Journal, Entry No. 13

A group of aberrations stepped out from the mists.  They looked like humanoid warriors but were deformed in various horrific ways.  One had a gigantic tongue which looked more like a monstrous tentacle.  Another had three eyes and a huge mouth with rows of razor-sharp fangs.  Josephine was among them, her eyes wide and vacant.  And in the middle was a hulking figure 12 feet tall.  Various arms, heads and torsos jutted out from his body in a horrid jumble of grey flesh.  It looked like he was made from the body parts of numerous people.  “Friends,” he called.  “Come give Uncle Teddy a hug.  Papa Bordigash’s love will fill you with joy.”  His many-armed torso opened wide like a bear trap.

Vali’s arrow was our reply.  It hit Uncle Teddy square in the head.  The blow would have killed a normal person but had little effect on Uncle Teddy.  “Very well,” he said.  “Papa’s love will envelop you.”

I decided to shape change into a dragon.  I had never done this before but had spent many long hours in meditation and research about dragons.  It would be the most difficult feat of psionics I had ever attempted.  Taking a deep breath, I let The Power flood through me.  My body began growing at an incredible rate as my skin hardened into red scales.  I pushed the bones of my shoulder blades outward and began growing a pair of giant leather wings from my back.  Then I reshaped part of my skull into large horns.

I had never channeled this much power before and it hurt a little, but my control was holding.  I sculpted my hands into gigantic reptilian claws.  Finally, I pushed a large tail out of my lower back.  The transformation was complete.  I had become a dragon.

I launched myself into the air, trying to gain altitude.  My wing brushed against a tree and knocked it over.  The collision almost knocked me back onto the ground as I strained to achieve liftoff.  I had flown many times before but that was as a small, sleek and highly maneuverable hawk.  Flying as a hawk was a joy.  My wings rode on the wind like I was born to soar.  Flying as a dragon was not a joy.  It was lumbering, labored and clumsy.  I felt like a flying hippopotamus. 

The aberrations looked up at me.  I began regurgitating the methane-like gas in my stomach.  A pair of ducts in my mouth secreted a liquid which would cause the gas to ignite.  As the gas reached my tongue, I opened the ducts.  A cone of red-hot fire shot out my mouth, enveloping the aberrations below.  Success!

The mists swirled around me, obscuring my vision.  But then I saw my fire breath had no effect on Uncle Teddy.  A couple of the deformed warriors looked burnt but far from the charred and lifeless bodies I hoped to see.    If even my dragon’s breath could not destroy these monsters we were in for a tough fight.

Upon seeing this, Josephine drew her sword and cut down the aberrant warrior standing next to her.  Good, she had apparently been faking out Uncle Teddy and wasn’t corrupted yet.

Sulayn ran forward, his spear whirling faster than the eye could see.  It jabbed deep into Uncle Teddy’s gut to no effect.  Teddy’s many arms grabbed him and began squeezing the life out of him.  Vargan bashed Teddy’s arms, grunting as his massive fists struck the aberration.  But Teddy only squeezed tighter.

The quartet of aberrant archers fired at me, bouncing harmlessly off my hide.  Sulayn was in trouble and I could not launch fire breath without burning him along with Teddy.  I landed and slammed my claws into Uncle Teddy with all my might.  Bones snapped and he flinched but he did not release Sulayn.  What manner of a creature was this, able to withstand even a dragon’s blows?

There was a sudden pain in my side.  I looked down and saw one of the archers had struck a weak point in-between my scales.  The arrow seemed to dig in even further, as if it was a live tick biting me.  Bright red blood began to leak from the spot.

I wanted to charge the archers but couldn’t while Sulayn was in such trouble.  I frantically slammed Uncle Teddy again but this blow had even less effect than the last. 

Uncle Teddy was so occupied with us he didn’t notice Atherton come up beside him.  His sword strike on Teddy’s arms looked puny compared to the blunderbuss blows Vargan and I had been doing.  But Teddy’s arms opened and Sulayn slipped free.

With a shout Sulayn jabbed his spear into one of Teddy’s many eyes.  Maybe he got lucky, but Teddy let out a pained grunt and then fell down with a loud thud.  His body did not move again.

“I could use some help here Halda,” Vali said.  “People are hurt.”

I looked down.  My friends and even the body of Uncle Teddy looked so small from a dragon’s perspective.  The mists swirled around my head.  You are a GOD among bugs.  Why should you care if you crush them?

With some reluctance I shrank back down to my natural dwarf form.  Ugh.  The terrible pain from the many barbed arrow was a clear reminder I was no god.  “Vargan, before I heal anyone I am going to need some help,” I said.

