Kali's Journal (a Jade Regent Campaign)


Campaign Journals

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Our group has been playing together for over a decade, and this month marks our 1-year anniversary on the Jade Regent AP. Half of us have been keeping game journals, and I decided to start sharing mine here as well.

Sarenith 22, 4712 (Brinestump Marsh, Night)

I am not sure what I have gotten myself into here. Besides the obvious, that is, which of course is a swamp. Certainly this is not how I envisioned that the day would end, even after we made the decision to come here. I don’t know why—maybe it was Qatana’s confidence—but I just assumed we would be done before nightfall. In retrospect that was pretty naive of me.

Am I in over my head? Possibly, but I feel like this is a tipping point in my life. I could spend years scribing scrolls in the guild and researching and copying dusty tomes in some library in Magnimar, basically growing old and dull. Or, I could be like mom and dad, and take a chance on something more than safe. And, honestly, how much safer would that “safe” life be? The worst thing that ever happened to me was just a stone’s throw from my friends. There are no guarantees anywhere, certainly not in Magnimar (and when did I ever feel safe in Sandpoint?).

I almost didn’t even come here at all. When the letter from Ameiko arrived, suggesting I come back for a few days to visit, I was more than a little apprehensive. For one, our friendship had been fading even before we moved away and I had long since come to terms with that. I didn’t know what it meant that she wanted to see me. And for two, this town had been hard on me growing up. Most of that was already solidly in the past, too, but it still brings back some unpleasant memories and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see some of those faces again, even in passing. But in the end I said yes, and here we are. I guess curiosity and a glimmer of hope won out. I am not exactly sure what I was expecting from Ameiko, but if she reached out that meant she wanted to try and reconnect in some fashion, right? Maybe she’d be less distant, and maybe time had helped her—deal with? heal from? come to terms with?—whatever it was that happened out there, and that the walls would come down a bit.

They did a little. It wasn’t the same as when we were kids, but maybe that is too much to ask of anyone. It doesn’t matter. It was good to see my friend.

After Ameiko took over that inn years ago it became the de facto gathering point for travelers, thrill-seekers, explorers and their ilk, and it’s also one of the few places where you can go in Sandpoint if you and your friends want to meet your friends’ friends, and their friends in turn. It was the latter that had me there for breakfast (though I was visiting Ameiko, I chose not to pressure both of us by also staying there) and some time in the common room. It had been years since I had seen Anavaru—that running gag about her “horse” never seems to get old—and though Qatana and I have been in touch off and on in Magnimar it seemed wrong to not get together while we were both in town.

Speaking of Qatana, I am actually growing concerned about her. Obviously, what happened in Kaer Maga all those years ago was deeply scarring and I wasn’t surprised to see it affect her as it did. No one should have to adjust to life as an orphan. When I learned she was going to Magnimar to study under clerics of Pharasma I thought she might finally be healing those old wounds, and after we moved there ourselves I was able to see her from time to time. But then she became obsessed with Groetus and the end times, and her life took a radically different and dark turn. Certainly, it has given her great strength and resolve, and at the core there is still the Qatana I know—she even started a bakery of sorts in Magnimar, which doubled as a soup kitchen—but it colors her thinking.

At times she does not seem to be connected to what’s around her. She seems uninterested in taking care of her appearance. Her actions can be random and occasionally they show a lack of understanding of basic social graces. I am almost certain she hears voices and there are moments when I think I see her talking back to them. But mostly I am concerned because I don’t know what this means. Are those voices real spirits or beings? Is this a part of her relationship with the deities of old? I suppose all things are possible. But where will it lead?

To be fair, she is more…functional than most followers of Groetus, and I use that term “followers” loosely. Groetus does not really have followers so much as he has recluses, fanatics, and lunatics (and sometimes all three at once), and they tend to be doomsayers or obsessed with the dying and the almost-dead. But there are rare exceptions, and Qatana is one of them. “The world is going to end,” she told me once. “It could be today, tomorrow, or next week.” Her life has a sort of immediacy to it. Time is not to be wasted.

It was Qatana that first spoke up when she heard about the bounty that had been placed on goblins from the Licktoad Tribe (I don’t know for sure how goblins choose their tribe names, but I think it is safe to assume that they are not ones for metaphor). Of course, we all knew about the attacks on travelers and caravans which were mostly nuisance affairs, but lately they had taken to scaring horses with, of all things, fireworks that had been stolen from somewhere. That was news to me, as was the bounty had been placed on them once before and then quickly pulled. Apparently, some kids with more courage than sense got killed trying to collect on it, and Sandpoint didn’t want more would-be bounty hunters going off to the swamps and not returning. But now it was back on again, which means the fireworks had upped the both the seriousness of the situation and the urgency along with it.

Qatana was ready to go right then and there, simply declaring “I need money,” as if that were the only explanation necessary. It’s the sort of awkward thing Qatana does.

She started asking “us” if we’d join her, and so the interview process began. And who, exactly, was “us”? The aforementioned friends of friends. A few people I’d seen around before we’d moved away, a few I’d heard of but didn’t know plus some faces that were entirely new. The interview process was mercifully short, with Qatana’s qualifying criteria being one of either “carries a large stick” or “casts spells”. (She can be refreshingly simple.)

When she asked me, I didn’t answer at first. My hesitation came from thinking about the kids that went out there before us and died for their trouble. That was a reminder that you don’t just go kill a few goblins as a means of minting coins: they may be the butt of jokes around this part of Varisia, but that does not mean they aren’t vicious and dangerous, especially in numbers. In a way, it sounded both cliche and naive to declare that we could just walk out to the swamp and “take care of it”, especially since many of us had met one another for the first time not just that morning, but that hour. But as I said earlier, I felt like I needed something big to upset my life so that I could find a new course.

Ameiko watched this all with interest and amusement (and possibly more the latter than the former), but she’s not in the habit of seeing people get hurt so she did wander over and offer some practical advice from her own experiences. That advice boiled down to: get to know everyone’s skills before you set out and put your lives in each others’ hands. Fair enough, and so we did. Though, I do have a note for Ameiko: the next time you give that speech, specifically add “and what languages you speak” to the list.

We set out a couple of hours later for the Brinestump Marsh (who comes up with these names?), taking a fishing trail along the river delta to the shore. Ameiko told us of a halfling man who had set up a little home out there and established himself as the self-proclaimed “Warden of the Swamp”. If we wanted to get some information on the goblins, then perhaps that would be a good place to start.

It’s from his home, in fact, where I am writing this currently, and he has been gracious enough to offer us food and lodging for the night. But I am getting ahead of myself.

When we first arrived at the house we had been following two sets of footprints: one roughly child-sized (or halfling), and one human-sized. They led right to his home, and that is where events took a bizarre—and later, frightening—turn.

Qatana, Anavaru and Ivan approached the door (gods, Ivan is just a kid…what is he doing out here?) and, surprisingly, the Warden answered when Anavaru knocked. I couldn’t hear what was said, but I could see him and he did not look good: very ill, very tired and seemingly wounded. There was a brief exchange that ended with Ivan pushing his way forward to give some unsolicited healing. And then it got weird. Very, very weird.

Qatana…she just barged in. Literally. She just pushed her way in the door, without asking to come in, and without being invited. She walked right in his home and started poking around.

Everyone was in shock, especially the poor Warden. Except there was something about him that didn’t seem to fit. He was injured, and grateful for the healing, but he was also evasive and alarmed. Not because of Qatana or us, but because of something else. I like to think that this is what Qatana sensed and the reason why she did what she did, but I don’t know. Whatever her motivation, though, it set the right events in motion and it made me suspicious and the Warden increasingly uneasy.

So I cast a spell to search for magic, outside where I was out of earshot so as not to raise suspicion, and joined them in the Warden’s entry, under the pretense of helping to get a handle on Qatana and put the poor man at ease. What I was really trying to do was get a look around, myself, and what I saw gave me a bad feeling. There was no magic anywhere in the house except for the Warden himself. Not on him, but him specifically.

He was going on about being bitten by snakes, and having been poisoned (all of which clearly appeared to be true), and being afraid of snakes, and yet he lived in a house that was a habitat for snakes, and he kept feeder mice and birds. For snakes. And it did not add up. So we pretended to help by searching the house for more snakes while we kept the Warden under watch and stalled for time. I even asked Etayne to come in and look him over since witches know something of poisons and remedies, and thus she could put on a convincing show.

Eventually, I was able to determine that the magic around him was a faint transmutation of some sort, but I could not identify the source. So I called up to Qatana, who was searching the upstairs (“for snakes”). In Elvish, I said, “Qatana, I need you down here. I am detecting a faint transmutation aura on the halfling.”

And I was taken aback when our halfling friend replied, also in Elvish. “I am sure it was just the lingering effect of your friend’s healing spell”.

I felt a chill running through me. Any one thing on its own would be perfectly innocent, but all of this together created a picture that was just wrong. I could also feel the Warden’s unease growing, and it seemed we had started a dangerous game of us knowing that something was up, and the Warden knowing that we knew, and we knowing that he knew that we knew, and so on in that fashion. But neither side was ready to make the first move.

Then Etayne became severely spooked by something she saw, and she stepped out to call Olmas in. Under the guise of “you should stay down; you’ve been poisoned” and so on, he ensured that the halfling was sitting down and staying that way. This worked for a little bit but the Warden’s patience wore thin and Olmas had to get obstinate about it, and that is when our halfling host went from agitated to angry to hostile to violent. He leapt from his chair, ran upstairs with Olmas on his heels, and within seconds a lethal fight had broken out in the hallway.

We were not, in fact, talking to a halfling. We found the real Warden of the Swamp, one Walthus Proudstump, in a secret room on the second floor of his home after the fight was over. What we were facing was something called a “stalker”: a being capable of assuming the form of others, and both speaking and understanding any language. There are spells that can accomplish the latter two effects, but it would appear that these creatures do this continually. According to the real Warden, who we healed and tended to, they were created by the Old Ones. (Possibly as spies? I can think of no better purpose for shapeshifters who are instantly fluent in any language. But the Old Ones are long gone, so what is their purpose now?)

This one attacked Walthus and took his form. It’s not clear why. For the most part, Walthus says the snakes help keep them away (which means there may be more than one of them) but somehow this one was able to get to him when his guard was down—while we were playing cat and mouse with the stalker inside, Radella was searching the grounds outside and she came across signs of a struggle—and Walthus was nearly killed. He was able to get back into his house unnoticed and conceal himself in the secret room that the stalker did not know was there, ultimately saving his own life. The stalker, in the mean time, found that the snakes could tell the difference between the real Walthus and a copy, and he suffered numerous, venomous bites.

And that is how it came to be that I am spending the night in a small house in the Brinestump Marsh along the Soggy River. Walthus Proudstump, the halfling man who calls himself The Warden of the Swamp, was so grateful for our timely intervention that he served us dinner and gave us the use of his home for the night. He’s a good man. Perhaps a little eccentric, but a kind and generous man who is happy where he is and surrounded by the marshlands that he loves.

Sarenith 23, 4712 (Brinestump Marsh, Morning)

Last night was uneventful. Sparna, Radella, Anavaru and Olmas each took a two-hour shift on a watch. I had trouble sleeping, and spent the couple of hours writing. Nihali was uneasy as well, and I’d see her fidget and stretch her wings nervously. There was nothing specific bothering me so I guess I was just anxious about everything.

I don’t know Sparna well though he is a frequent visitor to Sandpoint. He has worked as a caravan guard for as long as I have known him, though whether he has done anything more than this I don’t know. Being a caravan guard is mostly about appearances and deterrence (something Ameiko taught me, and which I put to good use in Magnimar to keep the riff-raff at bay) and I suspect this outing is a welcome change for him. Perhaps a chance to actually use what he carries instead of putting on a show.

Radella is one of the new faces, a half-elf woman whose skills tend to towards tomb-robbing and thinking on your feet. Note: I am being diplomatic here. I have nothing against her, but I suspect neither mom nor dad would be likely to invite her to dinner.

I’ve always liked Anavaru and she was never unkind to me. It’s terrible what happened to her and her family. First her mom, and then her dad. Niska practically adopted them, and then Ana lost her, too.

Shalelu seems to know everyone in Varisia and Olmas is another one of her strays, this one a half-elf man. He seriously considered bringing a horse into a marshland. We actually had to talk him out of it. Where does she find these people?

Ivan, as I have said, is just a kid, too young to be properly concerned for his own safety. Another new face to me, but apparently close to Koya.

I remember seeing Etayne from time to time when I was younger. She’s a half-sister to Shalelu but I don’t know the circumstances (and it is not my business, anyway). She was not comfortable in town then, and she seems to be even less so, now. I can understand that. Witchcraft just isn’t trusted, especially in Varisia where superstitions flow like water.

This morning we are going back out to the Lost Coast Road so we can come in along a different path that leads to the goblin village. Walthus advised us against a more direct route through the marshlands. Apparently the “monster in the swamp” is real, and not someone’s imagination made legend through oral tradition. We saw a footprint yesterday—three toes in an alien arrangement—and Walthus said it belongs to it. “It has claws for hands and feet and its legs bend the wrong direction for a man,” he explained. “It’s jaws also open wrong.”

He said it was a fearsome creature that first appeared here maybe five years ago. And it sounds like something best left alone.


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Sarenith 23 (Brinestump Marsh, Mid-day)

I fell gravely ill when I was very young though of course I don’t remember any of it. My parents tell me they were traveling across the Carpendan Plains when I was four years old and the road took them along a marshland probably not unlike this one. No magic, no curses, no ancient horrors: just a simple mosquito bite paired with everyday misfortune.

We followed goblin tracks almost all the way in. Up above us, Nihali kept a watchful eye on the trail but the thick vegetation made seeing anything beyond its boundaries very difficult, and it felt like the swamp was slowly closing in around us the deeper into the marsh we pressed. If they somehow knew we were coming, we’d not likely see the ambush before it was sprung.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried. We emerged into a clearing of sorts that revealed the village in the distance, and from where we stood on the trail it looked eerily deserted. The front gate was completely broken down and there were no signs of activity. I asked Nihali to scout as safely as she could and she returned in short order with an ominous report.

“No guards, signs of life. Burned bodies, bones in the hole. Much fear.”

We approached the village cautiously and stepped into the compound. The gate had been broken down from the inside and then crushed in a stampede. Small footprints, dozens and dozens of them, told a story of a chaotic escape into the marsh. Whatever had happened here had terrified the goblins, sending most of the village fleeing in a mass panic.
A closer search of the grounds turned up a sinister explanation: skeletal footprints in the dirt, human-sized, leading into the village and back out again.

The charred bodies in the central pit were definitely goblins. A pig stye turned mass grave. It suggested there were still survivors here since someone had to be alive in order to burn and bury the dead, and we found the first of them in a small outbuilding. A half dozen goblins were cowering there in abject fear, and I suddenly felt uneasy about what we were here to do. Yes, they were goblins, and yes, we knew what this tribe had done, but that did not mean it was right to slaughter them in this manner.

But it did not take long for the situation to change: they became hostile and violent as soon as they saw what we were. The fight broke out in that first building and then spread to the courtyard when more goblins appeared at the window of one of the guardhouses. I tried to circle around using the platforms on the other side, but there was no direct path across and I ended up going deeper into the complex instead. Eventually, I ran into Olmas, just as the rest of the party was preparing an assault into what they presumed was the goblin chieftain’s throne room.

Etayne dropped down to the ground below and was able to count at least a half-dozen of them, in addition to the chieftain, through gaps in the raised floor. I was detecting faint traces of magic inside just as Qatana smashed the door in. While goblin engineering, if you can call it that, is clumsy and primitive that door was still barred on the inside and sturdy enough to resist entry. Yet, under the force of her impact it shattered, sending a shower of splintered wood into the room.

Just seconds after the assault began an explosion in the doorway confirmed that the Licktoad tribe had, indeed, found a cache of fireworks. Several of us, including the chieftain’s own defenders, were enveloped in a starburst of searing, metallic powder that would no doubt have been quite beautiful from a few hundred feet away. While it was probably a waste of a spell—he immolated the last of his own with this trick—I answered with a burst of dazzling color that left him incapacitated; Olmas and Anavaru delivered the killing blows.

A crudely hidden room turned up an astonishing surprise: a chest with a beautiful, red lacquer finish, decorated with etchings of cranes and frogs. I was stunned. It was obviously from Tian Xia, and almost certainly Minkai. It was a work of art.

Inside was something even more curious: a delicate Tian style fan which we unfolded. One side had an intricate painting of a gecko against a backdrop of cherry blossoms. The other, unfortunately, had been painted over by the goblins but they had done so in order to draw a crude map of the marsh in wide, sloppy strokes. Bold X’s marked two locations along the shore and a third at the base of the cliffs just a short distance from the Witch’s Walk. (I don’t know if the goblins’ paint can be removed without damaging the original artwork, but it seems like something that should be attempted. When we are back in town, I will ask about this.) Presumably, one of these X’s is the shipwreck that is the source of the fireworks, but the others? Yet more mysteries.

Sarenith 23 (Brinestump Marsh, Evening)

We found the weatherworn shipwreck inland from the bay, far enough from the water that it was likely grounded there in a storm many years past. Curiously, the goblins had built a rickety fence around it complete with a broken gate. Ever the opportunists, they had apparently turned it into a home…which they subsequently destroyed by inadvertently setting it ablaze. From the outside, the two-mast Chelish vessel looked intact but the inside was completely gutted. Most likely their luck with the cache of skyrockets had finally run out and there had been an accident that led to a fire.

The dead goblins outside the ship, however, were anything but an accident. The badly decomposed bodies bore the telltale signs of battle injuries but gave no clues as to their assailants.

The name of the ship was still visible, and astonishingly it was written in Tien. I copied the pictographs as best I could since none of us could read them and even if I had the spell prepared it would have been a waste for just this purpose. Vudrani is a relatively young language on the scale by which these things are measured, and it evolved with heavy influence from Tien (I am told that in Tian Xia, Vudrani is even widely spoken as a foreign language). The two cultures have intermingled for centuries and I had an opportunity many years ago in Jalmeray to start learning Tien. Foolishly, I passed it up. As much as I have regretted that decision over the years, I am doing so even more, now.

Maybe if dad knew Tien things would have turned out differently. That may sound like I am shifting the responsibility for my decision to someone else, but the reality is that nearly all of my languages are a result of my parents’ influence. Dad, of course, spoke Vudrani at home as often as he did common: he very reasonably was not going to raise a daughter that wasn’t fluent in his native tongue. By nature of growing up in Varisia and having my mom as my mom I, of course, learned not just Varisian but Thassilonian as well—and knowing mom she probably started Thassilonian lessons while I was still in her womb. (Never mind that it’s basically a dead language known only by scholars and eccentrics.) And Elvish? A very useful language to have, of course, but that was both dad and mom, and motivated more by the family business than anything else. Only Draconic and Celestial didn’t originate with them, and if we’re being totally honest here the former wasn’t exactly a choice, either. Sure, you can learn magic without knowing Draconic, just as you can see with only one eye.

We are camped above the bluffs along the Witch’s Walk for the night. Down below, we came across the skeleton footprints and unsurprisingly they led to one of the locations marked on the goblins’ map, which turned out to be the entrance to a cave. What we were not expecting to see was a second shipwreck, visible just offshore in the distance and roughly corresponding to the sole remaining X. With the sun setting and the whereabouts of the skeletons unknown, however, the increasing prospects of a battle with the undead in a swamp in the dark seemed strangely unappealing.


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Sarenith 24 (Morning, Brinestump Marsh)

Gods, I am an idiot. How many years did I spend around Ameiko? How could I not recognize the pictograph? How many times have I seen it? Dozens? A hundred? The Kaijitsu Star. There is an old adage about not noticing what is right in front of you, or what you don’t expect to find, and I guess this is what they mean. But still. I should have known.

I also feel like I have invaded her privacy, something that she has guarded carefully for as long as I have known her. I can’t say for certain that this letter was intended for her father, but the timing would be right. It’s dated 4687, just a couple of years before Ameiko was born. Sandpoint was founded in the 4660’s by the Mercantile League, an alliance of four families that included the Kaijitsus. Who else could it have been written to?

Ameiko did not talk much about her family, but I saw and heard enough of her father to know that he was a bitter, angry, and resentful man. Perhaps this letter explains some of that. Ultimately, I believe that we are responsible for our own decisions and choices in life, but we are influenced by how we are raised and how we are treated. How we respond to these trials is a test of our character, and perhaps this was one too many indignities for his. Did her father feel abandoned by his father? Did those feelings ferment over time into anger and rage, eventually driving his family away from him? What would have been different had this letter been received?

I need to see Ameiko. I need to be the one who shows her the letter, and the one who apologizes for this intrusion into her past. I’m sorry. We didn’t know.

And then there are the treasures we have found. Technically, they belong to the Kajitsu family which means that they belong to Ameiko. She will need to be told about these as well.

And what of this mystery? The caves below were filled with skeletons dressed in Tian-style armor. The second chest, made from cherry wood and jade, was clearly from one of the ships, and among its contents were more sky rockets and depressions where others had been removed.

It was enough to start forming a story of what had happened: the goblins found the chests which contained the fireworks and taken them, but someone, somewhere, created skeletons from the dead off of one or both ships. One of those, the one guarding the chest, had somehow retained its will and memories, and it must have been able to control the others. They raided the goblin village and took the chest back and brought it here.

But who created the skeletons? And what is the other shipwreck and how is it connected (if it’s connected at all)?

The caves were a harrowing experience. In the main cavern, the skeletons converged on us from all directions and many of the others had pushed too far in to be able to safely retreat. I thought we were going to lose Olmas but Ivan was there to provide some much-needed healing. Qatana, however, was quickly surrounded and there was no one close enough to help her in time. I don’t know how she did it, but miraculously she managed a healing spell just as the group of three skeletons descended on her† and it saved her life.

This was the first time I have ever used those little acid darts in anger. Dad, you can officially stop worrying now.

This was her player spending a hero point.

Sarenith 24 (Afternoon, Brinestump Marsh)

Like all residents of Sandpoint I had heard of Old Megus, but I’d never actually met her myself. Rumor was that she rarely left the swamp, coming into town only to purchase obscure magical supplies. Most people referred to her as the Swamp Witch and based on Etayne’s reaction when we found her home that wasn’t just a colloquialism (and so it would seem that the Witch’s Walk was also aptly named). Of particular interest to Etayne were the numerous windchimes made of bone that were hanging above the porch, but when asked about them she replied that although they looked familiar she did not understand their purpose.

The shack was in poor shape. Neglect and the elements had taken their toll and the walls were dingy and sagging. Next to it was a partially collapsed shed which had long since given up the fight. No one had lived here in some time.

The ground around the buildings was covered with large rodent tracks which, of course, peaked Qatana’s curiosity and when she heard skittering inside the house it proved too tempting for her to resist. At least she knocked first. When there was no answer, she opened the door—this took some effort because the frame was warped—and went in with Etayne and some of the others close behind. Given the number of tracks on the ground, I chose to stay outside and keep an eye on both buildings from the front. Olmas went around back to do the same.

I heard but did not see the skirmish. Etayne emerged briefly to clean that long spear of hers, the end of which was covered in blood. “Dire rats,” she said with a half-smile when I looked at her quizzically, and then she went back inside without another word.

People surprise you.

Old Megus, it seemed, had died at her own hand. Etayne spent a lot of time examining the remains of her laboratory and had no doubt that there had been a mishap of some sort with one of her experiments. It was kind of a sad discovery. Megus had presumably come out here to live in solitude, but that also meant that she died alone and no one had noticed aside from her ratling familiar. Not that I approve of what she had been doing. Obsessed with transformation magic, her deformed corpse suggested she was mucking with the process of nature itself; it’s the sort of experimentation that taints all of us, especially in countries like Varisia where superstition runs strong.

As for the ratling, the arcane world has low opinions of these creatures but I am pleased that this meeting did not end in bloodshed and that we were able to part amicably. He was, after all, just defending the only home he has known for many decades, and we were the intruders. There was no reason to fight, and he seemed touched by the offer to bury his mistress. He even pulled out an unexpected surprise: Old Megus had maintained an astonishingly detailed map of the Brinestump Marsh, and we made a rough copy of it in order to amend and correct our own. It is amazing what you can learn when you just talk to other beings and treat them kindly. Assuming of course, that they are not plotting to stab you in the back as you leave. (I think it also helped a great deal to have Etayne take the lead, for there was a level of understanding with her and Ling that would not have been possible with the rest of us).

One interesting landmark on Megus’s map was the cave, which she indicated with a symbol of a skull.

“My mistress said that the cave is very dangerous. Even she never went in there, and she was very powerful.”

Etayne replied, “Your mistress was very wise, and she was right to avoid it. Inside were many skeletons, undead created from the corpses of the crew or passengers on those ships.” Among other things.

He didn’t know anything about the skeletons. When asked if Megus ever dabbled with the undead, he shook his head.

“No. She was only interested in life.”

We told what we knew of the goblin village, the skeletons and their attack on it, and even the faceless stalker and the Warden. We were the Oral Swamp Times, delivering the latest news to the denizens of Brinestump. And it turned out he had something to add on these matters, as well.

“I’ve been to this ship, too, which the goblins made up into a house. More goblins came to it one day and they fought each other.”

More mysteries. It explained the corpses, answering one question while raising a half-dozen others. Rival tribes? An exiled group? Not that it mattered.

We were able to walk to the second shipwreck from there which was a pleasant turn of events, but that decaying hulk of a Chelish ship was in much worse shape than the other. Without the benefit of any protection from the elements, there was little left beyond the deteriorating hull frame and remnants of its outer plating. A quick search turned up the nameplate which was still intact but severely weatherworn. A few cantrips cleaned it up enough to see a pair of Tien pictographs, and of course, I recognized the name Kaijitsu (I try not to be stupid in the same way more than once). The meaning of the other would have to wait.


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Mild spoiler for Rise of the Runelords.

Sarenith 24 (Afternoon, Sandpoint)

If it had not occurred to me that we hadn’t searched the entirety of the goblin village, we might not have encountered the Soggy River Monster. Once again, what the name lacked in originality it made up for in technical accuracy,

It was a foul thing and my magic couldn’t touch it, but there were many of us and just one of it, and now it’s dead. According to the Sheriff, this was one of the Sinspawn, horrid creatures that were discovered along with an ancient Thassilonian runewell under Sandpoint a few years ago. I remember several long, tense, and (I am not ashamed to admit it) frightening nights when the sinkhole had opened up, exposing the long-buried temple to the world above. We could hear unnatural, dog-like sounds coming from within. Eventually, the “Heroes of Sandpoint”, as the town called them (Sedjwick no doubt had a hand in that one), had returned and dealt with it. By then, mom and dad had already decided to move. I guess they had had enough.

As I said my magic had no effect. None. It’s something we were taught while studying the craft as a warning against putting too much faith in spells as an offensive weapon. Some creatures are just innately resistant to mortal magic. Me? I took home a slightly different message, but it will be some time before I am able to master the alternatives.