Song of the Nightmare
26 Abadius, 4709

I only ask to be free.  Butterflies are free. Charlemagne Diskinsen, the Taldane writer once wrote.  It does not generally bring glory to believe in Desna.  It lacks the fire and sword of Saranrae, and the strict identity of Pharasma's faith, but when you spend enough time in a sunless dungeon, the colorful butterfly becomes a sight to inspire you, more than any gold or sword or blood.  Its wings will bring you to tears more than any roar or poem. And when you're lost at sea or deep in the wilderness, the sight of the limitless stars to guide you inspires even the least religious.

The people of Chastel have been imprisoned here for too long.  We investigated what remained of the town hall.  Inside we found… things not meant to be put to paper, but I will try.  So that if my dead body is found one day before we finish our work here, that there will be some purpose to our seeing what we have witnessed.  Men, women, and children slid along the bile and fluids that covered the floor, gorging themselves from filthy boiling pots.  Lifeless babies dropped into their stew, and fed from.  The stench was the worst thing I had ever experienced – feces and spoiled liquids mixed with the musk and sweat, thick as a sauna.  I forced myself to look, to try to find some source of this perversion.  Sulayn winced, as if looking at a horrific battlefield. Halda’s eyes widened wild.  Aetherton looked away and leaned against the wall.  We were leaving when Vargan came out of the night, smiling as if he’d just come out of an Ashtown bar.

He laughed off our fears but told us about some encounters with a Chastel villager and a dog, and how he’d refused to eat from them.  Just before his arrival Sulayn had warned us by reminding us of Vargan’s devotion to Lamashtu, and here was the work of his beloved Lamashtu.  But I had to believe that Vargan would never, could never stand for this crime against nature.  He seemed to lack a certain conviction, it was true, but I and Sulayn impressed on him that these villagers had become docile servants, that these blessings had only made them betray their families.  With the Prince’s coin in his purse, and the promise of more, and our resolve – all of it together, Vargan decided it was worth his while to fight alongside us. For now.

We investigated the warehouse together and found more food supplies unguarded. I was able to locate a slip of paper entitled Sanver’s Delicious Treats, with disturbing ingredients such as mother’s milk.  I couldn’t make sense of the most esoteric bits, but Aetherton inspected it and identified something else from the demon Papa Bordgibash, some vital essence which stimulated the rest of the substances with his blessing.  This only served to interest Vargan, though Aetherton took care not to say much of the nature of the ingredients.  I scribbled the recipe down in my little black book here.  At one point Vargan had some of the spoiled food up to his mouth and considered taking the blessing, but I was able to convince him, in the last second to let it burn.  And with some reserve of will, Vargan, like an alcoholic choosing sobriety at the last second, threw the burning pot and its embers across the floor, catching some of the frayed netting on fire.  We made a hasty retreat, though Vargan lingered.  Sulayn stayed just long enough to shove him out of a window into safety as the warehouse alit all around them.

We then decided to investigate the brewery.  Vargan lept like a perverse frog straight through the third story window.  It dawned on me that he was becoming more and more inhuman.  What did that mean?  Sulayn ran up the side of the tower after him.  I clambered up as quickly as possible, but I could not walk on walls like Sulayn could with his ring.  I threw down rope to Aetherton and Halda and we got them up.  While Aetherton, Halda, and I did our best to investigate carefully, Vargan noisily went downstairs looking for trouble.  We were in the Night Ales Brewery, a local brewery with a decent reputation in Shudderwood, but Halda and I found nothing useful about the Chastel horror in its ledgers, and Aetherton did not discover anything unusual in the tracks.  I was going downstairs when I heard, almost felt, a crash on the first floor.  Vargan, it turned, had discovered Fiona Bovald, town mayor, and a couple dozen townspeople nearly starved behind a thick oaken door.

For his boldness in breaking down their door he was rewarded by a frying pan across the head.  Twice.  Fiona was not one to abandon her duties easily.  I remembered that from our conversations about Cherry, the demon-possessed goat and the corruption of Shudderwood a year ago. 

Inside I quickly offered my rations to the starving survivors, amongst whom I found Henri Chevre.  Aetherton wisely suggested we not give them more food, and while I questioned how long they could remain resolute without more food, Aetherton took the question to group.  A move I noted, distinctly.  And Sulayn and Halda both agreed.  I had to acquiesce, and settle on taking Fiona aside and impressing on her the necessity of keeping her town members safe.  She wavered and said she could make no promises, but I persisted.

"Fiona, no one, in this world can make any true promises.  But…make it happen.  Lose no one else." I had to trust the look in her eye that came after.  And with Halda caring for the weary, and Sulayn and Vargan bolstering defenses, they all said they hadn’t had this kind of hope for weeks.  Not since Josephine had visited and gone missing.  And that was how we discovered that Josephine had been through here and gone out to find the source of this corruption in Shudderwood.  Weeks ago. While I was inclined to go out there and lend her support directly, the townspeople needed us more.  I could only hope we found ourselves in the same place when we pursued our different approaches.