Olmas and Anavaru are fierce opponents. Olmas you’d expect, but Ana? It still astonishes me. It shouldn’t, I realize, but when you know someone as long as we’ve known one another your perspective gets skewed. She was always quiet, kind, and funny, and we had quite a few laughs about her “horse”, and that’s just how I remember her. I certainly noticed when she went from adolescent girl to young woman that you-do-not-want-to-anger, but my head is still stuck a couple of years earlier than that.

She started spending a lot more time out in the wild after her dad died. She’d always had this thing for animals and getting away from the city seemed to bring her some comfort. I actually joined her on some of her overnight forays into the hinterlands. Once, we event spent a couple of nights trying to catch a glimpse of the Sandpoint Devil after having heard rumors that it had been seen in the farmlands near Tickwood. In retrospect, that was a really stupid idea but I must have felt safe with her around or I wouldn’t have even considered it.

We went to see Sheriff Hemlock as soon as we returned to town. I was just as happy to be rid of the ears and head we were required to provide as proof of our success as I was to collect the bounty on the same. While this sort of troubleshooter-for-hire work certainly seems to pay well, it does strike me as being particularly gruesome. It is also a little disquieting that you end up profiting off of someone else’s suffering. We are all several hundred gold wealthier than we were before—to the average person, an enormous sum that they will not see in their entire lives—but several less fortunate individuals are still dead.


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Sarenith 24 (Night, Sandpoint)

Tonight I showed Ameiko the letter. Ana and I grew up with her so the two of us made plans to meet her at the inn before the dinner rush would leave her too busy to talk in private. We were joined by a couple of the others.

At first, there was that awkward moment that comes from delivering unexpected news where you are having two different conversations at the same time. But as our story reached the Minkai chest, and then the Chelish ship bearing the name Kaijitsu Star, I saw the realization dawning on her. We paused to let the news sink in. I was acutely aware of the sounds from the inn’s common room because the one we were in had become completely silent. There was a long pause before Ameiko spoke.

“A Chelish ship? The Kaijitsu Star? I…I’ve never heard of any of this. It…it doesn’t make any sense…”

“There’s more. A lot more.”

Ameiko looked at me and I continued.

“The footprints led to a cave on the edge of the marsh. Inside, we found over a dozen skeletons wearing Tian style armor. We think they were survivors from one of the shipwrecks, but we don’t know what killed them.

“They animated and attacked as we explored the cave. In a smaller cave next to that was another skeleton, also in Tian style armor, sitting on a jade and cherrywood chest, also of Minkai origin. This skeleton was also undead, only…it seemed to retain some of its will and memories. It pulled a sword from its own rib cage, issued a challenge of some sort to Olmas, and attacked.

“We think the goblins had stolen these chests, and that this is how they got the fireworks. And, somehow, this person returned as an undead and took revenge. He could control the other skeletons, and they raided the village and took this chest back.

“As for the sword, we identified it with magic and it has a name, The Whispering Shrike. It had a loose hilt, and inside the hilt was this letter.”

I slid it across the desk to her as I went on.

“We didn’t know what it was, and of course, none of us understands Tien. So I used a spell to read it. We think it was to your father from your grandfather. If we had known I wouldn’t have done it. I’m sorry.”

Before she started reading, I also showed her the name of the second ship.

“I didn’t have the spell available for the second ship. It’s also Chelish. I recognize Kaijitsu, but not the other pictograph.” (She would eventually translate this as Kaijitsu’s Blossom).

I watched her read. Ameiko does not always hide her emotions well and I could follow her progress just by watching her expression change from one to the next. At one point, she shook her head and, in a frustrated tone, said quietly, “Father, you could have told me…”

Lonjiku was not a pleasant man. Officially, Ameiko did not have many friends when she was growing up and even fewer still were allowed in his home (I was one of those few, but I never felt comfortable there). Unofficially, of course, Ameiko would never let her overbearing father dictate her life and she snuck out of the house so often to do as she pleased that he was either oblivious to it or resigned to her irreverence. I think the only reason she stayed at home was because she was all he had left and her culture has a strong sense of family and duty.

This letter, which she confirmed as coming from her grandfather (or, at least bearing his name), teased her with answers about her father and her family that had been gnawing at her for as long as I’ve known her.

She thanked us for bringing it to her and asked us to join her for dinner that night. She also, mercifully, said we could keep anything that we found out there (I say “mercifully” because it headed off a brewing argument over property and salvage rights, and other quasi-legal matters that were making me sick to my stomach, putting Ana’s, Qatana’s, and my history with Ameiko in conflict with the others). All she wanted was that letter.

Dinner, as it turned out, involved a few more people than we had expected. Joining us in her private dining room, which was packed tighter than I have ever seen, were Koya, Sandru and, of all people, Shalelu. It was obvious we were not there solely to share a meal together..

I’ll be honest. I was not the least bit surprised when, after everyone had finished eating, she announced her intention to travel to Brinewall and pursue this family mystery. I would have done it were I in her position. I also wasn’t surprised at her plan to use Sandru’s caravan to get there. She invited all of us to join her—Brinewall being what it was, it would be foolish to go alone—and from there, the other pieces began falling into place.

I, of course, was going if Ameiko was going and Anavaru was right there next to me. Qatana wanted any excuse to go anywhere. Shalelu would also accompany Ameiko, and that clinched the decision for several of the others. And Koya? Well, Sandru was going and she had practically adopted him, too. When all was said and done, the eleven of us had signed on.

Sandru gave us a quick overview of the trip, a one-way distance of about 500 miles over well-traveled roads that would take roughly 16 days. The last leg, up to Brinewall, was not as busy, but there was still the occasional caravan to and from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. He did not expect any significant trouble along the way.

His eyes scanned the room as he spoke, finally locking his gaze on mine. “I have a small caravan of three wagons. Though if we need to make some upgrades or additions, we can talk about that now.”

I swear the smug bastard even winked. And, just like that, I had come full circle.

Several years ago I was standing on the bridge just below the Cathedral, idly watching the wash being carried by the river. I remember this vividly. There was this maple leaf, large and bright green, drifting along in the current and it would hang up on a rock or a log or some foliage on the surface of the water, then break loose in a spin, meandering further downstream before catching on the next. I followed its slow progress towards town and the harbor beyond.

Ameiko had just left Sandpoint, again, and I was fighting this urge to wallow in self-pity after having lost my best friend. It seems so pathetic now, writing that, but when you’re fifteen the world is always ending because of some crisis that years later you learn is just life. I remember thinking at the time that she might be gone for good—though you could never tell with Ameiko—and what was going through my head boiled down to one question: “Now what?”

I had often come to this bridge when seeking solace and for a moment that afternoon I almost had it. It’s isolated in a way, a lightly traveled road on the edge of town. Look to the east and you could imagine you were in the forest instead of downwind from a tannery. I found it relaxing and centering. But as the leaf disappeared underneath the wooden planks of the bridge, I caught my reflection in the water and the bottom dropped out. It was like the scene in front of me was my own personal metaphor.

Mom and dad just assumed that I would join the family business, and it’s not like I had given them any reason to think otherwise. This was worse than choosing or not choosing: it was not even acknowledging that I had a choice at all; just letting it happen. Childhood curiosity, an innocuous “What are you working on?” here and there, was the spark for that fire. They involved me in the simpler logistics early on, and it burned out of control when I proved to be good at it. Really, really good. Cargo manifests, bills of lading, customs forms, capacity planning, legal agreements, insurance, payment terms…even some preliminary passage planning. And I saw my future spread out ahead of me, sitting behind a desk buried in maps, calculations, paperwork, and forms.

The leaf didn’t have any say over where it went. I did. The next morning, I became an active participant in my own future for the first time and chose a path that had nothing to do with the mercantile system.

And yet, here I was years later, taking the bait. At least, this time, it was my choice.

Sandru could have done this in his sleep but for whatever reason he wanted to involve me in the process. Or maybe he just got a kick out of putting me up to the challenge. It was all very Sandru, playing mentor, big brother, or uncle as the situation warranted.

Fine. Challenge accepted. Move over and let me work.

Ameiko offered up 2,000 gold of her own in financing. Which, first of all, is one hell of a sign of commitment on her part. We were dining in the last thing I’d seen her commit to, and that was six years ago. Ameiko just didn’t do “commitment”. On top of that, our little group threw in the bounty from the Soggy River Monster, raising the purse by half. And with that, Sandru and I were off.

We numbered twelve in all, fourteen with Sandru’s drivers. Our caravan was already too small unless you like traveling with no margin for error. First there were some efficiency improvements we could make, building off of our collective experience bivouacking around the marsh. On top of that, we could reinforce the undercarriages of the wagons and increase our travel speed. Add in a few other improvements and I estimated we could cut our provisions by 15% and reduce the travel time by 3 days. If we were willing to stop at major settlements and sacrifice some travel time we could also do some trading to pay for our provisions as we went.

Our route would take us through Galduria, Wolf’s Ear, Ravenmoor, Roderic’s Cove, and Riddleport. With the time spent stopping to trade in each settlement, we’d need 15 full days for the journey there. The longest leg was the round trip from Riddleport to Brinewall, and we’d need enough provisions for that plus a few days stay and a modest safety margin.

It took us a couple of hours, and I think we bored most everyone to sleep, but when Sandru and I were done we had the following plan:


  • Buy a supply wagon for the caravan here in Sandpoint
  • Outfit all wagons with enhanced undercarriages
  • Buy a second supply wagon once we reached Riddleport
  • Add an enhanced undercarriage to that wagon
  • Hire a third person to drive it

We had also worked out roles for everyone to contribute along the way (scouting, cooking, guard duty, and so on), and ensured that there were backups for each one.

And that is how you plan a caravan journey.

Tonight I also learned that Qatana remembers some of the fundamentals of the business, despite it having been over a decade. The wonders never cease. Throughout the planning discussion she was pretty alert, even offering her unique brand of helpful advice. (Some of it was actually quite reasonable, such as “If there is abundant water along the way, pack only dry goods like grains, nuts, dried fruits and salted meats” and “Cheese and dairy should be carried in waxed paper or cloth wrapped in damp cloth or stored in damp wood chips”, but others, like “Round wheels roll better than other shapes”, were less so).

Our plan calls for a lot of heavy equipment for a small city like Sandpoint, and it’s not going to come together overnight. Sandru estimates that it will take about a week before we’re ready to depart. Which is good, because I really want to go see my parents. When I left, this was only supposed to be a two-week visit. Gods, how things have changed.


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Sarenith 28 (Night, Magnimar)

Tonight I told mom and dad about our trip to Brinewall. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I almost wish I hadn’t done it. I thought they might worry—dad especially—but I never imagined it would end in an argument. I was so angry afterward I just left and spent much of the night down in Ordellia. But i’m getting ahead of myself.

I showed them the fan and the pin, and told them the abridged version of events in the Brinestump Marsh because this was going to be hard enough as it was. In the end, it probably didn’t matter. As soon as I said I was helping charter and plan a caravan trip to Brinewall, and that I was going to be on it, everything just stopped. We sat there in silence for I don’t know how long. I don’t remember the last time I saw mom at a loss for words, or dad looking so…blank. Right then, I wanted to take it back and do the evening over again.

Dad recovered first. He spoke quietly but firmly. It’s a voice I knew well, and my stomach twisted in knots as the words came out.

“Why? Why are you doing this?”

And I realized I didn’t have a good answer. I mean, I did, but how could I explain it? I had been back in Sandpoint for only a few days. What was I supposed to say? That in that time I had reconnected with Anavaru, Ameiko, and Qatana and we were suddenly best friends again? That we’d met some others and gone off on an adventure together, bonding over the blood of goblins, the bones of skeletons, and the hidden beauty of a putrid swampland? That there was a mystery involving an old friend and I wanted to help her find some “closure”? How do you say that without sounding ridiculous? Without sounding like we were treating our lives as disposable?

“Ameiko is my friend, dad. We grew up together. Why wouldn’t I help her?”

“Kali, listen to me: you are talking about Brinewall. Something terrible happened there. Something so terrible that it has been left abandoned ever since. People do not go there for a reason.”

This was true, but not in the way he was implying. All of Varisia had heard about Brinewall. The residents of the castle and town had simply vanished one day, just a few years before I was born, and no one knew what happened to them. Those who were sent to investigate described a disturbing scene of a normal day interrupted as if the whole town had simply stepped out for tea in the middle of what they were doing and never returned. The native Varisians and Shoanti are a superstitious lot and they invent explanations when none are forthcoming. People avoid Brinewall because 20 years of rumor have been fueled by a frontier land that’s bathed in mysticism. Depending on who you ask, Brinewall is either cursed, haunted, or both.

“And that reason may have something to do with her family’s history. She needs to know. She deserves to know.”

“Maybe she does. But you do not need to go with her.”

And if the mood was awkward and tense before, it suddenly got much worse. I knew where this was headed, but I couldn’t stop myself.

“She’s my friend and I am not going to walk away from her.”

“Because she never did the same to you?”

And there it was. I couldn’t keep my temper under control. “That is not fair! Not to her, and not to me!“

OK, fine, Ameiko had left and she had changed, and yes that had hurt. But reducing her life to just this event was wrong, and it was also a cheap shot. The rest of what we said to each other I don’t remember well enough to write down. Let’s just say it was mercifully short, and gratifyingly loud. At least, it felt that way at the time. Now? I just want to throw up. What I do remember is that mom never said a word. Not one word.

It was a long walk to Ordellia but I needed the time to calm down anyway. The district is mostly foreigners and is one of the few places in Magnimar where I actually blended in. I didn’t have a destination in mind, and except for a brief visit to the Rose and Rake I didn’t go anywhere particularly memorable. I just wanted to be anonymous and clear my head, something easily accomplished with a few drinks and plenty of crowds. After a couple of hours alone with my thoughts I was feeling pretty awful about how dinner had gone, what I’d said to dad, and how little I had tried to avoid an argument. So. Mission accomplished, I guess.

Despite its active nightlife, Lowcleft is not the safest place for a woman to be walking alone after dark but the route along the docks would take me twice as long and I just wanted to get home. Like Ordellia, most of the street patrols here are privately funded, only some of Lowcleft’s build their moral foundation on sand or silt. You don’t always know which of them are looking out for you, looking the other way, or just looking for opportunities to be street thugs with a badge and a salary. I got propositioned and catcalled a half-dozen times by an assortment of creeps and lowlifes, including one from that third category. But I am not a complete fool, and Nihali was discreetly watching over me, flittering between rooftops. She was a hole in the night sky; a shadow in shadows. Even I couldn’t see her, and I more or less knew where she was. As I crossed into the neighboring district her agitation told me that someone had decided I was worth following. I was too distracted or lost in thought, and had failed to notice the “victim” sign that had been hung around my neck.

It’s dangerous to start an armed fight in Magnimar. It’s not the city guard so much as the people: the guard will probably only arrest you, but in a city this size there are too many folks that are likely tougher and more deadly than you are. Pull a lethal weapon and you might find that you are woefully outclassed against someone who is all too enthusiastic to emphasize the point. As a woman, though, the rules are a little different because it’s a lower grade of thug and there are no guarantees that they will stop at your money or your jewelry. You need to establish that you will protect yourself by any means possible as soon as possible so why don’t you just move along. I’ve had to do it a few times, but tonight I was not armed with anything other than my dagger and magic is a terrible deterrent because you have to use it for people to get the message, especially when you don’t look the part, which is not how a deterrent works. Note to self: next time you stomp off in anger, try to plan ahead.

I was already in a mood, though, so I decided to put a stop to this before it even got that far. With Nihali’s distress as a guide, I slowed to let my suitor get a lot closer, waited until I passed through a suitably dark shadow blanketing the street, and tried a new spell I had learned. A temporary pothole opened in the middle of the cobblestone pavement immediately behind me, and a satisfying thump followed by a mental snicker from my familiar told me my friend had tripped and fallen on his face. By the time he had gotten back on his feet I had entered the crowded square at the base of the Seacleft and the Irespan, and my second spell sent fog billowing out around me. In shoulder-to-shoulder people it wouldn’t be obvious who was responsible for that and I let the confusion buy me some time to let it spread and thicken before dropping the spell and turning up the hill to the Capital district. By the time I reached the top the fog below was so thick you couldn’t see more than a few feet, and I no longer had company.

I could officially get my hands slapped for doing that in the middle of town, but as I said I was in a mood and, at any rate, they’d have to catch me first and I didn’t stick around to let some bystander assemble a narrative. I kept moving and reached my parents’ home in Naos a little before midnight. Mom was still up and she knocked quietly on my door just as I settled in and started to write. We talked for a little bit and this time, I managed to stay civil and calm.

See? I’m learning.

“I’m not a child anymore, mom.”

“No, you’re not. But we're allowed to be worried, and your father does have a point.”

“I’m not going there alone. There are twelve of us, including Shalelu. We can do this.”

“And how hard did you try to explain that to us, earlier?”

Heart-to-hearts with mom have this way of making me feel bad.


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I actually went through the process of creating NPC stats for Kali's parents. They have only had an indirect role between sessions so far, and of course the AP will leave them and Avistan behind, but it was a fun exercise that helped flesh Kali out as a character.

Sarenith 29 (Noon, Magnimar)

Dad and I apologized to each other this morning. Me for starting a fight that didn’t need to happen, and him for making that dig that was a little more personal than necessary. It was fine. We talked it out. I took my own advice (and mom’s) and told him more about our group and what each of us can do, and how we worked together in the marsh, and that seemed to put him more at ease.

There was one moment in that conversation that really stood out, though. He said, “It’s not what you tell us, it’s what you don’t tell us. You hide things from us, Kali. You always have.”

I felt like an open book, then. Just how much did they know?

Dad reviewed my preliminary caravan plans and, surprise, had no changes to suggest. As I said, I am good at this. He wasn’t thrilled about the stop in Riddleport (I got the feeling that Sandru wasn’t, either), but math doesn’t lie and there was no avoiding it, at least not on the way up.

We were able to dig up some maps that would be helpful and he pointed me at a couple of shops where I could find what I’d need to fill in the gaps.

Sarenith 29 (Evening, Magnimar)

Tien is dizzyingly complicated. The written form has thousands of pictographs and the spoken language is tonal. I’ve gotten started with some introductory lessons here over the past couple of days and some books that will allow limited self-study, but this is not going to be an easy process. Fortunately, I’ll be spending the next month on a long, and likely dull, caravan journey with a native speaker.

Erastus 1 (Afternoon, Sandpoint)

I checked in with Sandru and the caravan preparations are complete. The last of the wagon upgrades was finishing up while I was there and the provisions have probably been loaded by now. We’ll be leaving at dawn tomorrow morning.

I first got to know Sandru when he was working as a caravan guard back in the early 4700’s. Dad used caravans a lot for shipping between Sandpoint and nearby settlements, and even the coastal cities like Riddleport, and I watched too many to count load and unload at the warehouse. Most of the caravan guards tended to be gruff and not very sociable, assuming that they even had anything intelligent to say, but Sandru was the exception. It may have been in part because he grew up here, but I think it was mostly just Sandru: he likes people. What I remember the most about him, though, is that he talked to me more or less like an adult. A lot of people talk down to children. Sandru just wasn’t like that.

His family has been entangled with the Sczarni for as long as anyone can remember. Sandru is one of the few that wants nothing to do with them and he tends to keep away from Sandpoint except for business. My understanding is that he and his older brother do not get along; dad tells me that Jubrayl is the local Sczarni leader so I can see how that might put a strain on family relations. Staying away probably makes that easier.

When Ameiko ran off that second time to pursue an adventurer’s life Sandru was part of the group. Neither of them talked about what happened out there when they came back a year later and he disappeared for a while after that. In a way, they both did: Ameiko retreated into herself and threw up walls while Sandru was more literal about it. In time, he came back to Sandpoint only as the owner of his own caravan. Like Ameiko, he had used the coin he’d earned from that year in the wild to make a new life for himself. Mom and dad actually used his caravan a lot in that time—I think they still do, in fact—as he tended to keep it pretty close to Sandpoint, Magnimar, and Riddleport and they already knew and trusted him.

Mom gets a kick out of flirting with him and basically making him uncomfortable, which is just one of those things mom does sometimes. I’ve often wondered if it bothers dad. I brought this up to him once a couple of years ago and he said, “I trust your mother completely”. Which was not the question I asked, but I guess it’s the one that matters. The last time we were in Korvosa was several years ago, and I asked grandma about what mom was like before she and dad met. She said mom was a pretty heavy flirt back then, but she intimidated boys. Like, a lot. Even the ones she liked. She chuckled and said, “Your dad was perhaps the only one that wasn’t scared of her.” Maybe that’s why he doesn’t worry.

I saw Qatana this morning as she was getting in from Magnimar. She seemed disappointed that we hadn’t traveled together. It should have occurred to me to ask.


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Erastus 1 (Afternoon, Sandpoint)

I checked in with Sandru and the caravan preparations are complete. The last of the wagon upgrades was finishing up while I was there and the provisions have probably been loaded by now. We’ll be leaving at dawn tomorrow morning.

I first got to know Sandru when he was working as a caravan guard back in the early 4700’s. Dad used caravans a lot for transporting goods between Sandpoint and nearby settlements, even the coastal ones like Riddleport, and I watched too many to count load and unload at the warehouse. Most of the caravan guards tended to be gruff and not very sociable, assuming that they even had anything intelligent to say, but Sandru was the exception. It may have been in part because he grew up here, but I think it was mostly just Sandru: he likes people, he likes to talk to people, and he’s genuinely friendly. What I remember the most about him, though, is that he talked to me more or less like an adult. A lot of people talk down to children. Sandru just wasn’t like that.

His family has been entangled with the Sczarni for as long as anyone can remember. Sandru is one of the few that wants nothing to do with them and he tends to keep away from Sandpoint except for business. My understanding is that he and his older brother do not get along; dad tells me that Jubrayl is the local Sczarni leader so I can see how that might put a strain on family relations. Staying away probably makes that easier.

When Ameiko ran off that second time to pursue an adventurer’s life Sandru was part of the group. Neither of them talked about what happened out there when they came back a year later and he disappeared for a while after that. In a way, they both did: Ameiko retreated into herself and threw up walls while Sandru was more literal about it. In time, he came back to Sandpoint only as the owner of his own caravan. Like Ameiko, he had used the coin he’d earned from that year in the wild to make a new life for himself. Mom and dad actually used his caravan a lot in that time—I think they still do, in fact—as he tended to keep it pretty close to Sandpoint, Magnimar, and Riddleport and they already knew and trusted him.

Mom gets a kick out of flirting with him and basically making him uncomfortable, which is just one of those things mom does sometimes. I’ve often wondered if it bothers dad. I brought this up to him once a couple of years ago and he said, “I trust your mother completely”. Which was not the question I asked, but I guess it’s the one that matters. The last time we were in Korvosa was several years ago, and I asked grandma about what mom was like before she and dad met. She said mom was a pretty heavy flirt back then, but she intimidated boys. Like, a lot. Even the ones she liked. She chuckled and said, “Your dad was perhaps the only one that wasn’t scared of her.” Maybe that’s why he doesn’t worry.

I saw Qatana this morning as she was getting in from Magnimar. She seemed disappointed that we hadn’t traveled together. It should have occurred to me to ask.

Erastus 10 (Evening, Roderic’s Cove)

We encountered a small band of ogres just a few hours outside of Rod’s Cove. Sandru was very concerned about this, as ogres are just not very common in this part of Varisia, much less as a group working together to ambush travelers. We spread the word once we got into town to be on alert for others, just in case it wasn’t an isolated event.

Fortunately for us, our scouts spotted them before we rode into the trap. Our archers circled around behind them while the rest of us stayed with the wagons. Nihali actually played a key role in letting our two groups communicate with one another, albeit crudely. Once the scouts were in position, they let her know and I could feel her excitement. I relayed this to Sandru and Qatana, and they moved the caravan ahead, into the ambush.

Qatana was seated in the lead wagon. She lit one of the sky rockets, aimed it at the ogres’ position and let it go. The explosion spoiled their surprise but left us with several angry, injured ogres still intent on attack. Olmas bravely charged them on his horse, but they were just too big and too strong, and he ended up facing them alone without close support and got badly hurt. Help did arrive and he survived, but it was yet another close call for our group.

I bring this up in detail only because I felt like I was not able to contribute significantly to the engagement. Eventually, I was close enough to toss one of those little acid darts, but overall I felt so limited. And, to be honest, I am a little shaken after having had a lethal exchange with a living creature, even under these circumstances. (I’ve carried a crossbow for years, too, but have never shot at a living target with it, either.) It was one thing to do this to skeletons, and another when it was flesh, blood, and bone—ogre or not. But I couldn’t get close enough, fast enough, to use something else.

This sounds ridiculous after writing it out. I just don’t know how to explain the feeling. I am going to have to come to terms with it.

We tracked the ogres back to their temporary campsite. They’ve been out here a while, it seems, raiding who-knows-what. We found an eclectic assortment of money and valuables which can be used to fund the third supply wagon once we reach Riddleport. Once again, we are profiting off the misfortune of so many others.

Something else I’ll have to come to terms with, it seems.

Erastus 12 (Night, Riddleport)

We are fortunate. Riddleport is a large enough city that a supply wagon with an enhanced undercarriage was available, no waiting. It took us less than two hours to find both that and a driver for hire. We will be able to leave for Brinewall tomorrow morning.


Whoops. Double posted a couple of segments. Apologies.


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I am running Jade Regent and the party are a few books ahead of you.
Enjoying the read. Kali has a distinctive voice which brings the story to life.


Thank you, and thank you for reading!

This has been my favorite adventure path by far due in large part to the setup: it creates a close-knit group of characters, most of whom have grown up together and known each other for much of their lives. Kali has been the most satisfying character I've played, and the inter-player/inter-character dynamics in this campaign to date have been absolutely rich.

We are just now finishing up Night of Frozen Shadows, so at some point in the coming weeks this thread will catch up to our game. At that point the pace of updates will slow as we can only play once a month.


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Erastus 14 (Afternoon, Velashu Uplands)

Ameiko is currently sleeping in the covered wagon and we don’t know what’s wrong. Koya is looking after her.

We stopped briefly for lunch and I noticed that she was looking a little off. In Tien—we’ve been practicing daily, and I’ve asked her to only speak with me in Tien so that I can learn—I asked if she was feeling ill, but she answered in common because some of the others had also noticed and appeared concerned.

“I’m fine! Just a little tired this morning is all.”

She turned to finish cleaning up the mess area of our encampment, took a couple of steps and then collapsed.

No one knows what is wrong. There are suspicions that it’s a magically induced sleep of some sort, and may be related to Brinewall, but that’s all just speculation. What we do know is that her condition isn’t worsening, but it’s not improving, either. For now, we’ve decided to press on and monitor her. If something changes, we can always turn back.