As it was late that night, and we were at a loss as to what to do, we retired.  I made sure to brew elixirs anew.  Briefly, on Sulayn’s suggestion, I brewed some Spirit’s Whispers to assist me in case we needed occult insights beyond our knowledge.  And went to bed, exhausted, sometime in the hours before dawn.


Sometime in the morning, before any decent was had, we were visited by a couple of Chastel’s residents, bearing rank pies they no doubt thought were very good welcoming gifts.  It was just a footnote in our time here in Chastel – full of sound and fury from Vargan who nearly murdered them in an anxious fit – but an important one.  Sulayn asked me to make sure Vargan didn’t kill them and get the villagers out of here. I looked to Aetherton, who looked back, and then to Halda, who shrugged, but it was a good thing I crawled out of my bedroll for this.  As it turned out, the villagers also wanted to invite us to the evening’s celebration.  The merrymakers would be here later today, and everyone was expecting us.

How nice of them.  I walked them out and learned that Tupton, that recluse the town once distrusted, and Sanver, of Sanver’s Solutions (the very same alchemist who assisted me on my first visit to Chastel a year ago) – these two were apparently a couple of the inner circle merrymakers. They convened in an unknown place within Shudderwood and occasionally visited to bring Papa's Blessing and choose the worthy to come with them into the forest. Asked when they would come, they said they did not know.  Asked how we would know to arrive at the celebration, and I was told we would hear them by their merry music. I thanked them, and decided there, on the spot, we needed to get out of our current lodgings.  And I knew just the spot.

Sanver’s Solutions

Late morning was spent in Sanver's Solutions, after a short surreptitious venture through the mists. Unnervingly, the mists had spread more deeply into Chastel, so that we traveled in the haze unmolested.  Vargan almost walked right out into the street, but I pulled him back to go behind buildings.  We found the alchemist’s shop in a disarray and Aetherton advised us not to tread all over things until he’d had a chance to examine the place.  He discovered no one had visited here in months.  Feeling a little safer, we spread out in the small building and picked through his things.  I began cataloging all manner of substances, pausing only to try to assure Sulayn that the jar he’d discovered was not a humonculus, but a solution with bloated mushrooms. He would have none of it.  Under different circumstances I’d have a laugh of it, and how he sounded like the most superstitious backwoods peasant, except I knew such peasants often have some bit of truth we should all listen to. And we were all in no mood to laugh.

Finally, at almost noon, we retired to get some rest before the merrymakers would no doubt make their entrance. But not before I prepared the wax with the same trick I’d used at the ill-fated opera we had attended.  Sulayn kindly offered me half of Sanver’s bed.  I almost thought he was pulling his rakish tricks on me, just as I’d seen him do with Sczarni and mercenaries before.  But he turned back on his side, the business of sleep clearly on his mind.  I was glad for the comfortable bed, and slept like the dead.

The Butterfly and the Nightmare

I dreamt of stars.  Just stars.  Twinkling.  In a clear sky. Open.  The moon visible.  I realize, as I write this, tomorrow night is the night of the Eternal Kiss, the new moon associated with sacrifice and Zon Kuthon.  Why I dreamt of stars I do not know.  Perhaps because it has been a couple nights since we’ve seen them. 

I awoke to Vargan dragging me across the floored, and I was still groggy, but I could see something was wrong.  And then I heard the distant lilting call of some song, cacaphonic yet melodic, grating, yet soothing.  I quickly gathered my wits and pulled out the wax, handing it to each member of our party in turn.  We went out into the pea soup mists, hearing sounds of merrymaking and lovemaking, groaning as villagers adored the merrymakers and gorged themselves.  The disembodied voices came to use through the mists like nightmares, dampened only slightly by the wax.  We followed the sounds in that forsaken fog.  A baby cried out in the mists.  Then we saw it crawling on the ground beside us, lapping at the milky substance on the ground. My head swam for a moment, but Sulayn but a firm hand on my shoulder.

Further on we found the good people of Chastel amongst bloated beings who I could still recognize as old acquaintances: the baker with a penchant for wine, the huntsman with a bawdy song for walks. And amongst them we saw a drummer, a bagpiper, and a flutist.  And a shadow at the center.  But then the shadow took form through the mist: its many wet eyes, its salivating toothy orifices, its fleshy body, its long twitching tendrils, the mass of it, extending, reveling in the song and the sin.

I knew it to be a creature of Lamashtu, akin to the Mother of Milk, but a creature of Papa: insemination, corruption, gluttony, then whispered its name to my companions as the villagers stretched out in front of us, two dozen strong. What were we going to do?  And then whispered its weakness to magic and its vulnerability to disease cleansing supplies such as alcohol and potions.  What were we going to do? Watch for its tendrils, its corruptive touch, I whispered. Aetherton snapped me out of my thoughts.