Erastus 14 (Night, Velashu Uplands)

I am staying the night next to Ameiko. Earlier this evening she started talking in her sleep, only speaking in Tien. Koya had someone come and get me, but by the time I climbed into the wagon she had stopped. Koya agreed to let me stay with her, just in case she speaks again. It turns out that this was a wise decision because it happened two more times after that.

My Tien is still not great and her wording has been cryptic if not outright archaic. I can’t realistically use a spell because the incidents are too short and too far apart, so instead I have been writing down what she says phonetically and translating it after the fact as best as I can. This is what she said tonight:

Beware the birds that wish to fly but cannot.

One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault.

Ameiko has never, to my knowledge, spoken in riddles like this. More support for the theory that what is happening to her has something to do with where we are headed.

I took issue with the adventure path's verisimilitude in the following segment. Ameiko is speaking in Tien here, yet it is the translated text that contains wordplay.

Erastus 15 (Evening, Velashu Uplands)

Ameiko spoke again today. I almost missed it.

Beware the cuckolded cuckoo. It is in his shattered, silent love you should seek aide.

My translation is a bit speculative there, but as I said yesterday Ameiko’s word choice has been unusual. There is no direct translation for the Tien, but it appeared to be a play on words of some sort between a terrestrial bird and one who had been cheated on by a mate or lover. The second part is ambiguous as well, and I don’t know if “love” is intended to mean an emotion or a person. That would mean the difference between seeking out “him”, and seeking out his lover. Since we are told to “beware” him, I am assuming the latter.

This is also the second reference to birds. The only bird-men that come to mind are Tengu, but I have never seen any in Varisia.

Erastus 16 (Evening, The Nolands)

Today’s clue is:

The key you seek lies in the grip of the ten-handed one. His fear is your greatest ally.

There are demons with many arms and hands. But what would a demon fear?

Erastus 17 (Noon, The Nolands)

Ameiko spoke again this morning.

Grandfather waits in the dark, but he knows not who he was.

We are all in agreement on this one: Rokuro has been turned into an undead. Possibly a kind that retains its will.

For the last several days, Ameiko has had neither food nor water yet her physical condition remains unchanged. There are spells that can sustain a person in this manner, but there’s no evidence that one is in effect. More mysteries.

Erastus 17 (Evening, Brinewall)

We have arrived.

We started Jade Regent right after finishing Rise of the Runelords and chose to set these two campaigns in the same continuity. Our RotR characters do not appear in this campaign at all, but we decided that any of our Jade Regent characters that grew up in Sandpoint would, of course, know them and would have lived through those events that took place in town. We occasionally make references to our old characters and those campaign events, and you'll see a nod to Takkad's journals (a cleric from that campaign) in here.

Erastus 18 (Late Morning, Brinewall)

Within a half an hour it was clear to all of us that the broadly accepted story of the mystery of Brinewall was an exaggeration. I am hesitant to say that it is an outright lie as I understand that people are fallible and imperfect; even faithful accounts can take on a life of their own in their retelling. There is a game that is often played among children, where the first in a line whispers a secret message to the one next to them, and it is passed in turn down the line to the end. Make the message complex enough, or the number of children large enough, and the message delivered to the last child is significantly altered from the original, sometimes to the point where it is no longer recognizable.

I firmly believe that is one of the ways in which legends are born: each storyteller embellishes the tale in some fashion, omits certain details, blurs times and events, or possibly even makes an honest mistake. All of these small changes build over time to shape the new story. Whatever the source, though, the end result is still the same: a distorted representation of the real events, and more often than not done on purpose for greater dramatic impact. I believe that this is how the mystery of Brinewall came to be.

The story we had all been told growing up, the one nearly all of Varisia accepts as truth, is that the residents here simply vanished without a trace. Even Takkad’s journal—Qatana was kind enough to lend me her copy—perpetuates this fanciful narrative. Within it, he wrote:

Near the mouth of the river a small village, Brinewall, protected by its own castle, once served as an outpost to the region, but the entire population of the town and castle all vanished sometime in the mid 4680's. All the houses, offices, merchants, shops, and other businesses were left as if the occupants had just popped out for a moment and would be right back. But right back never came.

As soon as we saw the buildings, though, it was obvious that the mystery of Brinewall was far less mysterious than this recounting would suggest. The battle ax scars were unmistakable, and not all of the buildings were left whole. It was very clear that the residents here had not simply “vanished”. The town, and likely the keep as well, had been invaded and its population almost certainly slaughtered. Brinewall was a ghost town, yes, but it was born out of worldly violence, not supernatural forces.

Those who have come here over the years have seen this. And certainly, any who were sent to investigate in those first few months would have as well. So how did this version of the truth come to pass? It was probably not a huge leap to get from “missing with no trace, and signs of a fierce attack” to just “missing with no trace”. What little we know of the truth is already deeply unsettling.

Yet, obviously, the legend has not been enough to keep looters away as there is nothing of real value left here save for some tools and everyday supplies. The longboat docked in the lagoon, of a design common to the northerners in the Linnorm Kingdoms, suggests that such raids continue to this day. Though, in the grand tradition of Brinewall, there is no sign of the boat’s complement (perhaps the dead sea drake on the shore next to it has something to do with that).

One of the more curious discoveries was the cemetery. Unlike the village to which it is attached, it was well-kept, with manicured grass and clean gravestones. Therein was also a lovely shrine to Desna: a statue of her holding a copper bowl that turned regular water into holy water. As we were discussing this modest miracle, the answer to the mystery presented itself in the form of a tiny, butterfly-winged celestial being named Spivey. Describing herself as a servant of Desna, the azata found her way to Brinewall more or less by accident some years ago after her mistress was killed, leaving her stranded on the material plane. She found the cemetery and the shrine to Desna here and has tended to it ever since.

Spivey knew nothing of the people of Brinewall or their fate as she came to this place long after the town had suffered its fate. She did, however, know something of the occupants of the castle nearby.

“They are bird-like men. I have never seen them fly.”

When asked about any patterns or habits they might have, she thought for a moment before answering, “They hunt at least once a week. It’s been a few days since I last saw them.”

Informed of our plans to clear out the castle, Spivey offered us sanctuary in the cemetery and healing if we needed it. She also suggested that we stay away from the water’s edge. Creatures living in the lagoon were periodically feeding on the corpse of the sea drake, and if we got too close they would certainly come up to defend their territory and their meal. Our interest was the castle, not hostile marine life, so we thanked her and will follow her advice.


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Erastus 18 (Brinewall Castle, Mid-day)

Look. I don’t really know what I am doing. The only reason I suggested that we attempt to lure some of the bird-men out of the castle was because castles are designed to prevent the very thing we were wanting to do. If it sounds ridiculously naive now, it felt even more so when we were hiding at the edge of the forest, staring up at walls that were two stories high. Waiting until a hunting party emerged on their own seemed more logical to me, but many of the others wanted to move quickly, especially Etayne who felt that every delay was more time with Ameiko in peril and us doing nothing to address it. So instead, we adopted this silly and complicated plan involving illusions of pigs and animal calls to communicate with one another, and of course lying in wait. I remember thinking that there was no way something this ridiculous could possibly work, but I was proven wrong in short order. To my astonishment, the gates opened and a group of bird-men emerged, intent on finding their next meal in their own front yard.

Our ambush was not perfect but it was effective. If I had been thinking more quickly, I would have moved up along with Olmas and been there in time to prevent the guards at the gate from raising an alarm, but that did not matter in the end for there was almost no one to hear or respond. As soon as we made it through the open gates and up onto the walls, we spotted the remaining bird-men on guard duty on the opposite parapet, manning an aging catapult. They did not expect us to approach from atop the walls and were quickly dispatched.

Corbies. Specifically, dire corbies. These were our foes: a race of bird-men with arms instead of wings who were known to mostly live underground and not in abandoned castles. In retrospect it all fits, but of course I wasn’t expecting to find them here so the thought hadn’t occurred to me. How did they come to this place?

In another odd twist, it appears that the castle may be haunted after all. In a small storeroom off of the dining area on the upper level, we found a strange undead creature: an emaciated human child with the skull of a fox for its head. It was a terrifying being and a grueling fight, apparently denying Qatana the use of her voice and leaving Olmas fatigued at its touch. After it was destroyed we were able to get a better look at the room and saw the skeletal remains of a young, human child pinned under a pile of firewood. It appeared that he had been placed in here for safekeeping, only to have the contents of the room collapse on him and crush his legs. He left crude drawings on the walls, childish images of bird-men, ogres, and men that resembled ninjas of Tian Xia. More evidence that the castle and village had been attacked and its occupants slaughtered.

The presence of ninjas is one of those coincidences that it feels we shouldn’t dismiss or ignore. Rokuro’s letter hinted that her family’s enemies would lie in wait forever for their opportunity to strike. It seems Brinewall was where they finally caught up to him.

Erastus 18 (Brinewall Castle, Midafternoon)

The chapel was once a shrine to Desna but the corbies’ priest or priestess—I do not know how to sex a corby, nor am I particularly interested in learning—has completely defiled it. While enough time spent with simple cantrips can be used to undo the defacing of the walls (foul paintings reminiscent of Pazuzu, done in blood) the statue of Desna has been damaged extensively and neither Ivan nor I believe it can be repaired. At this, Sparna remarked, “It might be better to just completely take it down.” I am reluctantly forced to agree.

Their cleric, dressed in tattered and disgusting robes, was every bit as loathsome as the corbies themselves and then some more for good measure. Though it managed to hit us with spells, it was quickly boxed in and killed. Good riddance. Strangely, it had managed to thoroughly befoul the chapel proper, but it left the small priest’s cell alone. Inside the tiny living quarters was a small but impressive arsenal: four enchanted arrows, bane to evil outsiders.

The other rooms in the upper level of the castle appeared to be communal living quarters for the corbies, themselves, but there was one that seemed to house only a single occupant. It, too, had black feathers in it, suggesting that there is a head of their flock that we have yet to meet.

In another room, this one likely the armory, there was a ghostly manifestation: walls that ran with blood, with faces emerging from them, shrieking. It was enough to frighten even Sparna who does not scare easily. I know little about such matters, but an obvious explanation would be that many of the castles defenders had died here.

The last room we explored on this floor appeared to be a study of sorts. Inside were stacks and stacks of paper filled with dense handwriting in Tien. I took the time to translate just a few pages on a whim and was shocked to discover that someone has been writing a play. A play about a family of crows that turn into humans. The stacks of papers were endless drafts and revisions of the would-be playwright’s epic masterpiece. That it was written in Tien was noteworthy, as it is something I would not expect of a corby. Curiouser and curiouser.

Play Excerpt: The Ravaged Weeping of the Corvidae Transformation In Darkness And Summer, Act II, Scene 3 (PDF, ~3 pages)

And, there is something profoundly amusing at the notion that one of the occupiers, and perhaps the conqueror, of Brinewall castle spends their free time—and based on the enormous stacks of paper there, quite a lot of it—writing a play. I guess everyone has a hobby.

I couldn't resist: I made up a scene of the play for our journals, just for fun, using a line that the GM "translated" for us from the papers. The GM described the play as "terrible", which made me confident that I was up to the task.


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Erastus 18 (Night, Brinewall Cemetery)

Kikonu is dead. Who is Kikonu? I’ll be honest: I am still not sure and I don’t really know what is going on. I am trying to piece it together from the scraps of information we have uncovered so far, but there is too much that we don’t yet know.

This began with exploring the tower. What was formerly the library (and, arguably, still is as the books are still intact) had become the private room of Zaiobe, a mute, oracle harpy that has been living in the castle for many years. She was the first being we have encountered since stepping foot in here that did not try to attack us on sight.

Who is Zaiobe? She is, or rather was, Kikonu’s lover. So you see the problem: some of these answers are circular.

She could communicate telepathically with whoever she was touching, and she had a lot to say. Most of that boiled down to this: she had “grown tired” of her lover and she wanted to kill him, but she needed help. There was obviously more to this story than she was telling us because you don’t just kill someone because you are tired of them, harpy or not. She must have been wronged in some fashion, severely enough that revenge was her answer. In exchange for our help, she would give us information.

Who is Kikonu? He came from Tian Xia, and specifically from Minkai. He is an outsider of some sort, able to take the form of a man-sized bird with black feathers. When in his human form he looks like a Tian man with red skin and a rather large nose, but with raven-black wings sprouting from his back. In Tian Xia she says he is considered a horrible monster, but what kind of monster she didn’t know. Some might consider him a demon, but that is as often as not just a colloquial name for an outsider of any sort.

Zaiobe believes he came here when the castle was initially attacked or shortly after that, but possibly for his own reasons. That is conjecture on her part, but it would be an amazing coincidence if she was wrong about the first. Regardless, he is the de facto man in charge and if we want answers we will have to confront him.

We had several more questions for Zaiobe, but what made me most inclined to believe her was the seemingly innocent one that I had Qatana relay (reluctant though she was to do so). “Why was he writing a play about corbies?”

I knew at once that I had struck a nerve. Watching her communicate with Qatana was fascinating because it was like watching two people talk without the words: there were still the facial expressions, gestures, and other non-verbal cues we all rely on in conversation to convey meaning and emotion. Up to this point, all of Zaiobe’s responses had been controlled and measured. I could see her expressions change, and follow her emotions to some extent, but she was managing her part of the duologue carefully. At this question, though, that mask fell away and there was just raw Zaiobe, channeling what must have been years of frustration and anger.

Qatana, who was trying to relay to us what she was “hearing”, could barely keep up.

“Because he’s….he’s changed! In the last several years he’s become obsessed with becoming the king of these corby things. His latest amusement is writing this play and having them act it out and making me watch them and it’s horrible!”

Her rage was so plain she was practically steaming with it. “Tired of him”, indeed.

This was the point where I truly believed she wanted him dead (this play was merely insult piled on top of injury), and both wanted and needed our help to do it. And, based on her description of him, Kikonu was not going to be an easy opponent even for the eight of us, so we would need her help, too. And so we struck an agreement, and the wheels were put in motion.

The ambush was set in a large, ruined building on the edge of the abandoned village, at Zaiobe’s suggestion. We agreed to this, figuring that she would know best where to arrange a meeting with him without arousing his suspicion. At the appointed time, she flew in and stood in wait while we got into position. A few minutes later, Kikonu came up the path along with a retinue of four dire corbies. His personal guard?

“My darling, I have the greatest new scene to show you! Wait until you see this!”

I could almost feel the waves of hatred radiating off of her in that brief moment. There was no question about what she wanted.

As soon as he stepped in the door, we struck. At first, he was confused and cried out to her for help, but Zaiobe responded with a black arrow that burst into flame when it hit. And then he realized he had walked into a trap of her making. Rage overtook common sense, and in the blink of an eye, he disappeared from the doorway and reappeared at Zaiobe’s side to strike. This fight was bitter and personal.

For the most part, I stayed out of it. I saved what remained of my spells for his guard, who were trying to circle around through another entrance in order to even the odds. Etayne and I held them at bay while the others focused on Kikonu. It was an intense and brutal fight, but with Zaiobe’s help we were victorious.

I ushered us out of the building as quickly as I could, fearing what was coming next, wanting it to happen in daylight rather than shadow where confusion would reign. And she did not disappoint me. Within minutes, Zaiobe’s broken body lay in the street. I am still upset by this.

Spivey had offered the cemetery as a place to rest and heal, and we took her up on her generous offer. Over the next hour, we told her what we learned of the castle and all that had transpired. Nihali agreed to relay messages back to the caravan and we learned that Ameiko’s condition was unchanged, but for the first time I felt like we were finally closing in on some answers.

As night settled in I walked down the hill to the northern edge of the cemetery and laid down in the grass just a short distance from the shrine to Desna. The white, marble statue was gleaming in the light of the waxing moon. It was relaxing, just being there and watching the stars come out.

We had been traveling together for over two weeks, now, pretty much living on top of one another the whole time. Even when spending the night in settlements and cities, we stayed together with the caravan just out of an abundance of caution. I certainly enjoyed the company of my friends—I wouldn’t be traveling with them if I didn’t—but seventeen days is a long time to go without any sort of privacy. I just needed some time alone and the sanctuary of this place was our first opportunity for it since leaving Sandpoint.

I rolled onto my side and ran my fingers through the grass absentmindedly as I watched twilight fade. Nihali landed in front of me and settled in. I could barely see her outline in the moonlight.

Spivey may have sensed something, or perhaps she was just curious why I was out here (mostly) alone in the dark because after some time had passed I caught the faint glow of the tiny azata out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to follow her progress as she skimmed over the grass and landed next to Nihali. My familiar stretched out her head and neck, allowing Spivey to stroke her gently.

“You’re not sitting with your companions?”

Her tone was very tentative and something about it suggested that she was, very politely, asking if something was troubling me. A couple of years ago I would have just smiled and blown off the questions, both the one stated and the one implied, but I had since learned not to equate vulnerability with weakness. Not always, anyway. With the right people.

“I wanted to clear my head. This seemed like the right place for that.”

Spivey gave Nihali one final scratch just above her nape. Nihali raised her head slightly and opened her beak momentarily before closing it again. That was certainly the right spot for that. Spivey looked at me and smiled.

“It is. Is it something you want to share, or would you rather I left you alone?”

“I can’t stop thinking about Zaiobe.”

Spivey considered this for just moment, then said, “You said she turned on you.”

“Yes. It was stupid, what she did, and completely senseless.”

I don’t know what possessed her to do it. Did she really think she could overpower the eight of us? How did she think that could possibly work? I remember keeping an eye on her after the battle with Kikonu and his personal guard of corbies. She just stood there, watching us as we wrapped up. She had that look on her face of someone who was waiting for us to get distracted enough to be ambushed. It’s why I suggested we go outside and finish our business in the light where we could see, instead of the dark of the ruined building. A thinly veiled ruse? It didn’t matter. The point was to let her to know that I knew, without me having to actually accuse her of something. It was intended as a deterrent, and an excuse to get everyone else outside and paying attention.

In the end, it wasn’t the best of ideas since she could take to the air and shoot at us from above, which is exactly what she did, but at least we knew when and where it was coming. Had we stayed inside, one of use would certainly have paid a heavy price for our inattention.

I continued, “That’s not what’s bothering me, though. To be honest, I never trusted her. I more or less expected this, or something like this, to happen.”

Can you really trust someone who plots with strangers to murder their ex-lover? What a relationship that must have been.

Not that I am good about trusting people. Early lessons taught me to put more faith in what others do instead of what they promise. It’s not that I am suspicious of everyone, it’s just that reading people is hard and I am not very good at it. It is much easier to just assume that they will act out of their own self-interests until proven otherwise.

“So what is it then?”

“We…made an agreement with her. She really did feel like a prisoner there, and her kind being what they are…I believed her when she offered to help us ambush this Kikonu. All she wanted, in turn, was just to be…left alone. She wanted to stay in the library that she had turned into her own living space. We could do as we pleased elsewhere in the castle, as long as we respected her privacy and her home. And we agreed. Because we needed her help.

“But a confrontation with her, I think was inevitable. We were lucky. By turning on us, she solved a looming problem. I mean, that agreement we struck…it wasn’t really tenable, was it? She couldn’t stay there. We’ll be done here, soon, and people will return to reclaim it. She has no rights to it, and it was not our place to grant her sojourn.

“And on top of that, there’s a shrine to Desna there. How long could such an agreement last?”

My thoughts were still a mess—they still are even now—but Spivey understood what I was getting at.

“You feel that you made an agreement in bad faith.”

“Yes.”

She thought for a moment, looking up at the sky and the stars. Legend says that Desna, herself, placed them there. Her temples are often open to the sky.

“Did it ever occur to you that she bargained in bad faith?” I’ll admit that this took me aback. Of all the responses I was expecting from her, this one was not on the list. “You say you didn’t trust her. I’m saying you were right not to. How can you be sure that ‘being left alone’ was what she truly wanted? You found a symbol of Pazuzu on her person when she fell, after all. That, alone, should be enough to question both her words and her motives.”

She paused for a moment and then continued.

“I think, on some level, you all knew how this would end; you felt safe making that agreement because you knew she had no intention of living up to it.”

She looked at me and smiled.

“You say what happened was luck. Perhaps you’re right. Your actions here have benefited Desna, after all.”

“I…I suppose. Though…I’m not a follower of Desna.”

Her smile turned into a big grin.

“You told me about the temple. I am sure Shelyn would have words about that, as well.”

I am not really convinced by this argument, but it is something to think about.

On the far side of the hill, just below Mercatio’s crypt, my friends had set up a couple of tents in the dark and covered them with a blackout curtain so that there could be light inside—courtesy of Ivan’s cantrips and some common rocks—without drawing the attention of whoever may still be dwelling in the castle (I am not the only one who spends late nights writing down my thoughts). Kikonu may have been the overlord of his little fiefdom, but his death did not necessarily make the castle or the ruins any safer. If anything, the resulting power vacuum could make things worse if we don’t address it soon. So, for now, an abundance of caution made sense.

Tomorrow, we return to the castle, starting with the library and then working our way through the main floor. If Zaiobe is to be believed, Kikonu compartmentalized everything, keeping his subjects isolated from one another and more or less in the dark. Only the corbies seemed to enjoy a run of the castle, and even that is supposition. If true, though, it may make our task easier.

This scene with Spivey was something I worked out with our GM between game sessions.


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Erastus 19 (Morning, Brinewall Castle)

I've been reckless this morning and I need to get a handle on it. My friends need to know that they can trust me and rely on me, and these outbursts are counterproductive. But I will get to that.

Our first stop after returning to the castle was the library, which was in remarkably good condition considering what had happened here. We were able to find maps of the castle, including some old construction drawings, and a fascinating, hand-written tome titled A Historical Record of the Colony at Brinewall. It's not quite as useful as it sounds because it's not a true history text; it's really just annals of the colony since its founding in 4442. It's not indexed, and there's no summary of events which means you'd more or less have to read it from start to finish. And it's the worst sort of reading: mostly dull log entries and recordings of everything that the authors deemed significant enough to write down nearly every day, ranging from the weather to gossip to absurd details about everything from the construction of the castle and the town, visitors, raiders, and so on, depending on the annalist's whims. Still, it has value; it will just take time to glean information from it. We took all of this with us.

About my behavior. The first incident was when we encountered the troglodytes. One of them called for reinforcements which never came. That in itself is not unusual. What was noteworthy was that their barracks were, quite literally, next door. As in, we opened a door, and there were four more troglodytes in there, deep in slumber. How they could sleep through the sounds of battle and a cry for reinforcements only to be awoken by an opening door is beyond my comprehension. I don't know why, but I acted out. It was foolish and stupid and tantamount to gloating. It is a sign of overconfidence and overconfidence is what gets people hurt or killed.

The second time...I like to think that I have an excuse for that one, but it still goes against Irori's teachings. I may not be a member of that faith anymore, but I still owe much of who I am to his tenets.

The quickling was as foul a creature as I have ever encountered, a sadist and bully so far beyond anything and anyone that I ever met or was victimized by that my mental discipline broke down. Once I realized she started her work while her victims were paralyzed and still alive, I was overcome with rage and felt compelled to act (I can feel my temper rising again as I write this). Lacking any other spells that could reach from where I was, and seeing a room filled with that grotesque interpretation of "art", I filled it with a burst of glittering dust.

What was I thinking? It had a chance of blinding her for one, much better than my simpler spell could manage even if I were close enough to use it. But mostly? I wanted to ruin her "art". I wanted to defile what she had done.

I am usually in better control of myself. It was a hard lesson I learned growing up. Many of the injuries I suffered were because I couldn't reign in my temper. I was certainly not responsible for what happened to me, but the very first time I gave in to anger I catalyzed a cycle of torment that lasted for years.

And in the process of losing my temper here, I wasted two of my newest and best spells in the span of a few seconds.

This last room we entered seems to have been the office of the captain of the guard, and the captain himself had become a wight. I remember the words Ameiko spoke to us while in her possessed slumber: Grandfather waits in the dark, but he knows not who he was. Is this what happened to Rokuro as well?

From what we saw of the room, it seems that the captain was interrupted while writing a hurried letter, describing an attack on the castle by men "wearing black robes". Another possible reference to ninjas from Tian Xia? The story was starting to piece together.

After Qatana and Etayne wandered off on their own and found a giant beetle for their trouble, we paused for a few minutes to discuss what we should do next. I took that time to review the letter again and found an interesting, though throwaway, detail: the attack came in the night, during a powerful storm. To the captain, the storm was just weather, but to me it was a reference point. The Record of the Colony at Brinewall did not go far enough forward in time to cover these events, but I didn't really need it. The ships that set sail from here, the ones sent by Rokuro, went aground in Sog's Bay during a storm. The timing had to be the same. At this time of year, it was not uncommon for storms to lash the Varisian coast, some of them lasting several days. Another coincidence that was too much of a coincidence to be just a coincidence.

Had Rokuro anticipated an attack? Had he sent those ships south into, and in spite of, the storms because he feared one was imminent? Did the invaders use those same storms to their advantage, to give them cover as they sacked both the town and then the castle?

I was flipping through pages of the historical record while explaining my theory to the others when I happened across a mention of the reconstruction of the east wall of the castle. It was just dumb luck.

While I could probably figure out the jargon and conventions of the construction plans given time, Radella was far more versed in this than I and I asked for her help in finding any plans for the walls and, in particular, any dates associated with them. Within a couple of minutes, I had learned another valuable and shocking piece of information: the east wall of the castle had collapsed into a network of underground caverns!

"The east wall collapsed. They must not have surveyed the cliff thoroughly, or at all. There are caverns under the castle. A huge complex of them. The weight of the castle caused the ground to cave in, collapsing the wall and part of the castle into the caverns. And listen! Not soon after, 'Hideous, bird-like men emerged from below. They stood as tall as a man, covered in black feathers but with arms instead of wings...'

"They attacked the colony. This was in the early 4460's. The corbies...they have been here for over 250 years! The colonists must have thought they drove them off or killed them. But obviously they didn't, because they are still here. And, the caverns! If there are caverns, there has to be an entrance somewhere, right? A cave? Maybe in the cliffs, or even just in the ground somewhere.

"Right?"

If I didn't have everyone's full attention before, I definitely had it now.

Olmas looked thoughtful for a moment and asked a series of questions that was really just one.

"The castle was knowingly or unknowingly built over a series of caverns? The corbies emerged from those collapsed caverns and presumably there was a skirmish/conflict/battle, but there was still time afterwards to rebuild the east wall, and life went on thinking the corbies had been taken care of?

"Is there any record of when they reappeared?"

That was not so easy to answer. I flipped through the book, skimming pages until I found what seemed to be the right place.

"It was finished in 4469. So, they rebuilt the wall and eventually finished the castle. They thought the corbies were gone. Or maybe they sealed off the caverns, or thought they did. The way this is written I'd have to read the whole thing. It'd take hours and hours. But it seems they finished the castle and then...well...it looks like life went on."

Qatana, on the other hand, was focused on the caverns themselves. She was silent for a moment—she had that look she gets when she's "talking" to one of her mouse skulls—and then exclaimed, "There is probably an external entrance to the caves, but maybe the corbies tunneled up to the cellars of the castle itself, and then broke through and invaded from within! There are three sets of steps leading down from this level, and I bet at least one of them will connect with the tunnels."

That sounded logical to me. "Whatever is down there...if we go east, as far east as we can, we'll probably find out."

Every answer we find is accompanied by more questions.

(Noon, Brinewall Castle dungeon)

Radella is meticulously and patiently working the locking mechanism to the hidden passage in the cavern in order to coax it into opening. There is a striking dichotomy in watching her finesse her tools like this: her movements are slow, gentle, and precise, in contrast to the enormous sword laying on the ground at her side which she normally swings with a terrifying strength. I don’t really know how to characterize her. I’ve been exposed to enough grafters, vagabonds, and thieves to recognize the archetypes when I see them—my time spent in Magnimar was all too instructive—but she defies such simple classification. In this way she is a lot like Ana: neither of them fits the mold into which their kind are typically cast.

Where does this door lead? It has been cut from the stone of this hollow and worked in a manner to hide its existence. That, combined with the complexity of the lock, suggests it was intended as an escape passage, a secret entrance, or perhaps both. The Historical Record does mention this network of caverns below the castle, and it would seem that the builders incorporated them into the dungeon’s construction (even if they blew it on the structural planning). Using them in this manner certainly makes sense.

Before descending from the ground floor we explored the outbuildings on the west end of the keep. The wooden structures were almost certainly horse stables in their time, but now they were home to an ettercap and its giant spider companions. At learning this, I completely froze. I am not afraid of spiders so much as their venom; I know what it does, I know what my limitations are, and because of that I did not want to be anywhere near them. Fortunately, my companions were more than up to the task and I was not only not needed, but likely to have gotten in the way. So far I don’t think anyone has noticed my reluctance (inability?) to engage with these creatures—this is the second time that it has come up—but I worry that one of them will make the connection if it becomes a recurring theme.

We had our choice of three stairways for coming down here and we opted to follow our noses, which meant starting from the room where we first encountered troglodytes. I couldn’t really find fault with the logic, as we suspected there were more of them down here and we’d have to deal with them eventually, but it did mean beginning in the midst of a foul stench and descending into far worse until we were nearly choking on it.

It also provided an opportunity to correct an oversight from earlier, which was to search the debris in that room for anything of value (in our defense, we were expecting reinforcements to arrive at any moment, so we had more urgent matters demanding our attention). And it’s a good thing we did because we would have missed some valuable clues about Brinewall’s fall: that room appeared to have been a meeting room of some sort, and buried in the trash were tattered and torn reports from the night the castle was attacked.  The remnants were incomplete, but we were able to assemble enough pieces to reconstruct the night’s events. The guards in the castle were preparing to respond to what they thought were riots in the town. The implication here is that the attack on the town came first and was misinterpreted as civil unrest. The guard probably learned the truth only when the invaders were inside the castle walls.

Sparna took the lead in descending the stairs, being perhaps the only one of us who is heavily armed, heavily armored, and capable of seeing in the dark. As we suspected, there were more troglodytes down below, but rather than launch an attack through a narrow doorway we opted to try and bring the fight to us. This almost worked.

I haven’t known many dwarves so I don’t know if this is typical or not but Sparna has a somewhat crass sense of humor that tends towards blue, and while I can appreciate this, it seems that the troglodytes do not. I say that the plan almost worked because he succeeded in goading some of them up the stairs, but I was ultimately too clever for my own good and may have been our strategy’s undoing. The grease my spell placed on the landing was effective, and unexpectedly entertaining, but it presented one obstacle too many for our foe. The remaining troglodytes were smart enough to withdraw, retreating to a fortified position and leaving us with the original problem, only now with them alerted and better prepared.

Still, we are a resourceful group and Qatana and I were able to deliver some unpleasant surprises that softened their ranks, and after a fierce and intense battle, our party was victorious. This was no easy task, as the troglodytes were not only dug in but highly—if not surprisingly—disciplined, and remained so even after Sparna had felled their commander.

A small armory near there yielded a surprising find: a case containing several flasks of alchemist’s fire. I glanced over to Etayne and she gave me one of her ominous grins. The witch is downright obsessed with fire.


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You will read variations of "Olmas took a severe pounding" quite often in this journal.

(Mid-Afternoon, Brinewall Castle dungeon)

We are taking a few moments to rest and to heal. Especially Olmas, who took a severe pounding.

With the ogres dead we could finally turn our attention to the Ulfen woman being held prisoner in one of the cells. She was tall and slender, but hardly slight: there was no mistaking the muscular build of an Ulfen warrior. She had watched the entire fight in stoic silence, and cold, hard eyes glared at us through her dirty and matted blond hair after it had ended.

Etayne, ever the diplomat, started the conversation.

Who are you?! What are you doing here?!

I suggested that we tone down the interrogation a bit, but too many people had questions they wanted to have answered and they all came out seemingly at once. Eventually, the woman had had enough. “Am I your prisoner now?” she asked, eyes narrowing.

“No.”

We took the keys off the bodies of her former jailers and opened the cell, but she did not step out. Her eyes kept wandering to a pile of armor and equipment on the floor next to the wall.

“Are those your things?” Qatana asked.

She nodded.

“Go ahead.”

And at that, she softened. Just a little. After she had donned her armor and weapons, I asked, “Was that your longboat we saw docked in the lagoon?”

She was reluctant to talk about it at first but confirmed that it was. Kelda Oxgutter—that is her name—came here some days ago with companions from the Linnorm Kingdoms. They had heard the stories of Brinewall and assumed, wrongly, that the abandoned town and keep would be ripe for looting. When they came ashore they were attacked by the sea drake and Kelda was the only survivor. She was captured while exploring the castle on her own.

In turn, she asked why we were here. I explained about Ameiko, her condition, and the connection to her past and her family. Maybe that was more than I should have said, but she had shared quite a bit with us, so it seemed fair to respond in kind.

“It is possible that what we learn here may take us farther north. Perhaps, eventually, across the Crown of the World to Tian Xia.”

“If that is the case, I’d be willing to accompany you as far as Kalsgard.”

Honor and reputation matter a great deal to the Ulfen people, in the Kingdoms in general, and the way she spoke of her companions and her capture suggested that it meant a great deal to her, personally. But could we trust her? She seemed as wary of us as we did of her. The story she told did not contradict anything we had seen, and it also answered some questions of our own. So, I believed her. If this was a ruse, it was ridiculously elaborate.

She also looked more than capable in a fight, too. So why not take the chance?


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Erastus 19 (Late Afternoon, Brinewall Castle dungeon)

That may have been the most frightening encounter we’ve had, and among the most difficult. Qatana has been badly hurt; likely poisoned. It is dead, but we threw everything we had at it, and in my case even things that we didn’t.

It began in the crypt. The sarcophagi had been broken open and despoiled. Everything of importance in there had been taken including the bodies of the dead. The entrance to it was in the center of an intricate iron screen: a wooden door adorned with a beautiful painting of Pharasma, goddess of birth, death, fate and prophecy, seated on her throne. To Pharasma, what had happened in here was a terrible crime. Her priests are stewards of the deceased and protectors of graves.

I was immediately suspicious when an image of her manifested at the far end of the tomb where the wall had partially collapsed to reveal a cavern beyond. But being skeptical is not the same as being certain, and though I am knowledgeable in matters of religion Qatana is the expert when it comes to Pharasma. She began her life in that church before…well. Before.

“Qatana…? We need you here.”

I needed time for my spell to work, to confirm my suspicions that this was merely an illusion. The image of Pharasma spoke to us, encouraging us to lay down our arms and approach; this was almost certainly a trap. The brief exchange that followed was enough to confirm for Qatana that this “Pharasma” was a fake, and for me to recognize the source of the image as mortal magic. Radella put an arrow through it, and it was gone.

But who, or what, created it?

We entered the cavern beyond the crypt and found ourselves on a wide ledge a good twenty feet above another passage. And then I saw it floating up near the ceiling. It looked like a deformed octopus, only with a giant maw filled with sharp teeth, and ten tentacles that were writhing in the air. I quietly spread the word, but its senses were keen and it hit us with a powerful spell before we could react.

One night last year, as we were discussing magic theory, Eudonius told us that it was possible for wizards to perform spells beyond just what we had prepared as part of our morning rituals, only that doing so meant drawing upon the very forces that sustain us. He cautioned that it was not a decision to be made lightly because of the toll it exacts, but I looked up at that thing as it swooped in for an attack, at our weapons bouncing harmlessly off of its hide, and I knew that this was the time. I had memorized a summoning spell—my sole remaining spell for the day—but the creatures I could bring in with it were not up to this task. So I did it. As I worked the spell I reached deep into myself and shaped it into a more powerful form, one that I was not yet able to prepare on my own. I felt a wave of fatigue wash over me as it happened, but I succeeded in bringing forth a powerful ally to assist us: a lantern archon.†

The glowing ball of light materialized in the air behind the decapod and began searing it with beams of light and energy. In the meantime, my friends had figured out that it was vulnerable to either weapons made from cold iron or enchanted with magic, and the sum total of these attacks exacted a terrible revenge for what it had done to Qatana. It quickly broke off and flew back up to the ceiling where we had first seen it, and cried out to Pazuzu.

“Father! Help me! Pazuzu!” it shrieked, over and over.

It was…almost pitiful. Almost. And then Qatana hit it with a spell, a burst of sound, and it blew apart in the air.

Afterwards, the others told me it seemed to flinch and hesitate during the fight, that it singled out Qatana, and was distracted easily by their taunts. And I recalled the riddle Ameiko had spoken:

The key you seek lies in the grip of the ten-handed one. His fear is your greatest ally.

Another one down. Only two remain.

This was me spending a hero point, turning Summon Monster II into Summon Monster III.

Erastus 19 (Night, Brinewall Cemetery)

We are back in the cemetery, recovering from what has been a long and difficult day both physically and emotionally.

I finally recognized the thing in the caverns as a decapus, though I didn’t know that they could get this large, nor did I know that they could fly (perhaps this one was special?). In what I assume was its lair we found a leathery egg that was split open, still pulsing, that was just the right size. So it seems we have been given a lesson in its biology as well.

Surrounding a large, flat rock that looked like a makeshift altar was a pile of treasure, arranged almost as if in tribute. Among this collection were three items of particular interest to me: a pearl that could be used to recall a single spell that had been cast each day, a darkwood and silver disk engraved with an image of Brinewall under the moon, and a stone statue of Pazuzu.

Gods, there has been too much Pazuzu here.

We have another one of these discs, only it shows the sun in the sky instead of the moon. Our suspicion is that these are keys to the vault.

The key you seek lies in the grip of the ten-handed one…

One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault.

Qatana tried to destroy the statue but made the mistake of handling it first (though to be fair, we didn’t realize that this was a problem until after she had done it). Now, the cursed thing will not stay away from her. It appears in her pack if she tries to walk away from it, or in her hands if she leaves her pack behind. She says it is as heavy as lead and it slows her down as she struggles with its weight. I have heard of cursed items like these, made more as cruel jokes and annoyances than anything else, but I imagine this one is a spiritual f**k you for not being one of his worshipers.

Olmas and Sparna seem to find this quite amusing. For the first time since we came together as a group, Qatana is physically unable to get out of their sight.

The third set of stairs led down to the vaults, access to them blocked by a portcullis. The discs, which radiated a faint aura of transmutation, acted as keys to raise and lower the bars. As soon as we stepped in, the dust in the room swirled around and took a human form. Even with the light we brought with us, it was dark and hard to see but the features of a Tian man were unmistakeable.

Grandfather waits in the dark, but he knows not who he was.

It had been many years since I had been in the Kaijitsu manor, but I had seen the family portraits. It was not obvious, and without the riddle I doubt I would have made the connection, but knowing what I knew it was clear I was facing the image of Ameiko’s grandfather.

Tentatively, I asked, “Rokuro?”

The wraith was raising a ghostly sword above its head readying to strike, but upon hearing this it stopped and the fury in its eyes melted away.

“I…know…that…name…”

And then he cried out in anguish, pointing his sword at the wall.

“Take the seal from here! I can no longer guard it. Take it to my child! I can no longer defend it.”

And then he vanished, leaving nothing but dust behind.

Radella searched the wall and discovered a hidden door, one so well constructed that we might not have found it on our own. It led to a third vault, as predicted, and unlike the other two this one had not been looted: three chests sat within, each radiating magic.

It was the center chest that mattered. It was locked; Radella swears it was locked (and I believe her). But the very second she started on the mechanism, the chest just…opened.

Inside was a finely-lacquered, Tian-style puzzle box. It was radiating a strong magic, but none of us could identify the aura, nor a means of opening it. But, this had to be it. This box was the key to Ameiko’s condition, and perhaps held hints about her family, her past, and her future.

It’s too late to do this tonight. I have spent all of my spells, and the others are exhausted. We will head back to the caravan at first light.

This is almost over.


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Erastus 20 (Early morning, The Nolands)

I am writing this down now before I lose it, while it is still fresh in my head.

As soon the box was opened—I don’t even remember who did it now—I caught sight of the small, stone dragon statuette and then the world faded away.

I was no longer in Brinewall. I was standing on the edge of a vast forest overlooking the kingdom of Minkai while a ferocious storm raged above. As I stood in the rain, a terrifying army of fiends—their skin ablaze beneath their armor—emerged from the trees. This advancing wall of tusks, fire, and steel marched around me, eyes glaring, and descended into the country at my back.

As the invasion began, the vision shifted to a simple well where the Emperor Shigure of Minkai stood alongside a friend. Again, I watched. His friend transformed, growing several times in size to stand sheathed in twisted, jade armor. He drew a sword and struck Shigure down, then held the blade over his head in triumph, blood dripping from its edge.

The vision shifted a third time, and I was in the city of Kalsgard. Rokuro Kaijitsu, whose true name is Amatatsu Tsutoku, was selling a beautiful sword to an Ulfen merchant to finance his trip across the world. I could feel that sword, an intelligent weapon named Suishen, and the knowledge it possessed: the Amatatsu family history.

Again, the vision changed. Now it was my childhood friend, Ameiko, waking up from her sleep. Not from our campsite in Brinewall, but in the arms of an ornate, jade throne. She was dressed as an empress, no longer the tavern owner and bard I have known most of my life.

And then I knew. Ameiko was the last surviving heir of her line, of the last surviving royal family of Minkai. The Seal, or the spirit that resided in it, knew this as well and had marked us all as scions of the Amatatsu family. An insurance policy, of sorts, to ensure the royal family’s survival. Heirs designate.

Brinewall returned, then, and Ameiko awoke with a gasp.

The Amatatsu Seal. It sat there in the box, and I knew it to be a powerful artifact. So powerful it could be tracked across any distance, and its presence hidden only by the warding box in which it had been contained. I remembered Tsutoku’s letter to his son—to Ameiko’s father. And just as the realization dawned on me, Ameiko yelled out, “Put that thing back in the box!

After using it rid Qatana of that foul idol, we placed it back in the warding box and closed the compartments. Someone, I think it may have been Qatana, said “We have to leave. We have to get out of here now.”

Indeed. We had just lit a signal fire, one so big it could be seen across the world. Again, the words of Tsutoku’s letter came to me.

If our enemies find what I have hidden, there will be nothing here for you. If they do not, they will lie in wait forever for your return.

I looked around at my friends. You could tell from their faces that each of us that had been in that crypt had experienced these visions (even poor Kelda, who had stubbornly refused to admit that she had been in over her head before). All the plans we had made for that day—cleansing the temple to Desna, repairing Kelda’s boat, tying up loose ends in the ruins of the keep—were abandoned.

While the caravan was hastily prepped for the return to the road, I had a growing sense of unease. I felt myself getting weaker and light-headed. I sat down in the grass behind the covered wagon, out of sight of the others, and started shaking as the panic swelled. All of this…it was too much.

Nihali landed on my shoulder, and I found her presence soothing. She brought me down. A minute or so later I got up, wiped away the tears, and rejoined the others. I don’t think anyone saw. If they did, they’ve been kind enough not to say.

We reach Riddleport in four days. The plan is to take Ameiko, and ourselves, across the Crown of the World to the kingdom of Minkai in Tian Xia. We don’t know what we’ll find there, but it’s clear the road will not be easy.

Both Spivey and Kelda have chosen to join us. Spivey will be with us indefinitely, and Kelda at least as far as Kalsgard. I don’t know what Kelda will do after that, but I hope she stays on. She is gruff and occasionally crude, but I have to admit that I like her because she’s so open and direct. As for Spivey, I simply find her presence reassuring. I don’t know how to explain it beyond that.

Our first stop on our journey will be Kalsgard to hopefully recover Suishen as we may need the knowledge it possesses, and Ameiko deserves the opportunity to reclaim a piece of her heritage. I don’t know how we’ll get it back, but one problem at a time I suppose. First, we have to find it.


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Downtime and between-game events are always something of a challenge because they are one-on-one interactions with our GM via email, making them more individual fiction than collective storytelling. I write them up like this so that the others in the group can see what she's been up to, in a form that is more interesting them "she dropped off the letters in Sandpoint". The others who journal regularly have started doing the same.

Erastus 24 (Morning, Riddleport)

I showed Ameiko the play Kikonu had been writing, or rather, the drafts of it that I had grabbed. I couldn’t take all of it—there were stacks and stacks and stacks of revisions—but what I had was certainly enough.

“I have seen some very bad plays, some of them spectacularly bad, but this? This is in a world of its of its own.”

“It gets more unhinged with each revision, doesn’t it? Not that it had a great starting point.”

“If I had to endure watching this over and over, it might drive me to murder, too.”

I plan on keeping it. For the memories.

OK, that is not very Shelynite of me, I admit, but Kikonu’s motives were far from pure, here, either.

While most of my companions don’t have anything tying them down, both Anavaru and I still have family that we are close to. Am I supposed to just disappear for several months, with no word as to where we are going? I can’t do that to them. Sending a letter is an option, of course, but not one that I’d feel particularly good about. Mom and dad already had a hard enough time with what we did. And what we are about to do? I just can’t leave that way. I just can’t. Besides, how smart would it be to put this in a letter? Knowing what we know?

Fortunately for the two of us, Ameiko also has responsibilities back in Sandpoint that she can’t just abandon. Both the inn and her home need to be put under stewardship if not outright sold, and she can’t do that from here. Since time is likely not on our side, she has sought the services of a wizard up in the Windward district for teleports to and from, and she offered to bring Ana and me along. The logistics are complicated, but since he will essentially be on retainer for three days, I will pay his travel expenses to Magnimar from Sandpoint so that Ana and I can visit family, and for the return teleport the following day. Then we all come back here on Ameiko’s coin on the 26th.

The wizard, a personable and handsome Taldan named Thadeus, agreed to this arrangement and he didn’t even overcharge us. Not that his services were cheap, of course, but I think he simply found the proposal interesting enough to actually want to do it. Later, Ameiko opined to me privately that “the opportunity to travel with three young women probably had something to do with that.” I suppose. Maybe.

He needed about a half hour to get prepared for the trip. He works out of his home, so we are waiting in his sitting room while he packs and does whatever else it is he needs to do. As soon as he is ready, we leave.

(Late Morning, Sandpoint)

Ana secured passage for us on the noon caravan to Magnimar. While she was doing that and tying off a couple of loose ends in Sandpoint I ran an errand of my own.

Sheriff Hemlock was in his office when I arrived. He looked very surprised to see me.

“Kali! I heard some ridiculous rumor that Ameiko had talked you and your friends into going to Brinewall. On Sandru’s caravan, no less. Thank—”

I dropped a small stack of books and papers onto his desk with a light thunk. The top one read, “A History of the Brinewall Colony” in my handwriting.

The trip to Riddleport had taken four days, and I spent nearly all of it writing. So much so my wrist was still aching. No one else may have cared about what happened to Brinewall after we left, but I did.

He stared at me.

“You’re kidding.”

“No.”

He picked up the top booklet, one of my blank journals which I had repurposed for this task, and started flipping through it.

“The part you want is at the end.”

“Tell me,” he replied as he jumped to the back and worked his way through the blank pages at the end to where my handwriting had stopped. He then flipped through them one at a time, briefly scanning each.

This is where I had to be careful. I was deliberately vague in my writings and needed to do the same here.

“We don’t have all the answers, but we have enough. It was invaded by foreigners, and they had help from outsiders. As in, literal outsiders. We can’t say why, but we suspect there was something in the castle they wanted. We know they attacked the town first, killing everyone there, then the keep. They took both by surprise. The corbies were opportunists, I think, moving into the castle after the invaders had left. But that’s speculation: the colony had a history of trouble with corbies. Over time others moved in, forming a happy little cult of Pazuzu.”

His face whitened at that.

I pointed to the stack of papers. “Original letters, logs, pieces of letters, any scrap of parchment we could find that seemed relevant. We restored what we could with magic. I reconstructed all of them as well, so you have copies. Also in there are blueprints and maps of the keep. Some of the rooms are still dangerous and I’ve marked them as such. And at the very bottom are the original records that the colony’s annalist kept.”

He started to ask a question but I cut him off.

“I don’t have much time because I’m leaving soon. I am telling you this because someone needs to know. Someone who can do something about it. Brinewall is currently unoccupied. For over two decades it’s been in the hands of these beings, and strange stories have circulated about its fate, and yet neither has stopped people from looting what’s left of the town.

“Now that it stands empty again? Someone will reoccupy it. I want them to be the right people.”

I didn’t want to stay any longer. I didn’t want to have to answer questions. I’d already told one half-truth and if I didn’t leave now I’d have to do worse.

“I have to go. I’m sorry. I know this a lot to dump on you and leave, but I also know it’s in good hands.”

I walked out without listening to his reply.


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The code described in this entry is one that I actually used to write short letters from Kali to her parents in later game sessions. To date, none of the other players in our group has worked out what they have said. (I actually found this surprising, because I thought I had made it too easy).

The journal entries that involve Kali's parents, either directly like this or just as memories, are among my favorites.

Erastus 25 (Evening, Sandpoint)

It’s been a long day.

We arrived in Magnimar just after noon and made arrangements to meet at 6 pm in the Seerspring Garden for the teleport back to Sandpoint. I knew my parents would be working, so I headed for their business office in Dockway. It was not the best place to have this conversation, but what choice did I have? A rhetorical question, obviously. None at all.

I wanted to get this over with, so I walked quickly and made only one stop on the way there: a bookstore in order to purchase two identical copies of a modest gazetteer on The Inner Sea. I would need those first. They were innocuous enough to not arouse suspicion, and a cursory scan of the text turned up enough of the right sort of words that I was confident they would serve their purpose.

Nothing really fazes mom and it’s something I’ve always admired about her. She was meeting with someone I didn’t recognize, a short, balding, middle-aged man, when I entered. She looked up, made eye contact with me, and then very casually said to him, “My next appointment is here. Can we pick this up again at a later time?”

“Of course! Of course! I’m sorry. If I had known…I’ll come back tomorrow morning.”

Everyone always apologizes to mom, whether it is their fault or not.

She left a clerk in charge up front and guided me back to their office where dad was working on something at his desk. He is a bit easier to surprise, but amazingly he held his composure until mom shut the door behind us.

And then I received the two biggest and longest hugs from them in recent memory. We all wiped away some tears.

A lot of people think mom isn’t very…affectionate? Maternal? But she really is. She just always has this facade up when she’s in public. There’s mom, and then there’s the person she wants you to see.

Our conversation is a jumble in my head. It started about how I expected, asking how I was, if everyone was OK, what happened, and of course, how I was back nearly two weeks early. I avoided the details at first, just reassuring them that, yes, we were all OK and had made it back from Brinewall without lasting injury, and then settled in to tell the whole story. All of it.

I cast a spell I learned from Thadeus on the way down. Was I being paranoid? Maybe. My original intention was to have this entire conversation in Vudrani but opportunity had landed in my lap and I was not going to pass it up. This was much safer for all of us.

Both mom and dad looked concerned—very concerned—as I started, but I said, “For privacy,” and they understood. And you could feel the tone shift in the room. I must have looked very serious at that moment.

“This spell will only last about forty minutes. Dad, you were right when you said I hide things from you. I…Never mind. It doesn’t matter why. No more secrets.”

And I told them. Everything. It took nearly a half an hour with their questions, but I told them. When I got to the Seal, they both turned pale. I remember thinking to myself, Living through it wasn’t much fun, either.

They were silent for a long time, just looking at each other. And then dad nodded ever so slightly, and then mom did, too. I wish I knew how they did that.

Dad said, “You are on the cusp of something of great importance.”

“Yes, I think so,” I said softly. “This is a lot bigger than we ever imagined it would be. Her family...”

“Her kingdom,” added mom.

I nodded.

Dad summed it up. “And you are committed. Whether you wish to be or not, you are committed to this path. Though, I suspect that these are your wishes, are they not?”

“Yes. Yes they are.”

Silence.

There was more they wanted to talk about here, a lot more, but I only had a few minutes left in the spell and I needed to get this next part out. So I cut them off. It hurt to do that, but I had to.

“I need a way to send messages to you that others can’t read. At least, until I’m able to master the spells to do it directly.”

I pulled out the books and taught him the code: triplets of numbers, representing page, paragraph, and word number. It would take me forever to write, and I would be limited by the text, but they could decode it quickly and easily. It was not very sophisticated, but the meaning could not be revealed with magic and you’d have to know what it was and which book to use (the one I’d chosen wouldn’t stand out as being unusual for either of us) to do it by hand. And, the numbers could be disguised in a phony business letter, or just sent as cryptic jumbles. It really didn’t matter how. Sure, it was simple and stupid, but it would do. And we wouldn’t need it for long, I hoped.

They left work early and we spent the rest of the afternoon together. We talked a lot, of course, though I was careful with the details. There were more questions. More worry. More reassurance where I had it. It was not easy to do. We also shopped together, purchasing a couple of books on the Linnorm Kingdoms including a small gazetteer that didn’t look terribly out of date, a stack of maps ranging from the practical (for the caravan) to the fanciful (for myself and Koya, as keepsake memories), and so on. We had an early dinner in Naos. And then…it was time to say good-bye. There is never enough time.

I think I can count the number of times I’ve seen mom and dad cry on one hand.


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Erastus 27 (Late Afternoon, Riddleport)

Koya seemed excited by the cache of maps that I brought back from my excursions. I found her early in the afternoon packing up some items in her wagon (just like her mother, she is showing few signs of slowing down at her age). She invited me inside and I unrolled them on top of some crates. I had picked up several Varisia maps, from Sandpoint up through the Nolands, and a smaller set showing parts of the Linnorm Kingdoms (in addition to what I had found on my own, Kelda and I had gone shopping together in Riddleport earlier this morning, looking for anything that covered our route up to Kalsgard). There were three or four dozen in all.

“What’s all this?” she asked.