“Alcohol? Will alcohol work?” 

“Oh, oh yes,” I said.  But I didn’t have any.

He pulled out his flask and held it out in front of us. Sulayn, then I, then Vargan, all held out our respective weapons and Aetherton doused his and our weapons by emptying the contents of his flask.  Then someone asked Sulayn to dance.  And all was murder.

Vargan crushed men and women’s faces with his shield, and literally flew thirty feet toward the great creature in the center. Sulayn whipped the peasant with the butt of his glaive and sliced at the creature in the center, and it only quivered in anticipation, then irritated by his sting writhed its tentacles into the air.  Halda backed up sending bolts at villagers flashing in the mists.  Aetherton drew both swords and maneuvered to the left, but villagers came at him from all directions.  I released my arrows while quickly grabbing Quicksilver and Kyonin’s Mark and Flametouch, spraying and shooting.  The creature hissed from a dozen mouths and lashed out, striking at Sulayn with a barrage of movement, driving him back.

Vargan sent villagers flying, by the largest of them vomited a foul vile on his back which seemed to burn like alchemist’s fire, several beat him hard with clubs and stabbed at his flesh hungrily.  Sulayn had backed up, straight into half a dozen villagers while the creature attacked relentlessly.  Aetherton parried blow after blow, but with half a dozen on him he was pressed to his limit, and then a bloated villager sprayed his acid bile all over Aetherton sending him staggering and gasping.  Halda kept backing up, and I was forced to spray the Brevoy’s Elixir and try to slip away without hurting these creatures- once men and women I knew and liked. Vargan ate the Shoanti Brew that I had found in Sanver's collection, and roared in fury.

Arrow after arrow I struck.  Sulayn struck slice after slice, but the creature only thrashed harder.  Vargan tried to crush his way through the waves of people, but they only came on his thickly, just as Aetherton was attacked and disappeared behind the people and the mists. 

I flipped and twisted behind the carts at the edge of the town square, creating a barrier between myself and some of the villagers.  For the moment.  At last an arrow struck deep and burst in magical fire, exploding some pocket of puss in the creature. Only then it reached out, touched my mind.  “Why?  Why do this to us?  When we only want to be friends?” 

“Halda!” I dropped to my knees. “It’s…it’s in my head!”  I only hoped she heard me before it would take over.

She looked at me but set her jaw, seeming to make a grim decision.  Instead she sent the musicians reeling.  I would have to push the thing out of my head on my own, but I found it far easier than I imagined it would be.  With the break in that incessant droning from the musicians, the creature's magic did not have as much sway over me.  As I saw the villagers come at Halda, I knew we each had our own battles to fight.  Sulayn struck the creature, raking his glaive down its gelatinous body, spraying foul liquid, and then he too screamed, “Halda! It’s in my head!” before being surrounded with cleavers and picks.

I opened my eyes again, as if from a daze, to see a number of limbs and a knife coming straight at my face.  Shoving hard off the ground, picking the Angel's Blessing off my belt I'd found in Sanver's collection I sprayed, and instantly was lit by a golden light.  Using the distraction, I broke through their ranks and ran up the carts, their cleavers sliding off the light like an invisible bubble, while I spilled rotten fruit across the square from the carts.  From that vantage point I saw the full horror of our moment. Vargan had gone down, and Chastel residents were hacking and defecating on his body.  Aetherton was desperately fending off half a dozen crazed men and women.  Halda was almost surrounded.  Sulayn was harried and bloodied, caught by the creature’s mind attack at just the wrong time, in the midst of attackers.

Quietly I said a Desnan prayer against Lamashtu, “The butterfly lives in winter.”  And smiled, despite myself, grimly.  Glowing, above the carts, I hoped to goad the creature into attacking me, and pulling back hard I released a blessed and flaming arrow.  The second explosion quickly followed the first as my next arrow hit one of its many eyes.  I leaned into the wagon, tipping it over and scrambling away from the villagers’ retaliation.

It pushed its formidable mind against me against and sent me staggering.  The creature, not to be distracted from its carnal work, loomed over Sulayn.  He had gotten too close.  And its tendrils came at him, all at once, an impossible attack from all sides, lashing him brutally with a thousand teeth and thorny bits.  It ripped at his armor and flesh, sending him sprawling to the ground.  I shook of the creature’s mind effects desperately and then more loudly said, “Ustalav does not fall so easily.”  Approaching it, now no more than four yards away, pulling back hard, I released one arrow.  I took a step forward, with blinding speed drew another arrow and trained it, pausing for half a breath, then release again, nearly snapping my string.  The arrow struck deep, right in the cavity I had created with another two arrows. The creature lunged at me, then stretched into the air, flailed its tendrils in all directions, and crumbled, a mass of flesh. 

Quickly, Halda and I scrambled for Vargan and Sulayn, each administering our magics.  They both opened their eyes, ready for battle, scrambling for their weapons.  Aetherton meanwhile methodically cut down one then another, and another, corrupt villager. Halda sent villagers reeling, stumbling, then electric bolts through the mists.  Sulayn, bloodied, nonetheless twisted and slid through the villagers, cutting them down down, trying to get at Vargan who went down again beneath the tide of steel and frenzy. The villagers swiped at me with cleavers, clubs, and knives, their blows singing against my bracers, and I twisted out of them, sending one tanglefoot arrow after another to buy Sulayn and me some space while they tried to hack themselves out of the spider silk strings.

The aftermath was bloody as well, though I spent it mostly dodging old friends.  In the end, we had to cut them all down, a massacre in Chastel’s square.  Nothing moved.  Nothing dared approach the cursed place we stood within. We could hear nothing but the sound of dripping blood and sagging flesh from the creature that came from Shudderwood…and something else.  The babies…we saw the babies crawling through the muck still, who knows how many were trampled by the combat…

I swallowed the bile in my throat.  Halda asked, "What do we do with them?" 

"I don't know.  Put them in the empty rooms."

Sulayn shook his head, looking around, ruefully, "I don't know that there will be enough rooms. What then?"

I grimaced.  "I don't know.  Find the space.  We've killed so many.  I'm sure there will be plenty of rooms."  I added, "And damnit, put them in separate rooms…" I turned to check on the dying and the dead.  Halda and Sulayn thankfully helped me out, because I hardly knew what I was doing, and in turn they saved a couple people I could not have.  These were faces I knew, lying in this muck. Some had shared a dance.  Some a story by the fire.  Some their dreams for their children.



Halda's Journal, Entry No. 12

25 Abadius, 4709

The howling was the first thing we heard.  It was coming from somewhere deep in the mists that we could not pinpoint.  But it sounded like a large pack of wolves.  We looked at the tiny village.  Smoke rose from chimneys and a few figures were milling around outside.  No walls, no guards.  They would be easy prey.

Then we caught sight of them.  A pack of a dozen large wolves racing toward the village.  The villagers began running into their homes and shutting the doors.  As the wolves entered the village, no one was outside.

“Maybe they won’t be able to get in,” I said.

The sound of shattering glass and a terrified scream ended that thought.  Four of the wolves stood upright.  Their bodies and claws were larger and more human-shaped than any wolf should be — werewolves.  We began running toward the village.  Atherton and I shouted “Werewolves!  Use silver!”

The village was full of growls, screaming and the musty smell of gutted intestines.  Atherton and Sulayn surged forward, their weapons thrusting and weaving in practiced, deadly arcs. Vali shot a silvered arrow.  It ignited in midair and hit a werewolf square in the chest.  The monster let out a horrid scream as it caught fire.  Then it coughed up blood and collapsed.  The smell of burning fur filled the air.

The power exploded through my fingertips as bolts of psionic electricity which struck two wolves.  One fell, but the other was merely stunned.  It shook it head and then turned toward me, its fangs dripping with murderous intent.  Atherton stepped forward and cut the wolf’s head off.

Then I heard Vali cry out in pain.  He was on the ground, blood dripping from a gaping wound in his back.  A werewolf stood over him.  Silhouetted against the moon, it threw its head back and let out a roar of triumph.

I reached into the werewolf’s mind, trying to take control of the creature.  But something went wrong.  I felt myself overcome by the werewolf’s vicious hunger and feral fury.   My shape-changing power triggered and I transformed into a grizzly bear.  But this wasn’t like the other times when I was a dwarf wearing the form of a bear.  I felt a furious, animalistic desire to kill and feed.

One of the wolves ran into a cottage.  I lumbered after it.  It was feasting on the body of a child.  With a roar, I ripped the wolf to shreds.  I tore its side open, greedily gulping down chunks of flesh like the delicacies I had sampled at the Vauntil’s Breath festival.  MEATTASTES SO GOODMUST EATKILL

“Halda, help me!”

Vali’s voice.  I padded back outside.  All the werewolves and wolves were now dead, but he was in bad shape.  Sulayn was trying to patch the wound.  By Torag, a moronic child could do better. 

A small part of me wanted to kill Vali and devour his flesh.  He looked at me.  “Halda?”

Get a hold of yourself.  Your friend needs help, I thought.  I shifted back to my dwarf form.  The wolf’s blood felt sticky against my skin.  As I summoned my energies, I felt my diamond-clear concentration return.  I channeled the power into Vali and his injuries vanished.

“Thank you Halda,” Vali said.  “What happened back there?”