“I think we’re going to need some mementos from this trip, don’t you? And what better way to start than with some maps of where we’ve been, and where we’re going? Pick out what you like from these; I’ll keep the rest.”

She looked up at me, astonished. “You’d give these to me?”

“It’s much less than you’ve done for me over the years.” Which was an understatement. Ameiko had a talent for finding healing potions, but she couldn’t mend clothes. Koya could do both.

As she started leafing through them I added, “There’s a mixture in there of practical, artistic, and fanciful. Some are city maps, some regional, others are wider. And we’ll get more along the way, of course.”

My next stop was Sandru, who I found tending to the horses not too far from Koya’s wagon. “I was thinking that we need a little celebration tonight. Some special food and drink to see us off on our trip.”

“A fine idea!” he beamed, “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, that’s why I wanted to see you: I need a little help. The food I can manage. Do you think you can help me pick out some spirits?”

“Of course! I would be delighted!”

Here’s a tip: if you ever find yourself with too much money, teaming up with Sandru to buy alcohol for special occasions is one way to solve the problem super-gods-be-damned-fast. It sure was fun, though. And we got personalized service everywhere we went.

Erastus 28 (Velashu River below the Celphiac Mountains, Evening)

We broke out our celebration last night after making camp a few miles out of Riddleport. Though it certainly wasn’t on par with the dinner Ameiko threw back when this all began (I had less to work with after all) it was still the surprise I was hoping it would be. I admit that I splurged a little too much, but honestly, how often do you get to try things like a 40-year-old brandy or a cheese made from buffalo’s milk?

It will take us roughly two weeks to reach Kalsgard and the first half of that will be through the wilderness and the Nolands. The experience with the trolls over a month ago, and I guess with Zaiobe more recently, forced me to pick up a spell I would not normally have chosen for myself. I admit that I don’t like it, but what are the alternatives? I am just not any good outdoors otherwise. I can’t get close enough, fast enough, and many of the effects I can manifest? You can just walk around them. Easily. It is one thing to be in a city, but another to be in the open plains of the Uplands. But then again, I never thought that this is where I would end up.

And as for the Nolands, it has a nasty reputation that is well deserved. Rulers in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings have used it as a dumping ground for centuries, sending the worst of their worst into exile there. Given that the natives, and I use that term loosely, are known (or at least suspected) to have such pleasant hobbies as cannibalism, it makes for a proving ground for aspiring warlords. I won’t endanger myself or my friends. Sometimes ideals have to give way to reality.

On a more pleasant note, I’ve been learning some Skald, courtesy of books (of course) and some time in the wagon Kelda is driving. I was not the only one with this idea, either: this morning I overheard Sparna talking to her about the very same topic. So, it seems Kelda has quickly become one of the more popular members of our group.

This clearly hasn’t sat well with everyone, though, as one of us has taken to messing with her food. Hopefully, whatever the hell that is about, it will end soon. Or at least not spiral out of control.

This is one of our PCs establishing a competitive relationship with Kelda

Erastus 30 (Noon, Velashu Uplands)

Last night Ivan was talking about magic items and how they could be created while we were traveling. His idea was quite ingenious. The process, as I understand it, takes several full days of work depending on the item, which is, of course, hard to do while traveling. He suggested that a shortcut would be to buy an item (he said they are typically rings) that allows you to go with minimal sleep and rest, thus making it possible to work most of the night. Of course, the catch is that you must first find and pay for such a thing, but it’s an interesting idea and I’m going to pursue it.

Arodus 2 (Evening, The Nolands)

We’ve crossed into the Nolands. The landscape and the wildlife are radically different north of the river (which I guess should not be surprising) and we’ve even seen a few bears. So far, though, we’ve been left alone and there’s not even been any sign of Nolander tribes. Our only company has been flocks of birds probably scavenging for scraps of food. Nihali says they are mostly ravens and she is “not impressed” (that is an actual quote).

Someone continues to mess with Kelda’s meals. I am beginning to feel a spiritual bond with Sparna and Olmas.


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Arodus 3 (Evening, Jol)

Our first encounter on this leg of our journey was not what I was expecting. When Nihali landed on my shoulder this morning, she was pretty agitated. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Just a raven. But I’ve never seen one that big before.”

When Nihali is concerned, I am concerned. “How big is it?” I asked.

“It’s right there. You can see for yourself.”

And I looked up and there it was. A raven. A huge raven, about the size of a dog. Just hanging up in the sky, lazily following us much like the flock that had been with us since we crossed the river. It was still with us when we stopped for lunch, and I discreetly started spreading the word.

Unsurprisingly, a couple of the others had seen it, too, but it hadn’t reached the level of “alarming”. But they aren’t Nihali. This is what she does.

Then Ivan pointed out something interesting. “I saw a flash of red. Maybe red feathers on its wings.”

Ravens with red feathers? Etayne and I talked it over. It’s not unheard of, but the peculiarities were starting to mount. So I went to see Koya for her opinion. I mean, this is precisely why Varisian caravans have fortune-tellers, right?

At first, I got the Varisian answer: blood feather ravens are an omen. Specifically, an evil omen (are there any omens that aren’t?), and it’s bad luck to have one following the caravan. And so on. But I pressed her on it because I wanted something more concrete than spookism. “What should we do about it?”

Koya pulled out her cards and I let her work. After a few minutes, she said, “The cards are hard to read. We should continue our journey, but there is evil stalking us.”

Right. That’s what I needed to know. We were probably being spied on, and that would not do. I went to the others and, speaking in Elvish, suggested that we get rid of it. Permanently. It was flying too high up for weapons, but I could send an air elemental after it. But when I went to find it in preparation for the spell, it was gone. I told the others, “I can be better prepared for it tomorrow, anyway. I can send several air elementals at it.”

We reached Jol late in the afternoon. Mom actually knew something about Jol, as it was built on top of the ruins of an old Thassilonian city called Torandey. That fact officially makes it her business, and one of the bits of trivia she shared with me is that new construction (and reconstruction) occasionally breaks through into some previously-unknown vault down below, unleashing whatever random magic or horror lay dormant inside. Must be fun to be in the construction business here.

It’s also densely packed. The southern expanse of Southmoor, in particular, can be quite dangerous and Jol’s walls are arguably the main reason why the city has a reputation for being the safest (human) settlement in the region. But rather than expand its borders, it has stubbornly increased its density. It is the most tightly packed city I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of cities. And, it stinks. I mean it literally smells bad. Fortunately, we aren’t staying inside the city walls.

Arodus 5 (Evening, Grungir Forest)

For two days we didn’t see the raven with the red feather, and when we emerged from the northern edge of the Grungir Forest to make camp it was there, waiting for us. It flew off as soon as we spotted it, far too quickly for me to take action. This thing is pissing me off.

The forest itself was pleasant enough, but only because we knew to stay on the road, or if straying from it to at least keep it in sight. Grungir is the domain of the fey. This far to the east there is some human encroachment and it is well-traveled, but it’s still best not to tempt the descendants of the First World. When asked what we might find here, Kelda replied, “Fey. Gnomes. Wild animals. A linnorm if you’re unlucky.” And I think that about sums that up.

Tomorrow morning we’ll take a side trip across the river into Losthome, a brief visit to trade, find updated maps and get some information about the way ahead, but we’ll return to the road by early afternoon.

Oh, and I suspect that Etayne is our prankster. I don’t know what she has against Kelda, but as long as it’s just stupid tricks? I am staying out of it. For one, Kelda can take care of herself. For two, Kelda would probably just get pissed off if someone intervened on her behalf, anyway. It sure does bring back some crappy memories, though.

Arodus 7 (Noon, Thundering River)

We haven’t seen the raven since the forest. If it holds to its previous pattern, it should appear tonight or sometime tomorrow.

OK. I was growing really concerned and starting to fret over this, so I just now went to ask Koya for advice. “What is it you want to do if you see it again?” she asked.

“I’m going to summon air elementals and send them after it. To attack it, and kill it if they have to. It’s spying on us, I’m sure of it.”

She thought for a moment and then pulled out some cards of a design I had not seen before. “I have something I can try…if you are willing?” I said yes, and she cast a lengthy spell I did not recognize and then drew some cards from the deck.

I can feel the effects, and they are strange, almost as though a blessing of Desna is on me.

She says this will only last for a few days, or until I have my chance to go after the bird, whichever comes first.

Arodus 7 (Night, The Skalsbridge)

We were attacked tonight and thus my suspicions have been confirmed: the raven had been spying on us. I wish now I had taken action when Nihali had first come to me, but logically I get that there was no way to have known at the time. I don’t want to be the kind of person who attacks someone or something on just suspicion alone, although taking this stance means we must suffer such affronts as being ambushed while we sleep.

I am pretty sure no one took me seriously when I called out, “I’ll soften them up!” (I mean, really, when had I ever softened anything up? So I guess I don’t blame them.) Ivan was right next to me fiddling with the necklace he picked up in Brinewall and said, “That’s what I’m going to do,” as he pulled off one of the orbs and flung it, hard, into the moonless night. A tremendous burst of fire lit up the advancing hoard, and several of the raiders dropped in a chorus of screams.

And then my spell hit. I won’t mince words here: it was pretty horrible. I didn’t see the torrent of stones and dirt, but I heard a sound worse than any hailstorm, a roar of sickening, dull thuds against earth, armor, and flesh, followed by more screams. It lasted only seconds. I reminded myself, They are here to kill you. Because it helps to keep perspective when people are dying by your hand.

At the edge of our camp light, the surviving attackers met us and were savaged. More spells, more fire, and flashes of steel. At one point in that fight two of our foe, which I could now see to be Ulfen raiders, descended on Kelda to outflank our defensive line, but Radella took one of them down and I used a spell to grease the other’s weapon, buying Kelda some time to reposition and seize the advantage. After that, we went on the offensive and the stragglers dropped like flies.

When the battle was over, there were forty dead. Gods. Forty of them! Forty! Kelda remarked, “It’s unusual for Ulfen warriors to attack in mass just randomly on the road.”

Yeah. About that. There was obviously nothing random about this. Kelda said she spotted the raven on the Skalsbridge, just barely making it out in the dim light from our camp. It flew off as soon as it knew it had been spotted (Damnit! Again!), or perhaps just as the longboat was coming ashore. Fortunately, Kelda was able to alert Qatana, who woke us all in time. But only barely. We had maybe a minute to get ready, if that. It was that close.

Kelda examined the bodies, pulling a gold armband off of one. Engraved on it was a stylized lion’s head which she did not recognize. It was very convenient for them to all be wearing such an obvious marker, of course, which meant they were either fools or overconfident in their victory (the latter, of course, implying the former). So we had a lead which we could pursue.

Their boat, which was named the Aril’s Hammer, was beached just west of the bridge. It was over fifty feet long with nearly two dozen oars. Someone had a made significant financial investment in trying to do us harm. Another lead we could follow if needed.

We decided it would be best if our assailants simply vanished. We scuttled the boat, and weighed down the bodies before dumping them in the river.

I am trying very hard not to say anything. When we made camp, I objected to doing so right next to the bridge given that something had been spying on us. Why couldn’t we camp in the middle of nowhere like we had been doing? “It’s an obvious landmark. We’ll be easy to find!” I kept saying, but my complaints fell on deaf ears.


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Arodus 8, 4712 (Night, Ullerskad)

We left the Skalsbridge behind us, a picturesque scene of tranquility belying the night’s events. Few traces remained of the dead men that littered the bottom of the Thundering River: scars along the riverbank where their boat came ashore, trampled grass and soil, the occasional boot print in the dirt. We covered up what we could, using both labor and magic, but there were too many of them and there was too little time to be thorough. If someone looked close enough they’d probably see the signs, but it was good enough for the casual eye. The last thing we needed was for some random travelers to spread the story of a terrible battle scene in the heart of the Thanelands. We have enough troubles as it is.

The raven flew off shortly before the attack began last night, and as far as we know it hasn’t returned since. This is fine by me. It implies that news of the failed ambush won’t travel much faster than we do. They, whoever they are, won’t know something is wrong until the Aril’s Hammer fails to put into port.

We are spending the night in Ullerskad, just a day and a half east of Kalsgard. It is a significant trading city for its size, and apparently the home to numerous wealthy merchants both still in business and retired. Mom and dad would feel at home here if it weren’t so gods-be-damned cold in the winter. Perhaps this is why our only trip to the Kingdoms, which happened when I was about 8 years old, was our only trip to the Kingdoms.

Arodus 9 (Noon, Ullerskad)

One of the notable landmarks in Ullerskad is the temple to Gorum. I have virtually nothing in common with the Lord in Iron, god of battle, but there is no denying the strength and ferocity his followers show on the battlefield, and there are times when these qualities are needed. And, it is said that Shelyn is on good terms with all of the major deities (except, perhaps, her brother, though that relationship is complicated) so it seemed appropriate to at least visit, even if only briefly.

I was not sure what to expect, of course, but I am sure I was not expecting what I saw. The temple itself—a large, gold-adorned building—stood next to a grove of trees, and from these trees hung the corpses of both animals and men. I asked an acolyte about their significance. He said, “The animals are sacrifices to Gorum. The men are enemies of Ullerskad who fell to our warriors in battle.”

At the center of the grove was a massive yew tree, the largest I have ever seen, it’s expansive branches covered in lush, green leaves. The acolyte added, “These leaves stay green all year long, even through the harshest winters. It is a very sacred place.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

Shalelu seemed less impressed. When asked for her opinion, she replied, “I have seen this kind of thing before.”

I couldn’t argue with that, either.

Sandru and I spent some time researching the Crown of the World. The real experts are in Kalsgard, but there are enough knowledgeable people here to give us a picture of what we are facing, and that picture is sobering. The trip is some 3,000 miles, with nearly half of that over what is called the High Ice. While no part of the journey across the Crown is for the faint of heart, it is the ice that is the most treacherous: 1,500 miles of frozen desert. One thousand, five hundred miles!

Caravans measure cargo capacity using an amalgamation of weight and girth, approximated and simplified to a standard measurement known as the cargo unit, or just unit for short. At our most efficient, we travel just shy of 50 miles in a day and consume six units of stores in every five. But that is with scouts working alongside us, supplementing our provisions with hunted game and food foraged off the land. We don’t know how realistic that will be on the high ice, and so I have to assume our consumption will increase by half. It simply can’t be done. The math doesn’t lie: we need more provisions than we have room to carry!

Even more troubling is the weather. It is called the High Ice because it is an arctic plateau. At that altitude, the temperatures rarely rise above dangerously cold in the summer and are much worse in winter. We have been advised to wait until next year to start our journey: the season for crossing the Crown begins in early spring and lasts only a few weeks. Leave during that window, and you are on the ice now while the conditions are at their best. We are simply three months too late (or nine months too early) to set out.

At least we will have plenty of time to find a solution to our looming food problem.


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Quote:

Arodus 9, 4712

To:
Nassim Goods
Dockway District
Magnimar, Varisia

From:

Herolvur Andahlen
Kalsgard, Thanelands

Sirs,

Thank you for your timely response. Please send at your earliest convenience a final quote for the following, with shipping terms as discussed previously.


  • 2# 187-6-67 Assorted dried spices
  • 2 units 77-6-32 Wool rugs
  • 8# 191-8-30 Ivory, unworked
  • 2 units 105-4-70 Silk textile bolts, assorted red, org
  • 4 units 105-4-71 Silk textile bolts, assorted ylw, grn
  • 4 units 105-4-72 Silk textile bolts, assorted colors
  • 1 unit 105-4-73 Silk textile bolts, assorted metallic
  • 2 gal 211-4-5 Assorted fragrances
  • 8 oz 54-1-58 Rough garnets, assorted
  • 1 unit 120-2-31 Assorted textiles, patterned
  • 1 unit 104-4-1 Assorted embroidered textiles
  • 1# 249-3-1 Dye powder, red
  • 2 gal 249-7-19 Ink, black

Warm Regards,
Herolvur


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Arodus 10, 4712 (Night, Kalsgard)

We arrived in Kalsgard just as the sun was setting. The city is the largest in the Linnorm Kingdoms, and also its oldest. Its shipyards are well known throughout Avistan and have a reputation for producing some of the finest longships money can buy, almost certainly including the one sitting at the bottom of the river under the Skalsbridge. The city itself is divided into nine Quarters—a Quarter in this context meaning a district of a city and not a mathematical one-fourth of something—separated by walls that are more permeable than they appear. In contrast to the rest of the Thanelands, and pretty much all of the Linnorm Kingdoms save for the Grungir Forest, it’s also strikingly cosmopolitan with a richly diverse population. Though it’s been nearly 15 years since I was last here, it is the latter (and the shipyards) that I remember.

Kelda pointed us towards the Bone Quarter. It is the poorest district in the city but it also has the most open space, and that combination makes it an attractive place to put things that no one wants to see or deal with. Caravans, especially those from Varisia, very much fall into that category. That level of anonymity and disregard is fine with us. We are staying the night here tonight, but tomorrow some of us will find lodging in a nicer Quarter so that we can come and go without drawing unwanted attention to the caravan.

Speaking of Kelda, she has chosen to return home in the morning and won’t be continuing on with us. I am not surprised; she signed up originally to share the spoils from looting an abandoned colony, not to be an heir to a kingdom she has no connection to (not that we signed up for that, either, but we all have ties to Ameiko in some fashion). And after what has happened in just the past couple of weeks? I can’t say that I blame her.

I’ll miss having her with us, of course, but I won’t miss Etayne’s antics. So there is that to look forward to.

Arodus 11 (Mid-day, Kalsgard)

The day is barely half over and already it has been a huge mess. We are being followed, we are seeing flocks of crows everywhere we go, people are asking questions about us, and we are being harassed by street urchins paid in copper. It is unsettling and grows more so with each hour.

We secured rooms at an inn in the Amber Quarter and made arrangements to be able to call upon Kelda (and her upon us) if needed, and then split up to cover as much ground as we could. Only Ana and Etayne stayed behind, choosing to keep a close eye on the caravan in case anyone came nosing about.

Qatana and Shalelu went seeking information about the armbands. Koya wanted to explore Kalsgard and do some shopping for fabrics and other sundries, and since this represented an opportunity to look for the merchant Fynn Snaevald, Ivan and Spivey joined her both for protection and to make those inquiries. Radella and Sparna opted for the undercity, or whatever it is they called it, which was apparently accessible via tunnels along the docks. Sandru and I also set off to try and find Fynn, but coming at the problem from the other direction: the merchant guilds that may have traded with him. And, finally, Ameiko wished to learn what she could about her homeland and chose a visit the Jade Quarter, with Olmas serving as her escort. According to Kelda, the Jade Quarter is home to a rather large Tian population.

It was the latter that presented something of a problem. Ameiko does not always think things through. “Are you sure it’s wise to just wander around the city with people watching for us?” I asked her before she set out.

She chuckled. “What are you worried about? No one here knows who I am.”

“Someone arranged that ambush, and we’ve been followed by a giant raven for days. They may know quite a bit about us.”

“Well, what do you suggest?” she asked, clearly a little irritated with me. She was eager to explore the city, especially after having missed out on the action in Brinewall. There would be no talking her out of the idea, and to be honest, I wasn’t going to try and stop her, either. What she proposed actually made a great deal of sense. It’s just that we needed to be cautious about it.

“Why not borrow Radella’s ring? Then you won’t have to look like you.” With that she could alter her appearance essentially at will.

I occasionally have good ideas.

That little success was soon overshadowed by my attempt to get information from the Seven Lands Guild in the Ivory Quarter. Sandru was not happy with me. He’d never say it, of course—he’s too much of a gentleman—but I could tell. Though I looked my part and certainly knew enough about the business, I was not at all prepared for the game of pretending to be something I am not. Afterward, he gave me a quick summary of what I had done wrong.

“It’s not enough to know how to be a merchant. You have to know the part you are playing. They aren’t going to quiz you on your knowledge; they are going to ask questions about you, your business, and what you want from them. You need to anticipate those questions and have answers, and you need to engage with them confidently.

“Think about who you are, where you are from, what it is you need, why you need to speak to them, and what they can do for you. Also, try and relate that to what you really want to find out from them: in this case, how did you know Fynn, and why did it make sense for you to ask about him?

“Also, next time, don’t use your real name.”

So, just those issues, then.

Fortunately, the people in the Guild did not seem to be directly related to whoever has been keeping tabs on us, and being the exotic foreigner woman was sufficient distraction from my clumsiness. In the end, we got an offer to have some of their guards escort us to Fynn’s house. Of course, an escort is not what we needed (nor did we have a desire to meet with Fynn by ourselves), so instead we asked the guards for directions and left it at that.

On the way back to the inn, we noticed the crows. They were all over the city, of course, but while they were just scenery before, now they were flocking near us in numbers that seemed unusual. As the others straggled in over the next hour or two, they had similar observations: crows appearing in increasing numbers, lining up on rooftops to follow their progress across the city. I brought Nihali in and asked for her opinion.

“They are just crows,” she said. This was obviously not helpful.

“Are they being controlled, somehow? Is there anything unnatural about them?”

Her reply was immediate. “No. They are a normal flock of crows. The only thing that is unusual is that they are following you and your friends.” I asked her what she meant by a “flock”, and she elaborated, “Like any flock of birds. They are a social group. Nothing more.”

“Do they pay attention to you? Or make you nervous?”

“No. They ignore me.”

The crows were just the beginning. Radella and Sparna were on their way back to the inn when they happened to spot Koya in one of the markets (Koya dresses in colors so vivid she stands out even in Varisia), only she was being watched and followed by a young Tian boy. They managed to discreetly get word to Ivan and together they arranged a clever ambush to confront him. When cornered and questioned, he confessed that he had been paid to tail us, gather information about our activities, and leave his notes at a drop elsewhere in the city. He had descriptions of everyone, including Ameiko (though undisguised, so the ring would at least keep her identity safe). They followed him discreetly with hopes of catching his handler, but he or she had been alerted somehow and they came back empty-handed.

Qatana and Shalelu, meanwhile, had learned that our armbands belong to one “Asvig Longthews”, but only after spreading a lot of gold around. Why? Because almost no one wanted to talk about arm bands, lions, or Asvig himself, even after we had learned his name. They practically backed away from her.

At the caravan, Etayne learned from another Tian boy that people had been asking questions about us, and knew we had been making inquiries and dropping coins around the city to get answers. So, our attempts to gather information we’ren’t just attracting attention, they were actively alerting the people who were watching for us.

All these eyes on us, the constant spying, the mind games…it is unnerving. As a precaution, we have sent word to Kelda that we need to see her so that we can warn her. After all, they have her description, too.

At least we learned what we needed to learn. We have Asvig’s name. We know where we can find Fynn. And, as an added bonus, Ivan has a fabulously stylish new traveling outfit, courtesy of Koya (the old woman knows clothing, and Ivan was absolutely in need).

We leave for Fynn’s residence shortly. Hopefully, he will agree to see us. We could use the change in fortune.


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Arodus 11 (Late afternoon, farmlands south of Kalsgard)

Asvig’s farmhouse sits just a short distance from us. Inside, we can hear the sounds of a loud, almost raucous, celebration and feast that is just getting underway. It provided a convenient cover while we scouted the grounds and came up with our plan.

The house is surrounded by a ring of wooden posts, each one bearing a stylized lion’s head that has been etched into it. The engravings match those on the armbands, though being much larger it’s now obvious that the artist had probably never actually seen a lion before, which I suppose is hardly surprising given where we are. More interesting is the magic aura that each one radiates: a conjuration spell, almost certainly a form of summoning. Our suspicion is that whoever breaches the perimeter will find themselves face to face with one or more angry cats.

I offered that the armbands are important, but we also found markings on the road running between two of the posts on the way to the house which suggest that someone had drawn a rune of some sort in the dirt, and then hastily (and sloppily) scratched it out. Sparna thought that the rune might allow someone to pass without triggering the spell. It’s a good idea, and one that we’ll try first.

We aren’t moving in until dusk, though. The revelry ensures our advance won’t be heard, but while the sun is up we can easily be seen should someone choose to step outside for a break from the noise. It’s a chance we can’t take. Besides, the longer we wait, the less prepared the dinner guests will be for a fight. With any luck, some of them will even be drunk (and from the sounds of it, a few are well on their way there). There’s also a certain symmetry in ambushing Asvig and his men after dark.

We are not the only ones with a grievance against Asvig. He has been a busy man.

One of the few things that went right today was our meeting with Fynn. He wasn’t just home: he answered the door and invited us in. Who would have thought? I would have expected him to be more guarded, but I guess at his age you have seen a lot and if you weren’t a good judge of character then you wouldn’t still be around to avoid those mistakes. As soon as we mentioned Suishen, he took a closer look at Ameiko and then made the connection.

He remembered purchasing the sword from her grandfather—sure, it had been 60 years ago, but you don’t forget a unique event like that—and he had kept it on his mantle ever since. (Apparently he had tried to use it, himself, but it had never felt right in his hands.) Then, about two weeks ago, he came home to find his house broken into, his servants dead or dying, and Suishen stolen. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but one of his servants had said something about “paying the lion’s due” before succumbing to his injuries. We showed him one of the armbands, and suddenly we had a second connection to Asvig.

Who is Asvig? A local clan leader of sorts. Known to have a large number of henchmen, followers, guards, or hired thugs. You can take your pick from those as any or all of them seem to apply. The farm itself was supposed to be well fortified, something that we more or less have confirmed just by looking at it.

We told Fynn the story of our ambush at the Skalsbridge. He recognized the name of the boat. He said the Aril’s Hammer belongs to the Rimerunner’s Guild which is located in the Jade Quarter. So Asvig either rented it for the attack, or was hired directly and given use of it.

Traditions of the Ulfen people include that of the weregild, a value placed on people or property. If any harm comes to a member of your family or trust, or if any of your possessions are stolen, you are entitled to compensation from the transgressor. If no weregild is paid, then you may choose to seek a blood vengeance, which is a fancy way of saying that you can legally kill them. It’s a ridiculously barbaric way to resolve disputes, especially since all that is required to seek blood vengeance is to simply say that you are seeking blood vengeance and believe that you are right—though I suppose if you are later proven to be wrong, the victim’s family can always seek blood vengeance—but I digress. Fynn had not been offered a weregild, and given the enormity of the crime, he was ready to jump straight to the end, anyway.

You don’t see too many nonagenarian humans, Ulfen or otherwise, pursuing a blood vengeance, and that is where we come in. In exchange for Suishen, assuming we recover it, we are acting as Fynn’s proxies in this matter. I am still wrapping my head around it: we have the quasi-legal authority to just barge in there and execute Asvig and anyone who stands in our way. And people call Varisia a wild frontier.

Not that I am going to lose a lot of sleep over this. Some bad things have happened and Asvig seems to be in the thick of it.

I am getting worked up now just going over this all again, and that’s not even all there is. On the way to Fynn’s, we received an anonymous threat. From a blind beggar, no less! How did he know we were passing by? There are only three possibilities I could think of: someone alerted him (say, by magic), he recognized our voices, or he picked up on a scent that was unique to us. The first two I couldn’t do anything about, but the third? I wiped everyone down with the same spell I use for Qatana. Everyone.