“I tried to control the werewolf’s mind but something went wrong.  I’m not sure what,” I said.  “Don’t worry, I’m fine now.”

Fool.  The power corrupts.  It brings evil and madness.  You have seen this truth before and still you delude yourself.  Was this my own doubts creeping into my mind or something else?  Were the mists playing tricks on me?  And what kind of a psionic was I if I was falling victim to such tricks?  “We should check the cottages for survivors,” I said.

There were no survivors.  Only partially eaten corpses.

It's Been Here All Along
25 Abadius, 4709

“The mists have been here far longer than most scholar would have us believe,” Everard said, after accidentally slamming down his glass of Stariya Slaboda. “They’ve been linked to ancient beings the Kellids worshipped in bloody rights.  To ancient vampires whose kingdoms stretched over half-dead lands. To, of course, the Whispering Tyrant.  But he did not invent them. They are a force that works on, or with, powerful, influential figures in Ustalav history.  They appear to be a phenomenon that some beings can tap into, and others, it bolsters their power. But always, it changes the land. Brings it halfway into another world.  If you are going into them, find me how they work.”

His works haunted me.  They’ve been here all along.  Waiting, but for what? Working on us, but for what?  To what end? I told him I would do my best to learn the secrets of the mists.  I told him some of the secrets of the Lodge, keeping some of it vague, but enough to reveal the fact that the Lodge had long ago committed itself to being guardians against the mists, and the blight, two closely linked phenomenon.

Here in Ardis we met.  To my surprise, both Sulayn and Aetherton arrived on the same night.  Desna works on us in her ways. Halda and I had already tried to travel to Chastel but found the roads swamped and the bargemen unwilling to lead us up.  It would be wiser to regroup with trusted allies.  She and I had already discussed some of our theories on the tainted shipments.  Whiteshaw had entrusted her with the task to investigate, which told me two things.  Halda was becoming quite respected back in Caliphas, and the Crown was very interested and perhaps worried about the events here in Chastel.

Elias and I discussed politics and philosophy over duck while we waited for them to arrive.  He’s a naïve, young, narrow-minded man, but he aspires to something more than power and fame, he truly does love the people of Ustalav, and he is willing to reflect.  I want nothing more from a leader.  I am not a fortune teller, but I predict he will do great things for Ustalav’s people.  He already has.  But I think he has bigger things in his story.  For the moment, his path led elsewhere – into the waiting arms of the Countess Carmilla Calivphaso in Caliphas. He had to negotiate or convince her to take the hit on her investment in Anactoria.

Aetherton and Sulayn joined us and with the 100 wolves from Diaudin, they were in. Aetherton, interestingly, seemed invested from the beginning.  And what’s more, he didn’t come in the Versex finery and symbols I’m used to seeing.  He seemed more mature somehow.  Halda and I explained what we knew of the situation in Chastel and Lozeri – the infested cargo with parasites, the importance of the luxury goods (ah, the Goat’s Milk we might never taste again the art of the common people lost to this corruption), the crown’s discrete interest, the impossibility of the usual methods of travel north, and even my own travels here about a year ago.  They listened to it all.  Maybe they were just drying off from the bitter Abadius snows.  I’ve never seen them so patiently listening, taking in the information.  In the end, they agreed to investigate with us.  And it couldn’t have been the coin that convinced them.  I wonder what I was.

The Alduin Camp, Sczarni, Outside Ardis

But first we needed a guide.  No one could travel through the mists.  Except, of course, the Sczarni.  We needed a Sczarni guide.  And I was a poor excuse for one.  I told the group I knew of Sczarni encampment outside Ardis and we prepared to go. Halda and the others purchased a couple bottles of wine as gifts for the family, and we all went to the camp.  We greeted them in decent Sczarni fashion, “by the light of the wane moon, we share our drink, you share your fire?” The words came back to me like steps to a dance I’d never ceased dancing.  A story was requested.  I looked around at our companions and realized we didn’t have anyone who’d take that role.  So I told the tale of Cherry the Goat – a tale that promised laughs, and evoked them too, but turned darker quickly. The wise woman Deora took note.  Sulayn did an admirable job trying to keep the right mood with his flute, but I gave him quite the challenge. 

Afterwards, the Alduin Sczarni there provided us with various tales of barmaids in scholars’ beds, and caliban philosphers who know the secrets of the musical voice and the soul. You readers can not know such secrets.  Sorry.  You’ll have get out and live a little.  Risk sharing a Sczarni camp as we did.  It devolved over the next few hours to drinking and flirting, dancing and drinking, storytelling and confessions.  Aetherton whispered to an old woman who saw some recent loss in him, and how it weighed heavily on him.  His yellow eyes glittered against the fire light, giving away nothing. Meanwhile, Sulayn talked at length with a man named Danior.  Their conversation grew louder and more raucous, occasionally bringing in others.

I can’t remember very clearly but somewhere around then I simply told the wise woman why we came here.  I remember her studying us for a long second, then saying that Danior could take us into the mists. That he had to learn to be cautious somehow, and he might as well do it with us.  That didn’t bode well, but it was a guide.  It was what we came here for.  So I sidled up to Sulayn with Halda and Aetherton.  Apparently Danior was a romantic, or an adventurer in spirit, so I fanned those flames of competition and adventure.  But somehow Sulayn turned that around on me, and one thing led to another, so that in the middle of the night Danior and I were jumping into the Senir in our skivvies.  Good Desna, those waters were colder than a hag’s nipple in Abadius!  But for that sacrifice, Danior agreed to lead us for free.

Into the Mists

We rallied slowly in the rough blankets of the Sczarni camp, the smell of the fire embers and snow covered pines mingling with our sleep.  Halda went back to Ardis to obtain a raft for us, which we boarded before noon.  The Sczarni were busy starting up the camp to prepare for a performance so our launch was met with little more than a few waves to Danior and the watchful eye of Deora.

We crept further north, floating further and further into the mists which clung to us.  It got to be that we had to squint hard to even see each other.  I heard wolves out there in the forests, and strangely, I wanted to be out there.  Who knew who was out there?  What villages might need help?  What life still lived?  I looked at the others and they were equally caught in their own thoughts.  Only Aetherton was sitting peacefully as ever, “Pharasma knows best,” he said.  I’d never known him to be a religious person, but perhaps something changed with those recent military campaigns in Versex.  He didn’t wear the same insignia any more either?  Had he found some solace in religion?  Sulayn barked at Halda and me and broke me out of my thoughts, “Don’t lean so much!  Didn’t you see that bank coming up!  We’ll ground ourselves! Help out a little will you!” 

Along the way we discovered an abandoned raft with trade packages.  Aetherton was trained in basic tracking so he approached to study the mess of snow and some spots of blood at the banks of the small boat.  Sulayn stood guard by our own raft, peering through the mists at us, cautioning us not to go out of sight.  Halda stood between him and Aetherton and I.  I handed Aetherton the tracker’s snifter that I had prepared for just this kind of situation.  His eyes flared with the increased senses.  He discovered that whoever left the raft, left on their own accord and in a hurry, into the woods.  It wasn’t a battle, we were discovering. And this had happened all of a few hours ago, as far as he could tell. 

Sulayn muttered, “Whoever is out there probably saw something that drew them out.  They’re still out there.”  I stood there for several moments.  On seeing that Sulayn added, “It wouldn’t do any good to go out there.  We’d only lose ourselves too.”  He was right, we couldn’t see a thing out there.  “We’d be better off finding the source of this mist and helping everyone out at once.”  I remembered Everard’s request, and the Crown’s concerns, and the strange absence of the Lodge, and our charge.  Reluctantly, I got back on our raft.

The Madness of the Mists

We traveled to the fork in the Vhatsuntide, where it meets Chastel.  I told the others that Chastel should be right here.  Or around here.  We were the wild and clear sounds of wolves not more than a mile inland, but as Sulayn steered us toward the banks we saw dozens of skiffs and rafts moored at the banks, abandoned, baskets and trunks left open.  As if the travelers had simply left their bodies to join the mists.  “We shouldn’t go out there.  That’s what the mists would want,” warned Sulayn.

“But those wolves sound lean and hungry…” and what I didn’t say, but we all knew, was that they sounded touched with something more…wild and unnatural.

“The peasants here should know to go inside when they hear wolves though,” said Aetherton.  This was true.  But what if the wolves had come out of the mists too quickly to be noticed – and they their howls certainly sounded like they’d found prey…  We all looked at each other. 

I took a step off the raft, onto another raft.  “But what if we’re wrong. We can’t just…”

Halda asked, “How close are we?  Just a few hundred feet right?  It’s not too far is it?”  We all nodded.  Sulayn sighed, “It’s a trap.”  We all nodded again, adjusting our weapons and armor.  With an exasperated noise Sulayn tied us up against the other rafts.  “Danior, you have a choice.  You could go back now, but then you’d have to go through those mists on your own.  Or you wait here.  For us.  And go with us.”  Danior nervously suggested he would take the raft across the water and wait for us there.