While I was doing that, Etayne confronted him. He was paid to deliver this little warning when “someone who smelled like cabbages” walked by. So that’s number three for the win. Turns out, Etayne had spent the bulk of the morning in the Bone Quarter within a stone’s throw of a cabbage cart. I am sure we noticed the smell at one point, but it’s cabbages, so who cares, right? Gods!

And then there were the crows. They followed us out of Kalsgard on the way here and showed no signs of giving up. I had finally had enough of it and suggested that we get rid of them. How were we supposed to raid Asvig’s farm with these harbingers flying about? Qatana was more than happy to oblige. She sent out a sound burst that blew a good number of them out of the trees and onto the ground, either stunned or dead. A few arrows were enough to scatter the rest. I hated that this was the answer, but I won’t deny that it was satisfying.

It’s getting dark now. We should be moving soon.

Silver Crusade

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This is a very entertaining read thus far. The group I am playing with recently completed our own assault on Asvig's farmhouse. We are running on a much slower pace then your group though.


Thank you! And thank you for reading!

Our pace looks a little faster than it is because I am posting retroactively, though I am breaking up the journals into smaller chunks. What you have read so far covers eight monthly game sessions, each one about 7-8 hours in length. You have read through April, 2016.


Arodus 12, 4712 (small hours, Kalsgard)

It has been a long night and I do not see an end to it any time soon. In a few hours we meet Uksahkka at Spear-shaker’s Point for, of all things, kayak lessons (and in the dark, I might add). Dad would be proud. Or, perhaps instead, he’d lecture me for resisting his attempts to teach me anything involving paddles or sails years ago (as much as I enjoyed being a passenger on boats and ships of all sizes, I never had any interest in piloting them). He even told me once that “One day you will regret not having learned”. And here we are.

The definition of adulthood is realizing your parents were right about everything.

Suishen was not at Asvig’s farmhouse, and any hope of this coming to a quick conclusion has evaporated. Our only lead now is that it may be sitting on Snorri Stone-Eye’s funeral ship, scheduled to burn during his wake at dawn. I missed the interrogation of Helva and Asvig—I was more concerned with who had escaped from the hall at the time—but Helva suggested this possibility to us.

Snorri was Asvig’s Lord, or ring-giver as they are called here, and Snorri was even more closely tied to some shady dealings and this Rimerunners guild than Asvig, himself. Asvig, it seems, was just the go-to man for anything needing done that was not strictly legal (or even remotely so in some cases, I suspect) so that others would not be directly involved. Putting that sword on his lord’s funeral ship in tribute would accomplish two things at once: getting rid of it for good, and honoring the late Snorri, himself.

Except for the part where it just doesn’t make any sense.

Neither does the idea that Ulf might be imprisoned on that ship, too. At first it seemed like a real possibility, but now that I have had time to think on it, what would be the point? Asvig didn’t seem the type to play stupid games like this, especially when simply killing the man on the spot would get the job done and with a great deal more certainty. And just how hard would it be to make a body disappear in the Thanelands? We sent forty men to the bottom of the river with barely a trace, and we’ve had less practice at it. Asvig may have been a lot of things, but nothing we’ve seen suggested that he was incompetent or a fool. His only mistake seems to have been underestimating us, and to be fair, even then he was working on no information save for the fact that we existed.

So I am skeptical that we will find anything on this funeral ship save for Snorri Stone-Eye’s corpse, but it’s the only lead we have. Especially since Ulf wasn’t at Asvig’s farm, either—not that we knew to look for him at the time, but it was obvious there were no prisoners being held there—which just puts a capstone on this perfect day.

And the raid had started so well. With the death celebration (who are these people?) well under way we probably could have set the yard on fire without being spotted, so we had plenty of time to do this right. At the posts that surrounded the house, several of us put our heads together and reconstructed the rune that bypassed the summoning trap, then we quietly moved to the rear entrance and got into position.

That’s when we heard the muffled protests of one or two women, and the much louder, drunker, lecherous advances of some of the party-goers, through the door. Etayne, Radella, Qatana…they all tried to rush that door at the same time (I wanted to be right there with them, too) and within seconds we had burst through it and pounded the three accosters. They didn’t even have time to cry for help. Or beg for their lives.

After checking on the startled and frightened serving girls, we asked them about the layout of the house and where we would find Asvig. One of them actually asked us, “Are we being raided?” her eyes going wide with panic. No, dear, it’s not a raid. We’re just here to kill everyone. Gods.

There were over a dozen of Asvig’s henchmen in the main hall, and the battle there was short but bloody. We had timed this right, though, and benefited both from the chaos spread by our spells and their half-drunken stupor. Ivan and I threw back-to-back confusion into the room with a cloud of fog and a burst of glittering dust, and then our fighters charged in and did what they do. A few seconds later, I could hear the faint sounds of doors opening in the back of the hall where startled revelers were either escaping or trying to circle around behind us to counter attack. I summoned a wolf—the choice seemed appropriate for the setting—just outside the back entrance and he took off running almost immediately.

I took that as a cue that it was time to shut the door. And bar it.

In the main hall, it sounded like Sparna and Qatana had subdued the Longthews and forced an end to the fight, so I ran to the far end under the cover of invisibility—I hadn’t been seen yet and felt it was best that this remain the case—to look out the front door for any sign of the fugitives. That’s when I heard the sounds of lions roaring, and the screams of more men outside. So a few had gotten away, or at least tried to. I called for Olmas in Elvish, and used a spell and the pearl to conjure two horses for us to ride.

“We need to find anyone who escaped, and make sure they don’t reach the others who are approaching from down the road,” I said as he came up to the doorway.

After the initial confusion of holding a conversation with an invisible Vudrani woman speaking in Elvish from behind a horse that wasn’t there when we arrived finally wore off, Olmas mounted up and we rode around back to look for survivors. This was a bad idea. The survivors were two very angry lions, and they were staring right at us.

“Let’s go!” I called to Olmas, and quickly turned my mount around and fled to the front of the house. Olmas got the message and was right behind me. The lions, of course, bounded after us.

“Between the posts on the road, where we etched the rune!” I didn’t wait for his response, I just took my horse to a full run and bolted through. Fortunately, he had gotten the message..

The lions stopped just a few feet beyond the perimeter. I was hoping for that, but what if it hadn’t worked out? Olmas had the same thought and asked me what my backup plan had been. “To continue down the road and run them into the approaching party. And let them deal with the lions.”

Sometimes I have good ideas. I was almost disappointed that we didn’t get to try it out. Almost.

Nihali came to me then. I asked if she had seen anyone escape from the house. She had, “But they were mauled by leopards.” Leopards? That’s when I noticed something odd about the lions prowling around the wooden posts: they had spots. That explained why the lion figures on the armbands, and on the ones on the wooden posts, and even the summoned lions themselves didn’t look so much like lions; that isn’t quite what they were. (Note to self: ask Etayne about this later.)

If anyone made it off the property they didn’t go down the main path or stay on it. We rode a bit, just off to the side in the grass where our horses’ hooves weren’t as loud, until we were almost too close to the approaching group to safely stay out of sight. Not having found anyone, we headed back to the house—the lions or leopards or whatever they were had now vanished—and ran into our friends on their way out.

Hiding from the approaching revelers was easy as they were already drunk or well on their way to it. From the bits of conversation that we could hear they were going for the free food and spirits, not because they had any love for Snorri Stone-Eye. They were in for a number of surprises, not the least of which was the recent change in management.

Apparently, Asvig died while being questioned, suddenly and spontaneously, by choking on his own blood. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. Etayne and Qatana saw it happen and said it looked like some sort of geas, but not one that they had ever seen or heard of. Want proof that Asvig was mixed up with some very, very bad people? There it is.

Which is, I think, part of why Helva was willing to accept a detente. She knew Asvig was guilty. She knew Fynn had been wronged and that his claim of blood vengeance was valid. What she didn’t know was exactly deep the hole was. She didn’t have to like what happened to her husband, but we had exposed something very ugly about him that she hadn’t known and it certainly gave her pause. She clearly wanted to rebuild their little fiefdom with far fewer surprises; one where she would be making the decisions. More power to her, I guess. In a strange way, I am happy for her.

If she is true to her word, there will be no retributions against us or Fynn, on one condition: that we never come around these parts again. It sounds like a ridiculous cliche written out like that, but it really was her only demand. Fair enough. In due time we won’t even be on this continent. It won’t be a difficult promise to keep.

And for our part? We had made good on Fynn’s request as his proxies, gruesome as it was, but there was no sword (and no Ulf). At least I didn’t have to walk back to Kalsgard.

I won’t have to walk to Spear-shaker’s Point, either.


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Arodus 12 (dawn, Rimeflow River)

Either we have been set up, or Uksahkka is being watched. Someone knew we would board that funeral ship before it lit, and they obviously wanted us to be on it as it burned.

Aside from Etayne’s kayak capsizing—Ling did not seem too thrilled with this development—getting over to and onto the ship was relatively easy. It was getting off shore that proved more interesting: we had just gotten our gear packed up when an enormous crab came looking for its next meal. It took us all by surprise, but we recovered quickly and brought it down. Afterwards, I believe Qatana actually suggested that we cook it and have it for dinner. She was being completely serious.

We intercepted the ship just as it drifted past Spear-shaker’s Point and tied up our kayaks on both her port and starboard sides. The funeral ship itself was a longboat that had been converted into a barge. A deck had been built over the rowing benches, forming a cramped hold along the hull underneath. The funeral pyre and coals that served as a timer was up top. We threw the latter into the sea to prevent any accidents and then got to work.

It is no surprise that the raiders arrived within minutes of us. There was a narrow window in which we could pull this off, and there were only so many points along the river from which one could launch to reach the ship before the pyre was lit. That meant they knew where we would be and when, and the ninjas they sent after us only had to worry about being seen. Unfortunately for them, all that has happened today had instilled a healthy dose of paranoia in the group and we had a couple of us plus Nihali scanning the water for exactly this sort of interruption. Despite the foggy twilight, Olmas sighted the approaching canoes. Relative to us, they were running about 5 knots roughly 100 fathoms off the port stern. We had nearly a full minute to prepare for their arrival.

Down below, the other half of us had discovered that Snorri Stone-Eye had not died a peaceful death. His rotting, undead, and all-too-mobile corpse was chained up in the hold, smelling of decaying marine life. He had succumbed to some supernatural disease, perhaps a form of zombie rot or ghoul fever, and it seems his friends and family had gone to great lengths to keep this development a secret. On the funeral pyre, they maintained the illusion by covering a wooden manikin with a shroud.

What our friends didn’t find was any sign of Suishen or Ulf. Surprise. They emerged from the hold with the bad news just as the canoes were coming into range of spells and arrows.

We had two nasty surprises in place for the would-be boarders. The first was the downpour of rocks and dirt that had served me well just a few days earlier (it was all I had that could reach from this distance). The second was Nihali, who enthusiastically agreed to try dropping a vial of alchemist’s fire on one of the approaching vessels. Turns out, she has pretty good aim. I could feel her excitement as the boat caught fire.

Only one of the attackers made it to within arm’s reach of the ship, and that’s where he died.

While Suishen and Ulf weren’t on board, the morning was not a total loss. Snorri must have been well loved as he had a rather large pile of treasure to see him off to his afterlife.  We took a more practical viewpoint and figured he wouldn’t be needing it where he was going. We helped ourselves to a rather generous serving and stuffed it in the bag Sparna has been carrying. I estimated a haul of several thousand gold in coins, jewelry, and artwork on top of what they had already looted earlier.

I also learned something interesting about Ivan. Before Uksahkka left, she gave him a small clay token and said to present it at the shrine of Shelyn in the Fire Quarter when we were ready to make contact with her again. Naturally, the mention of my goddess caught my attention, and when I looked at the token I saw the unmistakable image of a songbird on one face.

“Ivan, would you mind if I held on to that?” I asked.

“Why?”

“Because it has a holy symbol on it. That songbird is the symbol of Shelyn.”

“You mean this?”

And he pulled back his tunic to reveal a tattoo of a songbird on his shoulder blade.

“I didn’t know what this meant.”

I think everyone was shocked, but none more so than I. We shared a kayak on the way out to the funeral ship, and I told him as much about her as I could in the time that we had.

One kayak over, I could hear Qatana doing the same with Olmas, only of course she was spreading the word of Groetus. She was really giving him the hard sell. It was all I could do to keep from laughing.


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Just stumbled on this really late at night, so marking for interest.


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Arodus 12, 4712 (evening)

This is the second time in my life that I’ve watched someone destroy a shrine to Shelyn.

I was barely 12 years old when the Cathedral in Sandpoint burned to the ground. My bedroom faced the cluster of chapels and I remember being woken in the middle of the night by the glow of the flames and shadows flickering on the walls. I just sat there in bed, paralyzed with equal parts fascination and fear, watching as the fire spread and engulfed the entire complex. It was maybe a hundred feet away, but I could feel the heat of it through the open window. Then dad burst into my room and pulled me out.

The rest is a jumble of memories, but I do recall quite vividly the stables catching fire, followed by the White Deer. The flames encircled the homes along our block, raining hot embers into the sea as it spread. Dad said it was pure luck that so few buildings burned (and that our house was one of those spared), though I supposed those more directly impacted, like Ana, would have a different opinion.

At the time, the entire town thought it some terrible accident. Years later we learned the truth, and it was far uglier than most could imagine.

Spoilers for Rise of the Runelords:
Nualia was consumed by hatred. Hatred for a father that presumed to choose her life for her, and believed that years of emotional abuse somehow qualified as parenting. Hatred for a town that simultaneously deified and vilified her (I still remember the words she spoke to me on the cliffs that evening). Hatred for a lover that abandoned her. Hatred for even her celestial ancestry. That sort of hate does terrible things to a person, and it was a crack that Lamashtu exploited. Nualia was far from blameless, of course. It’s just that all this history made Lamashtu’s job easier.

You can at least look at that fire—at Father Tobyn’s murder, for that’s what it really was about—and trace it back to her anger, no matter how distorted or misguided her thinking had become.


This business in Kalsgard, though, was just a callous decision of convenience. What was the best way to slow us down, and preoccupy Uksahkka’s protectors? Destroy the shrine that sheltered her, of course. What a fine distraction.

It was also very personal. A child of twelve isn’t a devote follower of anyone (and regardless, back then I was still struggling with the teachings of Irori); today was much different. This really hurt.

Two enormous earth elementals stood in the rubble and were pounding on what remained of the temple. I didn’t even stop to think: I just acted. Before the others could move, I had conjured a ball of water ten feet across and engulfed the nearest of the two. While my friends moved in to attack the second, I rolled the ball with it’s prize out into the street and as far away from the shrine as the spell would allow.

I heard a strange bird call and saw the remaining earth elemental turn its attention to us, abandoning its demolition. Radella pointed out that the large raven with the red feathers was there, and that it dissolved into smoke before her eyes (but not before she put an arrow into it). Etayne and I exchanged a silent conversation, and then we both said “druid” at the same time.

Soon after, I saw the priest, Lin-Po, lying in the street, unconscious. I summoned a lantern archon to assist, first to aid him, and then to help us with the fight. These earth elementals were big, much bigger than what I could summon with my relatively-meager spells, and the one that engaged us absorbed tremendous punishment while dealing out the same. It took nearly all of us to bring it down. A thought occurred to me then: What if I hadn’t been able to stop the first one? What if we had to fight both at the same time? It makes me shudder thinking about it, but fortunately we didn’t have to find out.

We barely had to do anything with the second. The summons that was keeping it here expired shortly after my own spell did. Good enough. The point was to save Yin-Po and what was left of Shelyn’s shrine, not to have some epic battle to the death in the streets of Kalsgard. Besides, none of us wanted to be here long enough to face questions from the city guard. Yes, everyone here seems to walk around armed to the teeth (even the foreigners), and there were plenty of witnesses that could establish that we were helping, but after last night’s mischief I was not excited by the prospect of city officials probing into our affairs.

I guess I wasn’t shocked when Uksahkka turned up missing. Remember that part about destroying Shelyn’s shrine as a convenient distraction? The door to the cellar that served as her safe house had been forced open. Inside, Radella found a dart laced with poison and a black feather much like the ones we saw all over Brinewall. Much like the ones from Kikonu. We had a brief exchange about this with Yin-Po and he suggested we may be dealing with something called a Yamabushi Tengu. They are a type of Oni; apparently the Tian demons take many forms, much as they do here. What that told me was that we have some research to do. All we’re missing is the time to do it.

I guess we hadn’t experienced enough surprises for one day, because the helmet we looted from the funeral ship chose that moment to reveal it’s true nature to us: an angel named Helgarval, in the form of a winged helmet, because, sure, why not? He described himself as a servant of Desna, sent here as a familiar for a master that has long since passed on. Stuck on the material plane with no way to go home, he was simply “doing good where he can”.

It’s not often that surprises go our way, so this one was a welcome change. He had snuck on to Snorri Stone-Eye’s funeral ship as part of his own investigation into something called the Frozen Shadows, a criminal organization that has been gradually infiltrating Kalsgard over the last few years. Apparently they have a reputation for carrying out almost supernatural assassinations—which to me just says that they use magic to get away with it, and are good at telling stories—and the late Snorri was up to his stone eye with them. And the Rimerunners Guild? They are almost certainly a front. A well-connected front, with ties possibly as high as the Linnorm King for the Thanelands. Which is more or less a hint that we should be careful.

I’ll be honest here: I almost wasn’t.

Qatana and I loitered just up the block from the Rimerunners Guild building, located in the Jade Quarter along the riverfront, as Radella and Ivan broke in under the cover of invisibility. It was a long, long wait, and I kept thinking of ideas that could help distract the guards inside should something go awry. The longer I waited, the more aggressive my planning became, morphing from a distraction in case of trouble to just a way to wreck part of the building for good measure. At the top of the list was earth elementals since that seemed like poetic justice. Though mine would be considerably smaller and weaker than what we faced earlier, two or three of them could still make fast work of the masonry. Another idea was letting air elementals inside to play whirlwind, just to mess up the place. And the list went on.

See what I mean? I was letting what happened at Shelyn’s temple get the better of me, and the waiting and doing nothing was not helping.

Then Uksahkka emerged from the rear entrance and I came to my senses. As we suspected, she had been shot with a poison dart to render her unconscious and then kidnapped. She woke up shackled in chains in a locked room in the Rimmerunners Guild. Ivan and Radella had tended to her and engineered her escape without being detected, which is part of why their little foray was taking so long. I had Nihali send word to the others that we would be delayed. (As it turns out, they were dealing with their own problems: someone had implicated us in the poisoning death of a hunting dog, and that led to a very drunken confrontation with the dog’s owner in the pub where they were waiting for us. I got the short version of that story, and it was enough to convince me that the less I know about it, the better.)

Some time later, Radella and Ivan made their exit and in their hands was an impossible prize: the complete contents of the Rimerunners Guild’s secret vault. All of it liberated without raising a single guard’s suspicion that anyone had even entered the building, much less spent an hour inside looting it. I was, and still am, stunned. I’ll admit that the bouillon is nice (I like to think of it as partial compensation for the grief these people have caused us) but the real treasure was a ledger and other business documents detailing a number of sketchy affairs. Combined with what Uksahkka overheard while being prisoner, Helgarval’s own investigations, and what we have learned ourselves, we were able to form a fairly complete picture of the Frozen Shadows’ dealings in and around Kalsgard, as well as confirm most of our suspicions.

We are now looking for a place named Ravenscrag. It’s a castle or keep of some sort, purchased from Snorri Stone-Eye three years ago, presumably while he was still living. The ledger details very large sums of money being transferred to Ravenscrag on an ongoing basis , marked as “development expenses”. Kelda volunteered to discreetly dig around for information on Ravenscrag (we warned her to be careful, though I think she has figured that out already) which should help since she knows the city and we don’t.

I am tired. It took hours to comb through those documents, even with Radella’s help. But I am writing because I can’t sleep. My thoughts keep returning to the shrine today. Was there something we could have done to prevent it?

I think there was. We deliberately took time to rest. We could have gone there directly after leaving the ship but we were tired. Very, very tired. I understand the argument, and I didn’t disagree with it, but still…would that attack have happened if we had been there hours earlier? Even minutes earlier?

Part of me says that it wouldn’t have made a difference. Maybe they didn’t know where Uksahkka was and they were following us (though that wouldn’t make me feel any better, as it would mean that we led them to her). Maybe they were going to raid the shrine anyway, and we just happened to have good timing (though not good enough). Or maybe they were just keeping an eye on her, and were forced to move because we did.

Those are all logical arguments, but they may also just be rationalizations. It’s hard to shake the feeling that we screwed up.

†This was me spending a hero point.


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Arodus 13, 4712 (evening)

No one tried to kill us today.

The morning did not start particularly well. On our first full day in Kalsgard, Etayne spent most of her time in the Bone Quarter, keeping an eye on the caravan while also providing her services to the community. One of the people she befriended was a young Tian boy who she eventually learned was paid to spy on us. She offered him some money to try to find out who it was that was doing the asking, but he never returned. I made an offhand remark that night that our clumsy probing around had probably gotten him killed.

It turns out I was prescient. His body was found lying in the street by the river in the Jade Quarter, just after sunrise. Someone had cut his throat.

On a lighter note, Kelda returned with some solid information on Ravenscrag. It is located in the cliffs bordering the Grungir Forest, a days ride south of Kalsgard. It’s named Ravenscrag because “only the ravens and crazy people can get to it”. I suggested we head there for some surveillance by air—specifically, by raven, which seemed apropos—but we all agreed to take a day to prepare first. We’ve been going too long without any breaks.

This meant I got to spend some time with Ameiko, which we hadn’t had much of together since Losthome. We borrowed Radella’s ring so she could move about the city without being an obvious target (which was weird because it was almost like sharing intimate details of your life with a complete stranger) and spent the day shopping with Koya for everything from art paper to clothing to some magic gear. Clothes shopping with Koya is a whole experience. Just ask Ivan.

We made three stops on the way back. The first was at a wizard academy so I could pick up a new spell we might need. The second was at what remained of the Shrine of Shelyn where the rebuilding effort was already underway. Yin-Po was pleased to hear that we had found Uksahkka more or less unharmed and freed her from her captors, but less so to learn that the Rimerunners Guild was where she was being held. I suggested he not make this detail known.

The third stop was at the inn where we were supposedly still staying, despite having spent the last two nights with the caravan. I should have quit while we were ahead. Despite the lousy start, the day was actually going quite well but I ruined it by insisting that we check on the rooms. To make sure the innkeeper hadn’t, say, assumed we had abandoned them and decided to sell off our stuff. Sometime in the last 24 hours, an estimation based on when the rooms were last cleaned, intruders had forced their way in to each one of them and searched them front to back, leaving a huge mess in their wake. Fortunately, none of us were stupid enough to leave anything valuable in them so it was basically just our clothes that got tossed, but still. It soured my mood.

With the money raised by liquidating Snorri’s funerary treasure, I and three others were able to purchase rings that magically sustain their wearers with only minimal sleep, and without the need for food. It will take a week for them to attune, but once they do they will be a boon for our pending trip over the Crown by reducing the number of provisions we’ll need to take with us. I am also learning to craft magic items of my own, and this will allow me to work at night, essentially giving me more hours in the day.

Speaking of food, even with the rings we were still short of our goal. Then Ivan suggested “Why not have multiple cooks?”

It was such an obvious idea that I can’t believe I had overlooked it.


Quote:


Arodus 14, 4712

To:
Danea Nassim
c/o Nassim Goods
Dockway District
Magnimar, Varisia

From:
Ingvina Gjertsen
Kalsgard, Thanelands

Danea,

We can’t figure this one out. Then I remembered your research on Torandey and thought you could help? Let me know if you get anywhere with it.

0 9 7 2 0 3 2
___________
1 0 1 4 0 0 3
2 9 0 6 0 1 9
1 3 4 1 0 0 6
2 3 2 7 0 0 2
1 5 1 7 0 2 5
0 2 1 6 1 0 1
0 8 7 6 0 5 4
0 7 7 5 0 3 3
1 0 0 3 0 2 6
0 7 1 2 0 2 4
0 5 9 4 0 2 6
0 7 6 1 0 2 7

Best wishes,
Ingvina


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Arodus 14, 4712 (dawn, Kalsgard)

We camped last
night at the caravan. This just seemed like a wise idea given what had happened at the inn. Of course I did not expect this to fool anyone, but the point was not to hide: it was to keep together as a group for our collective safety. Ameiko has, wisely, been sleeping in the covered wagon in order to stay out of sight. While not exactly spacious, there is room in there for as many as three to lay down comfortably so she and I have been sharing the space.

Given how much closer we’ve grown over the past couple of weeks—it almost feels like it did when we were growing up—you’d think we’d be awake until some ridiculous hour talking, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In all honesty, I am a lousy roommate and have been for some weeks. I am exhausted most evenings, and what time I do have before falling sleep is spent on research, study, or (like last night) copying spells from scrolls. Fortunately, she’s also been buried in books and maps on Tian-Xia and Minkai, and she knows we’re extending ourselves—overextending, really—for her, but it still feels like I am ignoring her.

In case we needed a reminder of what we have gotten into, one arrived last night around two o’clock in the morning, just as our watch was changing. Both Ameiko and I would have slept through it had Sparna not awoken us. Someone sent an arrow laced with poison into the side of the wagon where we were sleeping. We were lucky that it hit the frame instead of piercing the canvas. Or perhaps they were intending to send a message rather than trying to hit one of us (though that would not make a lot of sense). Whatever the reason, they spent a small fortune on the delivery. Etayne said it was coated with deathblade, a poison which is notorious for both it’s lethality and it’s expense. This admonition cost them nearly two thousand gold.

Admonition? Attached to it was a note, written in Tien.

It was foolish of you to wake a sleeping dragon. Return what was stolen. Abandon your hopeless quest now or you and your friends will be destroyed.
Ameiko looked lost in thought, staring blankly into the darkness after reading the note for herself. This was her life, her family, and her heritage so it seemed appropriate, if not prudent, to ask her opinion.

“I didn’t expect this journey to go unopposed. This is…grim, but not unexpected.”

These Frozen Shadows? We have rattled them. Yes, they started big that night at the Skalsbridge, but now they’ve been reduced to paying blind beggars to deliver spooky messages in alleyways, and sending warnings attached to arrows coated with exotic poison, all to convince us how scary and powerful they are. Because we have gotten close to them; hit them somewhere very personal. They are trying to bully us because they don’t know what else to do.

I dealt with bullies for much of my life, and they are all the same. They talk a lot, they intimidate and posture, they threaten, and occasionally they bloody your nose. But mostly? They posture and threaten. It’s how they make themselves feel better, and how they build their power base, convincing those around them how terrible and frightening they are. But really, they are just insecure and scared.