Quickly we moved through the mists, and slowly a village emerged, and then we saw wolves -shadows slipping through mists, flitting across the clearings between buildings, sniffing out anyone caught outside.  Then a particularly large one burst straight through a window.  We heard its snarl mingle with a horrified scream and a child’s more high-pitched scream – all of it rattling in our chests.  I dashed forward, popping the Quickness Spray from its button on my bandolier, let fly an arrow at a large one which skimmed right off its thick coat harmlessly.  But I swear, even at a hundred paces, I had seen the arrow head turn.  Halda and Aetherton both said, “Werewolves.  Use silver.”  Of course.  Even as they said it, I ran forward, Sulayn only a dozen paces behind me, and Milda scrambling into the shadowy brush, and I sprayed the Flametouch over my quiver, then pulled a silver arrow.  I let it fly and saw it fly straight at the enormous wolf, now on its hind legs, roaring like a bear, and then grunted with satisfaction as the flaming arrow burst on the chest and tore the creature’s chest wide open, sending it staggering.  But it tossed a nearby villager at the ground and stuffed its muzzle into the poor woman’s intestines anyway, mad with hunger.  I moved with the speed of my potion and shot another arrow to drive it to the ground, then without stopping shot through a window at another, straight through its skull.  “Get off them beasts!”

I was suddenly surrounded by wolves, smaller, and not standing on hind legs, but they nipped at my chest and heels, trying to trip me, nearly getting me a couple times.  Sulayn swung his glaive in blinding arcs taking one and then another out in halves.  Aetherton drove two more to the ground in precise strikes with his two blades, and Halda shot blots of electricity through the mists, taking out more.  I twisted backwards through the bushes as the Lodge had taught me, and finished another werewolf just before he ripped a peasant woman to shreds, and before the werewolf fell I turned on another, just inside the next building, and shot for its head as well – splitting it in silver and flame.  There was only one more.  Sulayn, Aetherton, and Halda meanwhile killed another half dozen wolves.  And before I could draw, having finally caught me at the doorway, the last werewolf raked its claws at my exposed back.  I twisted on the ball of my foot and shot the last werewolf, who stumbled at me desperately, an arrow sticking out from his face, then I shot again pulling back with all my might, and straight through his chest.  Mercifully, he dropped, but then a wolf came flying at me in a frenzy.  I was still gasping from the agonizing rip down my spine, grasping for my Desna’s Touch spray, but I missed the wound with the mad wolf harrying me.  I took another out, being driven back to the wall by its attacks, but this wound landed on the wounds and healed them halfway.  Sulayn lunged and skewered the last wolf.  Gasping I looked around for Halda and saw her across the field, but she was covered in blood and loomed over the village square as a nine foot tall grizzly, and tearing apart a final wolf.  She stepped forward, and for a moment I thought she might be caught in the same madness.  Her paws reached for me, dripping dark red ichor and entrails. 

“Halda,” I mustered, searching her eyes for some sense of the dwarf I’d known for two years. 

She finally shrank and returned to herself, though looking like a complete disaster of blood.  Sulayn was pressing bandages up to my back, but it wasn’t what I needed.  He was only irritating the wound.  Luckily Halda could still focus as well as she always did.  In short order, my back was fully mended.  While I took my arrows out from the werewolves and carefully secured the silver and mithril arrowheads, Aetherton inspected the village and Halda and Sulayn investigated the bodies.  They came back with grim news, and faces even grimmer.  It made me wonder for a moment what transpired inside the hut they entered.  All I could see were bloated bodies and gore. 

Apparently, most of the women were pregnant, and unnaturally so.  They also appeared to be eating some sort of disturbing stew that reminded me an awful lot of the infected shipments Ardis had been receiving from Chastel.  Were the werewolves trying to cleans the forest of this corruption?  Werewolves were generally suspected followers of Lamashtu here in the Shuddering Wood.  Were they followers of Lamashtu in some sort of war with followers of Urgathoa, goddess of disease and undeath?  But how did that fit with my earlier observations of a demonic infestation?  A war between demons?  Demons and devils?

Those Abandoned in the Mists: Arrival in Chastel

We left with these questions for Chastel.  There we found everyone in a strange daze, wandering, generally unresponsive to each other, but apparently alive still.  Their breath still puffed out in wisps and they gave faint murmurs of acknowledge if they approached one another.  I recognized one, Bertis, a portly trader, generally affable.  He came at me looking to for a hug, but I recoiled as I noticed his open sores.  He tried Sulayn, but Sulayn warned him off at the point of his glaive.  And then a very disturbing thing followed.  Bertis hysterically cut at his own flesh on his arm, something he has apparently been doing frequently, and offered us a slice “to eat, and partake in the body, share in the nourishment.”  I directed him to Fillisna, the Chastel flirt, “who I think is feeling lonely.”  I had noticed her shambling some hundred feet away.  He went for her, and left us staring at each other in shock. 

Aetherton told us he had heard a story of a town in southern Amaans, a long time ago, that had succumbed to a similar fate.  They apparently worshipped a lesser demon of Lamashtu known as "Papa."  He gave the demon's full name and I wrote it down.  The town, he recounted, had to be purged in the usual Pharasmin Penitence way: by burning it down and the people put to stake and fire as well…

What had become of the Chastel I once knew?