The people you really have to worry about? They don’t send messages. They don’t warn you in the middle of the night. They don’t play the game of appearances. They simply act, and that’s precisely how we’ll respond to this affront.

I spent some time this morning drafting a short letter to mom and dad. I promised them I would write, and that I would not hide the truth from them when I did. This has been far more difficult than I imagined. Over a decade of experience-turned-instinct screams at me to not say anything about what has happened in the past week, or what we are about to do, because no good ever came of it when I was a child. Things were better when they didn’t know.

Mom and grandma fought a lot back in those days (dad’s relationship with dadi and dada has never been strained to my knowledge, for whatever that is worth). They’d probably fight even more now if they saw each other as often as they did when I was growing up. It was years before I finally understood why, but now I know that, deep down, grandma does not approve of how mom chose to live her life. She wanted mom to be the scholar, the noble, the aristocrat, the what-have-you in the gilded city of her birth. Mom threw away a life that had been carefully crafted for her along with her savings to, of all things, work. And touch the world with her own hands.

Maybe part of my fear about sending this letter is that mom (and dad) won’t approve of my life. That I, too, am throwing away everything that was carefully laid out for me, only I am upping the ante by making the risk to my life a literal one. I am worried I am destined to quarrel with my mom the way she does with hers. I’ve seen my parents twice since this all began, and the first of those led to an ugly fight over concerns about the exact sort of thing that is happening right now. It does not bode well. But I promised I would tell them, and for better or for worse I will see it through.


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Arodus 14, 4712 (noon, Thanelands, south of Kalsgard)

The road we
are following isn’t so much of a road at this point as it is a lightly-traveled dirt path. Wagon tracks and hoof prints are our guides.

It was here, about half way to Ravenscraeg where the path ran through a bog, that we apparently missed a turn. As we passed one of the stagnant ponds, a pair of slimy pseudopods shot out at us from the water’s edge and struck at Etayne and Ivan on their horses.

This skirmish would have been unremarkable except for what it was that we were fighting: giant, amorphous blobs, yellow-brown in color, that oozed and flowed as they advanced, and burned flesh like acid. Attempts to harm them with edged and pointed weapons merely split them in two, each half functioning as an independent, albeit smaller, blob.

According to Etayne they are called ochre jellies, a name that is as literal and descriptive as it is unoriginal.

The bog seems an appropriate home for them. Bogs are stagnant wetlands, with pools filled by rainfall over peat-layered soil. Very little grows in them save for the trees, moss, and fungus. Like a swamp, only without a source of running water. And in contrast to a marsh, which is a swamp only with grass instead of trees.

Bogs, marshes, swamps. We’ve spent far too much time in wetlands.

We have another five or six hours ahead of us.

(evening, Thanelands, Near the Grungir Forest)

The crags from which Ravenscraeg gets its name are a line of cliffs among the rocky hills that form the border between the southern edge of the Thanelands and the Grungir Forest beyond. The hills, and the sheared northern faces of the crags, rise and fall along their length. We can see the small fortress nestled in a fissure where two neighboring cliffs meet, sitting slightly lower than the surrounding rock but still a good hundred-plus feet straight up. A series of wooden stairs form switchbacks with landings, climbing to meet what we assume is the main entrance.

We are not going that way because we are not idiots. Half of our cache of scrolls will allow us to literally walk up the vertical rocks as easily as spiders climbs walls and walk on ceilings. We’ll have thirty minutes to make the ascent to one of the neighboring cliffs and then drop down into the dell which Nihali tells us lays just behind the structure. This is more than enough time, even with delays. We’ll go after dark, when the quarter moon has disappeared behind the ridge to the southwest, because we also don’t want to be seen. This is where the second half of our cache of scrolls comes into play: the spells on them will allow us to see in the dark.

One more thing. Nihali also said the hills and trees behind them are filled with ravens and crows. Hundreds upon hundreds of them. Dozens of them are roosting on the fortress’s tower.

If there was any question before about this being the right place, there isn’t any longer.


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(night, Ravenscraeg)

We made it inside an upper-level window of sorts without being detected. This late at night the great hall we found ourselves in was unoccupied, and we were able to slowly and quietly work our way around. Right now, I am sitting in one of the store rooms, hurriedly taking notes as the others explore.

This store room contains an enormous quantity of raw wool, furs, cloaks, and other cold weather clothing. Tucked away in a chest among them was a stack of scrolls written in Skald. Sparna looked them over briefly and said they appeared to be diaries. He was about to put them away when I stopped him.

“Can I see those?”

“Why? They’re diaries.”

“This place was once owned by Snorri Stone-Eye. They may be important.”

“We don’t have time for this right now.”

I hate these arguments. I understand that there is a time and a place for research, and that the middle of a break-in is generally neither, but they may have information we need about where we are at this moment. Thankfully, Sparna relented on the condition that they continue to explore while I stay here and read.

Fine. Whatever. Just go.

It turns out I was right. Snorri stashed something of value—something that would help protect him “against the coming winter” (had he lived)—in one of the upstairs flues. Now we know to look for it.

This is the abridged version of Snorri Stone-Eye’s final years: He believed his stone eye gave him the sight to see the past and future (it’s a magical stone, all right, but all it really does is protect the possessor from the physical effects of aging, though it doesn’t protect them from aging itself). He became obsessed with prophecies of the end of the world, and he believed that “in the winter of the world, the gods will come down to fight, and the rough beast will be released”. These prophecies of the end times and Rovagug were enough to push him over the edge from sanity, and he was already close to the edge as it was. The diaries end with his last voyage across the sea to find an artifact that would help him survive the end of the world. What he found instead, as we learned from personal experience, was an affliction that would slowly turn him into a draugr.

(midnight, Ravenscraeg)

I don’t have much time because we’ve been discovered. We fought with and killed a lycanthrope in his quarters, but not before he shouted an alarm that has alerted everyone here to our presence.

Two raven swarms descended on us as we headed back to the great hall but we quickly dispersed them. I summoned three, small air elementals and sent them up to the roof to scatter the rest of the birds but I was not specific about how to get there, and they (logically, I suppose) chose the stairs to the tower. That’s when we heard a huge ruckus on the floor above us. It turned out that the air elementals were not terribly discriminating about what constituted a “raven”: they were harassing six tengu guards when we came up the stairs.

The tengu were tough and well-trained. Olmas nearly died from a poison dart; deathblade again. Each of them carried it. One nearly struck me.

We found what we believe to be the nest for the bloodfeather raven. I don’t know if it will come back here, but just in case it does we left a nasty surprise for it: one of the deathblade-coated darts, hidden in the nest with the point sticking out. It’s a long shot, but it would be poetic justice.


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Arodus 15, 4712 (Ravenscraeg, early morning)

We spent the night holed up in one of the storage rooms. Or rather, in the extra-dimensional space created by destroying the eggshells. It was awkward setting them off among the shelves of wool, cloaks, and furs, but they only last a couple of hours each and we had to make do without being seen. That meant using an unlikely hiding place. I am told the guards here did at least think to look in the closet in the middle of the night, but it was apparently not an exhaustive search as the watches were otherwise uneventful. Either that, or they figured we’ll come out eventually so why bother? I am betting on the latter.

I was hoping our clandestine raid would stay clandestine a little longer than it did, but it seems our luck ran out rather quickly. At least we made it up the cliffs and inside undetected: that part of the plan went pretty well. What frustrates me is that we spent all that time preparing to get here, and none for what we would encounter once we arrived. I mean, it should have been obvious that we’d go up against poisoned weapons given how many of the damned things have been tossed around by these people—including the one the night before last—and yet here we are without a single defense against it, magical or mundane. Olmas nearly died because of it. This overnight stay will fix that, but the ultimate consequence of it is that we have lost whatever momentum we had. These people probably have a pretty good idea of what we are capable of, and now we have given them the time to prepare. It’s going to be a hard day.

I had a difficult time sleeping so I spent more time going over Snorri Stone-Eye’s diaries. He was known for his tremendously successful raids on settlements and colonies throughout the Steaming Sea, including within rival Linnorm Kingdoms and the occasional visit to northern Varisia, but it was the brutality of the same which would earn him the nickname “The Mad Reaver”. This proved to be somewhat prophetic in a different sense, as over the last several years he grew more and more obsessed with predictions of the end times. He wrote of a final battle between the gods and the freeing of Rovagug which would result in the ravaging of the world. His later entries are not so much diaries as they are the ravings of a madman in the grips of paranoia.

The gradual shift from rationality to mania happened slowly but it is clearly visible when read in one sitting. He really did believe his false eye turned him into some sort of seer with visions of the future. His last journey, the one where he apparently contracted his illness, was to a cluster of unnamed islands in the Steaming Sea. He was searching for something—he doesn’t say what—that would protect his fortress during the coming war, and that is where the diary ends.

I am not sympathetic to what happened to him. He was a thug who lined his pockets, and those of his backers, with coin and treasure taken from those slain by his own hand. Their only crimes were existing and possessing items of value. The man was a vile lunatic, and before that, just vile. He earned his fate.


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(Ravenscraeg, mid morning)

They were waiting for us in the balcony when we emerged from the storage room and ambushed us as we made our way towards the tower. It goes without saying that they are good at hiding in the shadows, but amazingly we walked past two of them without even knowing they were there. Not one of us spotted them. It’s unsettling.

Did they know where we were? Or did they just guess that we were hiding somewhere on the upper levels? I suppose it would have been fairly easy to work out a likely where and when. They know where we had been and where we hadn’t, and probably worked out how we got in. We need so much rest, enough time to prepare spells, and so on. What this suggests is that we are easily predicted.

As impressive as the ambush was, the fight did not last long. As usual, it was brute force and magic, particularly healing, that made the difference. Few can stand up to Radella, Ana, Sparna, and Olmas face-to-face, and when Qatana, Etayne, or Ivan can tend to their injuries they are just short of implacable. When our adversaries called for reinforcements, I added to our own numbers by summoning a leopard from the Celestial realms. You would not think one large cat would have an impact but they are fearsome animals when they have the room to move. They charge their foe, leap onto them and attack with their teeth and all of their claws, all at once. It did this twice, and both victims fell in an instant.

I left a paper flower on one of the bodies, with a blessing to Shelyn and a message to those who would find it: it is not too late to abandon this place and this path. Life is a precious gift, and it should not be squandered by visiting hate and misery upon others.

Look, I am not naive. The main level appears to be mostly barracks and guard rooms, and the Tian ninjas had erected a shrine of sorts in theirs; a shrine to Yaezhing, the Minister of Blood, god of harsh justice, murder, and punishment. His followers are not going to suddenly grow a conscience. But I am compelled to reach out.


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(Ravenscraeg, late morning)

A couple of days ago we had this discussion about whether or not the Rimerunners Guild was a legitimate business or just a front for the Frozen Shadows. Obviously, the guild has been around for far longer so they didn’t start out that way, but what about now? Could we consider the two organizations to be one in the same today?

It seems we can more or less put that question to rest. Meet Lute Haggersly: Ulfen merchant, elected member of the Rimerunners Guild board of shareholders, and prisoner of the Frozen Shadows. If Lute is to be believed—and again if this is some sort of ruse it is ridiculously elaborate—he committed the offense of refusing to support one of Silverskorr’s motions or proposals before the Board. When he would not be swayed by her arguments, she turned to bullying and threats. When he failed to acquiesce, she followed through by imprisoning him here. I am not an expert on the inner workings of either publicly held companies or criminal organizations, but I will venture a guess that most of the former do not routinely imprison dissenters and most of the latter do not outsource their governance. The rank and file of the guild may not realize it, but it is clear that they are now little more than a veneer of legitimacy over, and a source of funding for, something much uglier.

If that weren’t enough, he offered a rather jaw-dropping piece of news: this organization seems to be run by a purple ogre—purple—and he insists that the ogre is, in fact, Silverskorr. It sounded ridiculous at the time and his evidence was thin, based solely on having heard Silverskorr’s voice right before seeing the ogre enter his cell to taunt and threaten him, but then we stopped to think about it. Ogre mages have a place in Avistani legends, and in those stories they don’t seem to have a set description or appearance. Each story seems to describe them differently. Maybe there’s a reason for that, and purple skin would very much fit in with it.

And what about the oni? Maybe, like Kikonu, an ogre mage is a kind of oni, much like there are many forms of devils and demons. Kikonu could change his appearance and become almost human. Would it be so hard to believe that Silverskorr can change her shape, too? Assume the form of a human woman? And why stop there? If the ogre mage can change it’s shape, then maybe this isn’t even the “real” Silverskorr. Maybe the Silverskorr everyone knows is an imposter.

I know how this is starting to sound, but that is the thing about shapeshifters: they breed paranoia. You can’t trust what you see and hear.

We asked for Helgarval’s opinion and he had little to offer except to say that we have our work cut out for us. Thanks, but we had worked that out on our own. He then followed up with, and I am paraphrasing here, “I’m confident you’ll be victorious. And if you aren’t, then I’ll find another group.” Great. Thanks for that, too.

This room we are in is a prodigiously stocked alchemy lab. Etayne is the real expert here, of course, but I had enough instruction while in school to understand what I am seeing. I have no doubt that I could find just about any item I needed for casting a spell or brewing a potion, provided it wasn’t particularly rare or valuable. On top of that are all the flasks, vials, beakers, and other alchemical equipment one would need for creating infusions, brews, and, yes, toxins. According to Etayne, the plants here are all poisonous in some form, covering just about every plant-based poison known to man.

Etayne is searching through some lab notes, and it appears that all of this is Runecaster’s personal work and research space. This goes a long way towards explaining the glass box near the center of the room. The less said about that wasp-infested corpse the better. We watched it beat (ineffectually, thankfully) on the glass as it called out to us in what sounded like infernal. Etayne says he bought the wasps off of a Chelish wizard. What a surprise, right?

Gods. These people.


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(Ravenscraeg, noon)

Hard day, indeed. My hearing is returning, albeit very slowly. Everything is muffled and it feels like my ears have been filled with cotton. I can barely hear the others’ voices through it, and even when I do I can’t recognize who is speaking unless I am looking directly at them. Still, this is an improvement from half an hour ago when I couldn’t hear anything at all.

We learned about these stupid thunderstones during my studies but of course I never gave them much thought. The idea of exploring the remote corners of the world as part of some grand gest, facing off against man and monster, alike, seemed so ridiculous back when I thought the worst I would contend with in life would be the vagrants in the city, and yet here we are. Eudonius had said that arcane power is as much practice and experience as it is study, and that those who break from the solitude of the library, and the security and stability of civilization, will find themselves rewarded with power that flows faster and freer than they could imagine. He was certainly not wrong about that. But he was also quick to point out that the price of this path could be severe; that “countless numbers have paid it with their bodies, their lives, or their souls” and he does not appear to be wrong about that, either. I am making good progress on the first, it seems.

The others are not wasting the time it is taking for Etayne and I to recover. The pile of items to be analyzed and identified continues to grow as they search the numerous living quarters attached to the dojo. Between what they are turning up now and what we have found since last night, she and I will be busy for some time. I have taken a cue from their efficiency and given Lute parchment and quill, and he is busy scribbling down some history of the Rimerunners Guild. This isn’t strictly necessary but the distraction and focus seems to be calming his nerves. He said he wanted to stay with us, but it’s obvious we can’t keep him completely out of harm’s way, formidable though we are. As soon as I can engage in conversation again, I’m going to suggest that we use the eggs to hide him somewhere secluded until we are finished here.

I’m also going to suggest that we distribute the remaining stones among us, and turn them against our adversaries. As we weaken them, we strengthen ourselves. Why shouldn’t we put our gains to use?

When we are out of this place I think I am going to learn to speak some Giant. Not that Sparna didn’t do well bluffing our way past the trolls with some prompting (I thought suggesting he ask “Do you need more coal?” was a delightful touch), it’s just that I hate almost being able to do something. As much as I complain about mom’s insistence that I learn Thassilonian, it is either an ancestor to or component of Giant, Varisian, and Shoanti. Speak it and any one of its descendants and you can more or less follow what someone is saying in the others, though of course there are gaps. It’s those gaps that are frustrating, and they are the largest with Giant. That, and it just keeps coming up. As we head north towards the mountains, I suspect it will continue to come up, and perhaps at a faster pace.

It’s a shame the bluff didn’t hold. Well, I suppose it did hold, it was just spoiled when the monks in here called out for help. When the first troll burst into the room—literally bursting in by destroying the door—I thought we might be in trouble, but I was able to use a water orb to keep the others from following suit. Only fighting one at a time was still dangerous, but it was more of a battle of attrition than anything else and we had more resources at our disposal. I also learned that my little acid darts stops them from regenerating, which meant that I could contribute more directly to the effort.

I am not sure what to make of the Tian woman. She apparently stayed in her quarters, despite the loud and obvious skirmish happening on the other side of her door. If she had joined in we would have had a far more difficult time, but instead she bode her time, waiting for an opportunity to escape. It was obviously a miscalculation, but more importantly I think it is a sign of these peoples’ true loyalties, which are first and foremost to themselves. I am hardly surprised.


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(Ravenscraeg, mid-afternoon)

We have found Suishen, and the raven with the red feathers is dead! For the first time I feel as though we have regained the upper hand here, and I am growing more optimistic that we will finish this before nightfall. We are closing in.

Lute is hidden away with a small stash of eggshells and a potion to render him invisible. When the former are expended, he will use the latter to escape out the front door. It is risky, but on the other hand there is no one left here to challenge him. That we know of.  I am not entirely comfortable with the situation, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances. But if our momentum holds, it won’t come to that.

His history of the Guild has been invaluable and it has fueled the speculation about Silverskorr. Though he was elected to the board fairly recently, he had known or at least been familiar with her for as long as she has been the head of the guild. About a year ago, she and one of her close friends and advisers, a Tian woman by the name of Kimandatsu, were on a trading voyage somewhere to the south. Their ship ran into a series of powerful storms and Kimandatsu perished at sea. Silverskorr was very shaken up by the experience, and after a long period of mourning she slowly became, in Lute’s words, more focused and driven. He describes her as a formidable opponent.

This is too many coincidences for me. On its own this story sounds perfectly reasonable, but when added to purple ogres or ogre magi, shape-shifting oni, Tian strangers, and everything else that has happened to us, we can make a good case that it was not Kimandatsu that died on that voyage, but rather the real Silverskorr. There is no way to prove this (not yet, anyway), but what other explanation makes sense?

You would think that we would have learned by now not to walk into the same ambush twice, but that is exactly what we did. This time, as we emerged from the cloak room we noticed a large number of ravens and crows gathering among the rafters in the main hall. I felt my hair standing up along the back of my neck and before we could react we were struck by a brilliant arc of electricity. Olmas spotted the bloodfeather raven among the flock and called it out. Ivan pulled out the slaying arrow we had found in the armory here, the one keyed to magical beasts, and nocked it while asking me, “Is that it?”

“Yes,” I replied. And he let it fly. Seconds later, the raven was lying dead on the floor below. The ravens and crows scattered through the smoke holes in the roof. And that was that.

It seemed so anticlimactic. After all that creature had done to us, after all the grief and misery it had caused, it died before the fight had even begun. Don’t get me wrong: I am not complaining. If anything, I see that arrow as a gift that was given to us to use. To use here. We’ll never know what circumstances brought it into the armory, but this sort of luck goes beyond coincidence. Desna’s hand, perhaps?

What especially caught my attention afterwards was that the raven was still a raven even after it had died. My (albeit limited) understanding of shape-shifting spells and abilities is that they expire when you do. Our prevailing theory had been that the raven was really a druid in animal form, but now we had proof, more or less, that this was not the case. I was troubled, enough that Nihali could feel it and she came to me in the hall.

“What do you make of this bird?” I asked her after she settled on my shoulder.

She looked it over and replied, “There is something not right about it. It’s a raven, but it’s wrong.”

“‘Wrong’ how? Other than its size?”

“It just feels inherently wrong.”

I don’t know what this means. Yet another mystery we’ll probably never solve.

Back when Uksahkka was kidnapped, Helgarval had floated the theory that the raven was Runecaster’s familiar. I am not convinced of it, though. Wouldn’t Nihali have been able to tell? I think so, but I don’t know for sure.

I am more confident in my belief that Runecaster is a sorcerer and not a wizard, and I mean that in the literal sense (to the common person, the terms are colloquial and interchangeable). We found his living quarters, and neither they nor his research lab said “wizard” to me. There are just certain items you need when you have to research and memorize spells, and such things were conspicuous in their absence: no spell books, no research tomes, no library at all in fact. It just had that feel of someone who has an innate connection to magic, and is working out spells through trial and error.

And this brings me back to the “raven is his familiar” theory: most sorcerers do not have familiars. It’s not unheard of but it’s rare, and those that do usually come from families with a legacy of traditional, arcane magic. It’s not impossible that Runecaster had a giant, inherently wrong raven as a familiar, but it just doesn’t seem likely.

What Runecaster does have is hands. Giant, disembodied hands. As pets, or something. Gods, these people. They were apparently hiding under his bed, and scampered out to attack when the first of us entered the room. The smell was disgusting and it made several people ill. At one point someone said “blunt weapons only” so I brought in a small earth elemental to help. Blunt is more or less their whole thing.

When the skirmish was over I used the elemental to settle a disagreement I had with Qatana earlier. I wanted to return to the water room, but she insisted on looking for a back way in. In the end I relented. In part it was because her reasoning made more sense even if it meant putting an unopened door at our backs, but I also didn’t want to cause a problem. I feel like the others sometimes get irritated with me. When even Qatana is getting frustrated maybe that says I need to do a better job of picking my battles.

In the end, the elemental reported there was only one way in and that was the one we already knew. Behind that door was a narrow well, and lodged deep down in that well was an item that radiated powerful, powerful magic: Suishen. Silverskorr had apparently found herself at a loss for what to do with a sword she could neither use nor destroy, and settled on “toss it in a hole and hope no one finds it” as the answer. Her impatience may end up being a costly error.

As soon as it had cleared the top of the well, carried up by the force summoned by my spell, a booming voice echoed in our heads: “I SENSE AMATATSU SCIONS AT LAST.

Just as our visions had implied, Suishen is an intelligent sword. Ecstatic to learn that an Amatatsu still lives, it announced that it considers us Ameiko’s protectors and will allow us to wield it (I remember Fynn saying that the sword “never felt right” to him, and according to the others Helva had said something similar). Assuming Ameiko doesn’t wish to carry it herself, Olmas has stepped forward.

One more thing. We asked who threw it down in the well. The answer? “The oni.”

I just had to know. “A purple ogre?” I asked.

“Yes.”

Too many coincidences.


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(Ravenscraeg, afternoon)

Tindertwigs. Chain shirt. Sword. Furs. Snow shoes. We knew, we knew, these were Ulf’s things and we knew he was here. We picked through the trunk some more, just to be sure. Axes. Climber’s kit. Check. Check check check. And then. Gods, and then. Leather armor. Rapier. Samisen. I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. Hollowed out inside. Ameiko. I thought I was going to be sick right there.

I’ve felt real panic before. Dread. Fear. I mean, I thought I had. I grew up in Sandpoint after all. When I was eighteen we were trapped in our home when giants raided the town. We had heard the rumors for days, and were preparing that morning to leave but we weren’t fast enough getting out. And, BOOM. From the north gate, just a stone’s throw from our house, they were there. We weren’t ready. We hunkered down in the center of the house for what felt like hours, mom and dad lying to each other and to me that everything would be OK.

It’s one thing to feel fear and panic because your life is in danger, because you don’t have control over events around you. It’s another to know that you had basically one job, one gods-be-damned job, and you blew it. We hadn’t kept Ameiko safe. I hadn’t kept her safe.

My head spun. What had we done wrong? A thousand things. We left her with very little protection. She didn’t have Radella’s ring. The caravan was no secret. We’d been spied on for days. They probably knew what she looked like. The list goes on. What hadn’t we done wrong?

Of course she would go out on her own. We should have known. She just wanted more information about what lay ahead. About what should be her empire. And she’d been cooped up since we got here. Wouldn’t I have done the same? Hadn’t we both done this countless times when we were kids? At the very least we should have left her the ring. Stupid. Stupid! But maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. I don’t know.

Is this what mom and dad felt? Every time I came home with a bruise on my face, or a tear in my clothes? That they had failed me somehow?

They grabbed her they day we left. The very morning. She must have been brought here in the middle of the night while we were holed up in the cloak room. We had no idea. (Yet another failing. Why hadn’t we purchased a few scrolls so we could stay in touch with the caravan?) It explained how reinforcements had gotten here so quickly: they were already on the way, just a few hours behind us. They just didn’t realize that’s what they were when they left.

We got lucky. Ameiko wasn’t here long enough for Kimandatsu to do anything more with her than just throw her in a cell, more or less. I imagine just having the heir was not enough. Kimandatsu probably needed the Seal, too, as well as the scions. Us.

Well, she got us, just not in the way she was expecting. And now Kimandatsu is dead, and Ameiko is safe, and the Frozen Shadows are finished.

To get to Kimandatsu we had to push our way through Runecaster. He resisted. Violently. He put up quite the fight, too, despite being outnumbered. With some well-placed spells and quick thinking he was able to spread us out, taking us on just a couple at a time, but in the end it only delayed the inevitable. We caught up to him before he could get help, and that was that.

Runecaster was an odd creature, a half-troll of some sort. I’ve seen a number of breeds over the years, but nothing like him. The troll half was obvious, but the other? Not so much. I can’t help but feel saddened by how this turned out. I mean, the circumstances of his birth were probably not great (how could they be?) and I doubt he was a popular figure here or anywhere just by the nature of what he was. His life was probably difficult. The Frozen Shadows was likely one of only a handful of options for him, all of them bad. How much of this life had he chosen for himself? How much had been chosen for him? Did that leave this place as the best of his options?

Kimandatsu I have less sympathy for. And by less I mean none. As Lute had claimed, Silverskorr was indeed the purple ogre–her skin was a dark maroon and two large tusks stuck up from her jaw–and as we had suspected she was an ogre mage and oni from Minkai who had come to Kalsgard for reasons unknown (almost certainly in pursuit of Ameiko’s grandfather), worked her way into the inner spheres of the Rimerunners Guild, and taken Silverskorr’s identity. We don’t have proof that she murdered the real Silverskorr at sea, but what other conclusions are there to draw?

She was surrounded by over a half dozen of her Tian ninjas, having some absurd social gathering, and we cut through them like paper. Kimandatsu, herself, was the bigger challenge, first figuratively and then literally as she reverted to her true form, but Olmas had Suishen and I had my spells and enough of the others were able to hound her until she fell. She tried to hide using invisibility, but Suishen granted Olmas the power to see, and of course we had spent far too much time around these Frozen Shadows vaunters to not have learned that they only have two tricks. I had purposely prepared the same spell multiple times, and unleashed bursts of glittering dust into the room, coating her form each time Olmas called out her position. I exhausted all of my spells, bringing in a giant bat, and even drawing upon my own élan vital to manipulate a scroll to a more advanced summons, just as I had done at Brinewall. This last part was, I suppose, overkill but I felt like being thorough.

Ulf and Ameiko were held captive in a stinking cell filled with stagnant water, guarded in a manner of speaking by giant frogs with glowing eyes that nearly blinded us just as they had blinded their charges. Ulf looked particularly bad having been here for several days. We’ve given them healing and food, but only time will restore their vision.

While we wait, we’ve been discussing the future: both ours, and the Rimerunners Guild’s. The latter will almost certainly cease to exist. Once Lute returns and tells his story, backed by the physical evidence we will take from this place, they will either collapse on their own, or be crushed by the Crown. What little legitimate business they had will be overshadowed by the organization of assassins they had been unwittingly fronting (and I suspect the “unwitting” part will earn them very little sympathy).

As for our part, we are taking the money. That vote was almost unanimous, and though there were some objections raised about the money belonging to the Guild, it will almost certainly be seized if we don’t seize it first. When the objections continued, Suishen actually spoke up.

“You humans are terrible at managing your finances. I languished in a collector’s hoard instead of defending my family for decades because some idiot didn’t have enough money with him! I say get enough money to accomplish your mission this time.”

This did put an end to the brewing argument, I’ll grant it that. But. F*ck you, too. I manage my finances just fine, thank-you-very-much.

More problematic is the matter of  Ravenscraeg itself. Qatana insists on selling it as if it were our property just because we are standing in it. There was a legal sale, title transfer, and so on, making it formally property of the Rimerunners Guild. There is no skirting this. If the Crown does step in, which I am sure they will, there will be no finders-keepers rule. I’ve tried to explain that multiple times but she won’t hear it.

I eventually just dropped the subject. The realities of what we can and cannot do will become clear in due course.

And so begins a somewhat contentious relationship between the party and Suishen.


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Arodus 16, 4712 (night, Kalsgard)

I pulled Lute aside this morning for the conversation that we’d all been somewhat dreading but knew would have to happen. The problem here was that we just didn’t know how he was going to react or what questions he would have about our involvement. We were able to more or less hide the fact that we spent much of the evening quite literally looting Kimandatsu’s treasury down below, a treasury filled with coins and bullion that had been embezzled from the Rimerunners Guild that he was still a representative of, but any reasonable person would certainly suspect that we were not being entirely forthcoming about why were here or what we were doing.

It was too late in the day to head back to Kalsgard, so we spent the night in the living quarters on the main level. The ninja’s former bunk rooms were nicely laid out, and even the others were comfortable if a little sparse. Not as inviting as home, but several steps up from the caravan and the coat closet.

The rooms all adjoined the main entry hall, and the latter was as good a place as anywhere for us to talk.

“You realize the guild is in trouble here, right?”

Lute practically laughed in my face. “Oh, the Guild is in more than just trouble. You have no idea. I’m taking this to the King.”

I nodded at this, and then asked, “And how about you? Are you going to be OK, financially, when the Guild collapses? I suppose you are technically owed a weregild, but I don’t see one coming out of this.”

“Oh, I’ll get by,” he said. “I have my own business. My finances were not completely tied up here.”

This was about what we wanted to hear. It meant Lute was not going to try and claim everything we found in Ravenscraeg as a Guild asset, or try and help them recover from this debacle. More importantly, it meant he probably didn’t care what we did so long as we were discreet about it. Discreet, we could manage.

Lute expected all the assets of the Guild to be seized by the Crown, including Ravenscraeg, just as I suspected. That seemed to satisfy Qatana. What she really wanted was to make sure the Guild got nothing out of this, ever (trying to claim the place as ours and then sell it was more of a secondary goal, I guess). In a lot of ways, leaving the copper down there worked to everyone’s advantage, as it left physical proof that Guild money was used to finance the Frozen Shadows.

Our motives for doing that were hardly altruistic, though. We counted five crates filled with copper trade bars, and the main reason we left them behind was because, logistically, it would have been a ridiculous amount of work to remove some two thousand pounds of metal that barely totaled a thousand gold in value. We could easily have spent half that just getting the damned things out of there—not to mention the time—and we’d still have to deal with the Guild marks that were on them after we were done.

“What do you need to help sell the story of what happened here?” I asked. The head of Kimandatsu was certainly shocking, but ultimately it proved nothing. We talked about this briefly, then Etayne blurted out, “What about the journals?”

I made a mental sigh right as Lute asked, “What journals?”

I was planning on turning them over, of course, but I wanted just a little more control over the narrative. But the cat was out of the bag now. “We have the Rimerunners Guild’s business ledgers and they show numerous transfers of large sums of money, all marked as ‘development expenses’ for Ravenscraeg.”

“Yes! That! That is exactly what I need!”

It turns out Lute is a pretty shrewd businessman, which I guess should come as a surprise to no one. I made it clear we weren’t going to tell the story of how we got it, and that in general we didn’t want our involvement in this to be widely known. He turned that thought on it’s ear. “Once I get back and show them what I’ve accomplished here, you won’t have to worry about that.”

And here we were concerned we might have to buy him off.

It was a brilliant idea, really. We quickly crafted a nice little story about his investigation into the Guild’s misdeeds and their ties to the Frozen Shadows. We were his anonymous agents, hired to help uncover the evidence so that he could bring them down from the inside, and he had set himself up as bait. I wish I had thought of it myself. None of us wanted or needed the glory, and Lute really did deserve to be a hero here. Despite threats and intimidation he had stood up to Silverskorr, and he did it without anyone to look out for him.

To complete the picture, and also keep him safe just in case, Radella and I escorted him to his home when we got back to Kalsgard. He had been gone for several weeks so it was quite a shock when he returned. Even more so that he was accompanied by two young, foreigner women, one of whom radiated an aura of do-not-f**k-with-us. This story will likely last him a lifetime.

The repercussions from this will apparently be huge. According to Lute, the Guild was closely tied to the Linnorm King of the Thanelands, Sveinn Blood-Eagle, and of course Silverskorr was well-connected in Kalsgard society in general. This won’t be a simple matter of just shutting down the Guild operations: it will be a scandal that is talked about for years to come. We’ll be here for at least a week as we prepare for the trip north, which means we’ll get to watch the start of it unfold.


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One of our players informed us that they needed to leave the game because of other commitments.

(continued)

Tonight, Etayne announced that she’ll be accompanying us as far as Turvik and then taking her leave. Apparently, she has been having troubling dreams for the past few days and is concerned about what they might be telling her. I know very little about witchcraft, and even less about interpreting dreams, but I do know Etayne: her journey with us began with dreams much like the ones she is having now, and that they are back is something to take seriously. Another change is coming for her life, one that will take her on a different path than ours.

Regardless of the reason, this was hard to hear. We’ve only been together for a few months, but it has been an intensely personal experience. I have told my friends here things about me that I never thought I would tell anyone, and the abruptness of this feels like a physical piece of me is being cut away.

And in another of life’s strange twists, though we are losing a friend we seem to be gaining a winter wolf.

I was not happy about this and I don’t know how it happened. When I left to check on Lute, the others were working on a plan to safely deal with what was behind that door—the aforementioned winter wolf—and when I came down they had gone from giving it a clear escape route and negotiating a truce to practically inviting it to come with us. They are out of their damned minds.

OK, I am lying. I know how this happened. Skygin hated Kimandatsu. And I do mean hated. She captured him and was trying to train him as a pet, apparently, because I guess she was an idiot. I mean, can you imagine? And, how humiliating would that be to be treated as just some simple animal? When he learned that we had killed her the whole tone of the conversation shifted. Then Qatana starts chatting with him as if doing that was somehow normal and the next thing I knew he was all, “It may amuse me to travel with you for a while.”

My stomach sank. Skygni is scary. A wolf the size of a damned bear, snow-white with what looks like a layer of frost around his muzzle. I get that feeling he could kill any one of us and not give it a second thought. It’s not that I don’t see the value in having him allied with us for a while—there are certainly advantages to that considering where we are headed—but he isn’t going to place the same value on life that we do. You also don’t just show up in someone’s fishing village with a giant, man-eating carnivore as part of your greeting party, particularly one of the variety that likely terrorizes them in the first place. What kind of reception are we going to get when we stop to resupply?

And besides, this meant traveling with a gruff, arrogant wisenheimer, insulting us and pointing out all the flaws, faults, and weaknesses of humanity. Doesn’t Suishen already have that job?

Helgarvel had more immediate objections. This sort of arrangement was in direct conflict with his very nature. Qatana and Olmas countered that Skygni would be unwittingly serving a higher purpose while traveling with us. And they did have a point, one which Helgarvel seemed to accept at least for the time being. But I can’t help but see this argument as a thin veneer.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ll come around.

Or maybe I’m just in a mood. Here’s the thing: the last few days have been hard. We certainly have a great deal to celebrate here, and I don’t want to take away from that, but there have been all these crappy moments. Watching Shelyn’s temple reduced to rubble. Seeing Runecaster just sort of…slump over and die. Weighing down bodies in the freezing darkness and then dumping them in the river. Etayne, telling us she’s leaving. Asvig choking on blood in front of his wife. Finding Ameiko’s samisen in that trunk.

This morning we ran into a pair of spider eaters as we descended the rickety stairs from the front entrance of Ravenscraeg. Lute was more than a little frightened so I took him on the express to the ground while the others dealt with them. When they finally came down I could immediately tell something was wrong. Radella and Qatana looked positively grim.

“What happened?” I asked.

For a while no one said anything, but eventually I got the story. Spider eaters, you see, lay their eggs inside of living hosts, kept paralyzed by their venom. When the eggs hatch, the young eat their way out. The two we fought had created a nest out of a fissure in the cliff face. The elf that Qatana found inside was technically still alive.

We get front row seats to all of this.

On the return trip Olmas and Ameiko had what I would consider an argument. At issue was Ameiko’s status as the heir to the empire of Minkai, and to our knowledge, the only surviving member of the original royal families. The Seal may have granted eight of us the divine right to inherit that position, but that is quite obviously Plan B (and I am pretty sure that none of us want that job, anyway). Coming to terms with this has not been easy—how could it be?—but also largely irrelevant.

Her literally unique position is by nature a fragile one. The commitment we made to take her to her homeland is also a commitment to get her there safely and do everything in our power to retake her kingdom from the oni that have usurped it. To accomplish the latter we must first do the former. That was the point Olmas was trying to make.

Ameiko is my friend, though, and this put me in an uncomfortable position. This all started because Ameiko had been growing restless in Sandpoint, looking for some excuse—any excuse, really—to adventure, explore, test her wits and skills, and hone them both. She still thirsts for that. And I get it. But the thing is, Olmas is right. I just couldn’t say it, because my role is to support my friend, not gang up on her.

There’s also counter point to be made, and it’s this: we can’t lock her away from the world (that’s what my grandmother wanted to do with me, and thank the gods mom and dad had more sense than that). As a corollary, we can’t permit her to grow soft, either. Everything she and I have learned about Minkai suggests there is growing unrest among the people there, and the regent that currently occupies the throne is deeply unpopular. Given what we know now about the Five Storms, that illegitimate government is a puppet of their making. When Ameiko gets there, she will have to be equal parts empress, leader, and warrior to take her rightful position as ruler. And I think that is the point she was trying to make, just not in those words.

In the end, they agreed that she would not take needless risks with her life. I think that’s fair.

I actually don’t envy Olmas’s position here: he has to both answer to Suishen, who is acerbic at the best of times, and take all manner of s**t from Ameiko. She can be merciless.


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I hate loose ends, and felt the need to tie this one off. Photo of the package.

Quote:

To: Mme Helva Longthews,

Kalsgard, Thanelands

Madame Helva,

I apologize for resorting to an advocate as an intermediary instead of personally delivering this package to you, but though we have never met I still feel I am bound by a promise that was made to you and I intend to keep it.

I know that this has been a difficult time. At the risk of salting fresh wounds, I felt it important for you to learn the full history of the events that led to your husband’s death. You may not find much solace in this, but you will at least find some answers both to questions you have, and to questions you didn’t know to ask.

There are two parts to this story. The first, you may think you know because it begins with your ring-giver, Snorri Stone-Eye.

Snorri was, of course, a rather famous Ulfen warrior, widely renowned and feared for his successful raids on the soft lands to the south. Of course, mounting such raids is, itself, an expensive undertaking as one must pay for provisions, equipment, men, and the time to train the latter with the former, with no guarantees of the returns. In his early years, Snorri’s prowess as a warrior with strong leadership skills and a keen eye for strategy was enough to convince investors to provide him with financial backing, and one of the earliest of these was an up-and-coming trade group named the Rimerunners Guild.

For years, the Rimerunners Guild financed Snorri’s increasingly successful raids, lining both their coffers and his, and allowing the Guild to expand their operations in the Thanelands and eventually beyond the Kingdoms across the Crown of the World into Tian Xia. As Snorri’s fame and fortune grew, so did his ambition for even more spectacular raids and more exotic returns. Unfortunately for Snorri, this constant drive to top his earlier successes took a heavy tool on both his body and his mind.

I know that this may be difficult to hear. Or maybe it’s not, and you had suspected this all along but did not say anything publicly out of respect for your lord. I don’t know. But this toll on Snorri Stone-Eye was punishing. He traveled to the farthest reaches of the Steaming Sea, into some of the most extreme and exotic locations in this part of the world, and the stresses of these endeavors proved too great even for him. I don’t expect you to take my word on this, which is in part why I have enclosed his personal diaries (the other part is because his immediately family hid his condition from the world, and sending these diaries to them would serve no purpose other than to suppress truths that you have earned the right to know). My intent is not to disparage Snorri’s reputation, but rather place the evidence of this in your care.

Snorri Stone-Eye believed that his false eye gave him the power to see across time, both into the past and the future. As he grew older, so did his obsession with his mystic, prophetic powers. He had visions of the end times, and in his diary he wrote this: “In the winter of the world, the gods will come down to fight, and the rough beast will be released”. Fearing that all civilization would be destroyed, he made increasingly desperate voyages to remote and dangerous corners of the Steaming Sea, searching for artifacts that would help him survive the fall and the period of desolation that would follow. His final voyage ended in an illness so foul that it would corrupt his soul.

You probably noticed Snorri’s decline in health over the last year. This disease was supernatural in origin. Afflicted with some unusual form of zombie rot, Snorri Stone-Eye died a slow death, gradually wasting away until he rose as a draugr: the walking corpse of a seafarer doomed forever to unlife.

You may find this difficult to believe, and once again I do not expect you to take me at my word. I will offer proof, or at least evidence that you can follow up on, to confirm my claims.

His immediate family and servants hid this condition from the public for obvious reasons, not the least of which was that it would taint the image of the legendary man who had earned the nickname The Mad Reaver. They went to great lengths to ensure his secret would not be discovered, even at his wake. His funeral ship, a longboat of otherwise unremarkable design, was modified to create a deck above the rowing positions and the draugr that was formerly Snorri Stone-Eye was chained inside the makeshift hold. To complete the illusion, a manikin was covered with a shroud and placed on the deck next to the funeral pyre. This would accomplish the task of destroying the undead abomination he had become while still maintaining the illusion of an ordinary funeral. The boat itself was heavily guarded not just to protect the grave goods from ambitious thieves, but also to protect his secret from public exposure. I am sure if you ask the right questions at the docks, you will find dock hands that could hear the faint sounds of dragging and rattling chains coming from the hull of his boat.

As I said earlier, there is a second part to this story. This part begins in Tian Xia, and the repercussions of it will soon be made very public. I can’t predict the accuracy and completeness of what will be said and what you will hear, so I will tell you what I know to be the truth.

Some years ago, a young Tian woman by the name of Kimandatsu came over the Crown of the World and into Kalsgard. She found her way to the Jade Quarter, and eventually into the auspices of the Rimerunners Guild. Over the years, Kimandatsu would grow to become a trusted friend and adviser of Ms. Thorborg Silverskorr. As Silverskorr’s influence in the Guild grew, Kimandatsu’s grew with it and when Silverskorr was eventually elected as chairman of the board, leading the operations of the Guild, Kimandatsu sat at her side.

On a fateful trading voyage at sea roughly one year ago, Silverskorr’s ship ran into severe storms and Kimandatsu perished. Silverskorr was, of course, devastated by the death of her friend, and it forever changed her as a person, and as a leader of the Guild.

That is the story you have heard. This is the real story.

Kimandatsu was not human. She was, in fact, an ogre mage, an evil spirit manifested in flesh[font=sans-serif]—[/font]this one with deep maroon skin. Her reasons for coming to Kalsgard were to establish an organization of assassins backed by magic in order to increase her power and influence in the Thanelands and beyond.

As an ogre mage, Kimandatsu also had the power to alter her form. It was not Kimandatsu that perished at sea, but rather Thorborg Silverskorr. It is believed, though not proven, that Kimandatsu murdered the real Silverskorr and used the storms as a convenient cover for her action. She then assumed Silverskorr’s identity and returned to Kalsgard to take control of the Rimerunners Guild, and used it as a front for her underground operations.

It is here that Snorri Stone-Eye’s, Kimandatsu’s, and Asvig’s lives converge.

With Snorri's health failing, Silverskorr was now in need of a capable henchman, troubleshooter, and lieutenant. Snorri Stone-Eye’s most trusted subject was your late husband. When Silverskorr needed work done that neither she, nor the Guild by association, should be directly involved in, she turned to Asvig.

Unfortunately for your husband, Silverskorr made a demand of her trusted followers. In exchange for the rewards in both money and influence they would receive in her service, she used her magic to place each of them under a unique form of geas, a spell that bound willing subjects to certain actions and extracted a price in blood should its terms be broken. I would be remiss if I did not emphasize that Asvig agreed to this condition.

While the specifics of Asvig’s terms with Silverskorr may never be known, the penalty of the geas was triggered on the night of Arodus 11th, 4712, and it cost him his life.

Again, I do not expect you to take me at my word. As I said earlier, this information on Kimandatsu and the Rimerunners Guild will soon become public (if it has not already). I cannot offer proof of everything that I have written here, but you will be able to confirm much of this with the right investigations. Whether or not you choose to do so is, of course, up to you.

Shelyn teaches us that love is the greatest of all things. Nothing can ever replace your loss. But the coming months will offer a number of opportunities for a woman of your stature, particularly one that has the advantage of being armed with the truth. I can’t say that you and I would ever see eye to eye on certain matters, or that we would have ever called one another friends even before your husband was taken from you. I can say, however, that you have suffered because of a force outside your control, one whose sole purpose in life was to rain misery and hate on others, including those who supported and helped her. You have been taken advantage of and wronged.

No weregild has been offered as compensation for your husband’s death at Kimandatsu’s hand, and in accordance with your customs you are entitled to blood vengeance. Interested parties have saved you the trouble. Enclosed is a piece of her remains.

I will hang a prism for you and your husband on Crystalhue. May your heart, eyes, and mind be filled with the beauty of the world.

Respectfully yours,
K.


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Arodus 18, 4712 (evening, Kalsgard)

Today we confirmed that Kimandatsu killed Silverskorr. Qatana used a spell to speak with the dead, and the ogre mage’s eyes opened and stared blankly into the distance. The whole thing was a macabre puppet show. Her eyes and mouth twitched as she spoke, and we saw unnatural flashes of her tongue as she answered Qatana’s questions in a rasping, lifeless voice.

This is what our lives have become.

I sent word to Lute in case it would help. Not that it was proof he could use, but at least he could make the claim with confidence.

On the way over, I also stopped to send a letter home, and to hire a solicitor to deliver a small package to Helva. I am sure she’ll appreciate the contents. I have had enough of Kimandatsu, Snorri Stone-Eye, and the Rimerunners Guild, and right now I just want to watch it all burn. Part of me wishes we could witness the fallout from Lute’s little meeting with the Crown, but of course it would be foolish to stay here too long. It is just a matter of time before the Five Storms figure out what happened and come looking for answers. We need to disappear long before that.

The Five Storms. Who comes up with these names? That is what Ameiko, and by extension, we, are up against. Apparently the divine right to rule is taken fairly literally over there. From what we could piece together from Kimandatsu’s answers and Suishen, they were responsible for a widespread, and highly successful, assassination campaign against the five royal families of Minkai. Ameiko’s grandfather had the foresight to see what was unfolding around him, and got his family out before the oni caught up to them.

Whatever puppet government rules there now is apparently unpopular, and more importantly, suspected to be illegitimate. The return of an Amatatsu, someone with that divine right to rule, could serve as a catalyst for a genuine uprising. We just need to get her there.

We’re going to make the crossing now, at the worst possible time. The idea is, if we wait until the right season, we’ll probably not live to see it. If we leave now, on what looks like a suicide journey across the Crown in the dead of winter, and take our time doing it, it will look like we ran off in a panic and died in the attempt. The trick will be surviving our own cleverness.


The last one of these.

Quote:

Arodus 18, 4712
To:
Nassim Goods
Dockway District
Magnimar, Varisia

Ohsith,

Twfo twonfi tw fosefi ontw ththoh se twfoei thon twoh siei twohni oh fisi twon foon nisi onfofi twoh setw twfion sefi onohth tw twsi fifo ei ohse ontw thfi ohei sith sision sefo twseoh tw twsi onfo ontw thsi thfoni.

Oneise,
Fithei


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I decided the events at the Shrine of Shelyn was a life-changing event, and our GM approved taking the Evangelist PrC. This is how she got her training.

Arodus 17, 4712 (night, Kalsgard)

I left Irori’s church when I was fifteen. I want to to say that it was not an easy decision, or that I struggled with what to do, or even that I felt guilty about it afterwards, but in all honesty none of those are true. It was an easy decision and I knew I had done the right thing. Irori’s path was not right for me, and I probably stuck with it far longer than I should have because I felt giving up was an admission of failure.

The thing is, mom and dad never pressured me, that I remember, when it came to religion and worship, though I am sure it pleased dad to see me follow his path. When I turned eleven we traveled to Jalmeray, the first trip to see dadi and dada that I actually remember, and for the first time I really felt connected to my Vudrani heritage. Obviously that was only on dad’s side, but I looked Vudrani and that is what mattered to me. I stood out in Varisia, specifically in Sandpoint but in Korvosa as well, and I came home from that trip taking pride in looking and being different, and in identifying with a completely foreign culture.

It also made me a little more arrogant, a little more obnoxious, and probably a lot less tolerable. It’s embarrassing thinking about what I was like 10 years ago, but what kid isn’t awful in some way at that age? Though with all that was going on back then, this sort of thing obviously did not help. But that’s another story.

At first I found Irori’s teachings to be enlightening and inspiring (confession time: I actually still do, mostly) but ultimately I was fighting my own physical limitations. The diet, the physical and mental exercises, and the emphasis on discipline and control I could manage, but when it came to “strength of body”, at least in the literal sense, I struggled. Struggled and failed, whether I wanted to admit it or not.

Why bring this up? Because I always get asked how a Vudrani came to Shelyn. I mean, it must be pretty unusual if it keeps coming up. Either that, or people just genuinely don’t know, and all they have to go on are stereotypes about Vudrani, Irori, and the pantheon of a thousand gods.

“Do you ever get tired of having to tell that same story, over and over?” Ameiko asked.

“It’s hard to talk so openly about my flaws, especially with strangers. But it’s where I ended up that matters the most. So, I guess I don’t.”

The thing about Shelyn is, she teaches the value of appreciation. Appreciation for what is around you, for what you can create, for what others create, and for what you can build together. I feel like I am a part of something.

We came to the shrine today in part to donate to the reconstruction effort, but mostly we just wanted to have that shared, communal experience that only Shelynites can provide. They were renting a temporary space just a few doors down to serve as a place for worship and gathering. Colored silks and other fabrics draped the walls and entrance, small but dramatic floral arrangements and greenery added splashes of color and a pleasant fragrance to the air. And then there was the music and dancing.

We were there most of the day. I needed to purge Ravenscraeg and Kimandatsu out of my head. Ameiko probably did, too.

One of the handful of people that asked me the question I always get asked was a Tian man named Jukodo Shiro. Here’s the thing: he was different, and I bring this up because it has become a sort of turning point for me. Most of those who are active in Shelyn’s church, the ones who aren’t clergy? They tend to be performers or artists of some sort. But like me, Shiro didn’t fit that mold. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly how. He was just different.

He apparently sensed something in me, too, because we talked for a couple of hours. The whole time, I had this feeling he was trying to take the measure of me in some fashion. It wasn’t rude, it was just…it was like he was probing for something without really coming out and asking what. Like he was testing the waters. Whatever it was? I guess he found it because out of the blue he asked, “Have you ever wielded the glaive?”

I almost opened my mouth to blow him off. I mean, are you kidding me? How did I possibly look like “glaive” material?

When I was twelve years old my dad tried to teach me how to use the khopesh and it was a disaster. It was heavy and clumsy, and I was barely strong enough to hold it much less swing it with any purpose. I would eventually start wearing one strapped to my back, but that was just for show (because it looked wicked, and in Magnimar I needed the deterrent). But actually use it? Hell, no. So, the glaive? Me? Really?

But I figured he was getting at something, and maybe it was important that I actually listen for once, and wait to hear what it was. So instead, I answered politely and honestly. “Never. I doubt I could even hold it properly.”

By this time, Ameiko was off playing her samisen, accompanying a couple of other musicians. The melody filling the space was light and playful, and the tempo upbeat; music that was perfect for dancing. So I was only a little surprised when he abruptly changed the subject again, and asked, “Do you dance?”

Mom and dad—mom, especially—were not going to raise a daughter that couldn’t dance. So, yeah. “I can. Are you asking me?”

He smiled and said, “Something like that. May I?”

I nodded and stood up with him. And, I kid you not, he picked up his glaive that was leaning against the wall behind us. And he proceeded to teach me how to swing and even twirl it in time with the music.

I am still more or less in shock. The pole alone was over a foot and a half taller than me, and yet he was swinging it gracefully in time with the music. I remembered seeing something like this before, back when we visited Andoran several years ago. Dad called it the Color Guard, but while that was mostly for show what Shiro started teaching me went beyond that. He could swing the pole and the blade around, fluidly, into what was clearly a strike. My motions with it were less polished and confident, but I was amazed at how swiftly it moved in my hands, at first under his direction, and then on my own. This was most definitely not the heavy, clunky khopesh,

“Dancing and fighting are not that far apart,” he said. “At least, not with this. The glaive is a weapon of grace and beauty in the right hands.”

Except for the part where it kills people. But of course I didn’t say that.

“You would make a good missionary for Shelyn. Her church needs more than just clergy and artists: it needs faithful from all walks of life to serve as role models. It’s something I think you should consider.”

This, too, took me by surprise. “Me? I never considered myself to be a role model for anything.”

He smiled at me. “Most role models don’t.” After a short pause, he went on. “You should look the part, though. It’s important. Come back tomorrow, around noon, and I’ll show you some more.” He tapped the pole of his glaive with his right hand. “If you are interested, of course?”

I said yes.


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Dotting...this has been a fun read. I'm just nowhere near caught up yet.

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