Two Graves

Xander's Journal: Entry 52

Days 8-10

Before we entered the mine, I asked Sal if he was truly comfortable going into the mine or if he thought it would be better for the rest of us to clear it of danger first. Thankfully, he didn’t get angry at my question. He said he was not as comfortable going in as he would be going other places with us. He said though that he still thought he could be helpful and he wanted to go. I wished he would wait, but it was his decision to make. He did allow me to cast “Shield Other” upon him. It turns out that he’s also able to use a wand of cure light wounds. I readily gave him my wand and asked him to use if it needed.

Upon consulting the schematics, we saw that there is a foreman’s office on the way into the mine. Three tunnels branch off beyond that point. We reasoned that the remaining key may have been to the office, so we decided to start there. Of the three tunnels, two looked to be open and productive. The remaining had a big X on the map indicating closure.

When we went in, I asked if anyone was proficient at finding traps. I’m not sure I really expected anyone to say yes, so it wasn’t too disappointing to find that no one possesses that skill. Sal stated that he is very stealthy and has better eyesight than the rest of us. He wanted to go ahead and scout. It took all of my willpower to nod my assent.

It turns out that there wasn’t much to worry about. We went ahead and found a rounded out area where three shafts proceeded forward. In the area, we saw the foreman’s office. As I was saying that I would go first, Farraj pushed his way forward to the door. I hurried after him with weapon at the ready. He indicated that he heard something on the other side. We also saw that some earth was disturbed at the side of the office.

When Farraj ripped the door open, we saw a very large scorpion. It occupied almost the entire office. Bartholameau yelled: “I got this!” He tried to tumble past the scorpion into the room. He was buffeted backward directly into my line of attack. He then let fly a punch that impacted soundly with the door frame. He stifled a yelp of pain and remained firmly in my way. Sal hastily backed up as we heard a loud whooshing sound. From the disturbed earth, thousands of tiny scorpions rushed onto myself and Bartholameau. Bartholameau cried out in pain as he was poisoned by their stingers.

Despite the fact that I was being swarmed by scorpions, Farraj nearly made me laugh aloud. He gave Bartholameau a look that conveyed how unimpressed he was and then looked pointedly at the doorframe. Then he said to the scorpion: “I left your kind in the desert. You don’t belong here.” He proceeded to land two whopping blows on the scorpion. The thing didn’t just die so much as blow apart.

When he was done, he said: “Eshrin, use fire. They burn.” Eshrin stepped back and burnt a great many of the little scorpions on the edge of the swarm. I told Bartholameau to move away from the swarm and that I would stay to draw their ire. He readily agreed and withdrew. As I was steeling myself to be at the epicenter of a fireball, the badly injured swarm fled to safety. The fact that I didn’t have to be willingly conflagrated by my own party was probably the highlight of the evening. That and watching Farraj crack and carve up the scorpion like some sort of enormous lobster so he could get to the meat inside.

Inside the office, there were thousands of eggshells, a dead giant cockroach, and a nameplate for Foreman Peters. There were a few notes pertaining to the closing of the mine. The notes clearly indicated that the leftmost shaft was to stay closed in preparation for the arrival of the proprietor. The key didn’t fit anything at the office.

As we neared the end of the left-hand shaft, the ground became soft and dusty. The soil became thicker as we moved forward. Farraj bent to examine it and said that the soil was not native to Saorsis. Eshrin said this was similar to but not the same as what he had seen at the Copperchop mine.

As we rounded a corner, we saw a solid iron door. Eshrin didn’t find anything magical, and Sal didn’t think anything appeared to be amiss. The spare key did in fact open this door.

We opened the door to find a large cavern. The floor was piled with objects, and there were dozens of lit candles within. I thought it unwise to risk closing the door, so Eshrin used my grappling hook to wedge the door open.

Farraj stepped in, and I followed him straightaway. As I stepped in, I noticed that the sand underfoot gave a bit. Farraj moved to the wall to inspect one of the candles (which gave off no heat.) While I followed behind him, the rest of the group entered the room. Eshrin went to one of the candles and determined it was similar to an ever burning torch.

As Farraj stepped a bit further in along the edge of the cavern, we saw movement in the back of the room. Shapes stood up. Then a screeching voice said: “You are not of my blood!” The sands rippled, and the door slammed shut.

Without hesitation, Eshrin cast a spell. A thundercloud appeared over the head of the shape that had spoken. It didn’t seem to do the creature any harm. The creatures were oddly devoid of features but uniform in color. I rushed forward to join the creatures in combat, and two of the three shapes shambled forward. When one drew near to me, its waxy shape took on my visage. That is, except for the very disconcerting unearthly blue glow that came from their hollowed out eye sockets. I heard Sal rush forward a bit and then hunker down. Farraj charged toward the second waxy creature with a bellow and smashed it with his hammer. As he struck, a great many slivers burst from its body and struck Farraj. Bartholameau ran up and stood directly behind me.

The third creature cast a spell. It sent a wispy mist at me, Bartholameau, and Sal. Sal seemed very disoriented. The fog settled in and didn’t move. Eshrin sent little missiles at the caster and grumbled in agitation when they didn’t do anything. He called out that the creatures were constructs and that we should use fire upon them.

I communed with my celestial spirit and was rewarded with a sword wreathed in flame. I closed the distance with my foe. As I looked into its eyes, I could see intelligence. I struck the creature and sliced easily through the waxy substance. I was pelted with shrapnel as a result. Farraj struck two blows upon his opponent and got another shower of shrapnel himself. A bluish wisp leaked from the creature. Sal rushed closer to me and hunkered down on the far side of the piled rubbish I was standing near. Bartholameau rushed past me toward the caster in the back of the cavern. That flushed the creature closer to Farraj. It rasped out: “Come closer, young one.” It pointed at Farraj, and I saw him shudder.

Eshrin moved closer to Farraj and the caster as I dealt two good blows to my opponent. Sal struck my opponent unerringly with a flask of alchemist’s fire, which did a goodly amount of damage to the creature.

I was concerned about Farraj, so I was trying to keep an eye upon him as I fought. He dealt the waxy creature another solid blow, but I saw terrible wounds open up across his flesh. The wax of his opponent disappeared, but a barely substantial creature remained. My first thought was: ghost. Farraj roared his displeasure and said: “With Sarenrae’s light, I send you to the great beyond!” He struck the ghost, and another wound opened up on his side. I saw Bartholameau rushing closer to the caster then. It cast a spell at him. Then it walked past him almost lazily as he swung wildly and missed it. Eshrin pushed onward and launched a “Flaming Sphere” at my opponent. I gave myself some healing and then hit my opponent with two more solid blows. The wax melted badly and pelted me again. I called out to Sal to go over and cure Farraj and then saw his opponent touch him. Farraj’s flesh seemed to wither and wrinkle. Sal pelted his way across the cavern, stopping behind the rock where Farraj was fighting. He yelled for Farraj to step back, but to no avail.

Farraj didn’t even seem to notice him as he struck the ghost two more times. More wounds erupted on his flesh. It was obvious that he would kill himself before he would disengage. Bartholameau ran back across the cavern and toward the caster. He stepped behind a pillar, and I couldn’t see him. I was certainly starting to feel nervous about how thin we had spread ourselves and about the fact that Farraj was not so slowly killing himself. The caster turned its piercing violet gaze upon me and glared. I could feel…something rush through me, but I did not feel it take hold.

Eshrin launched some magic missiles at the ghost, which struck true. With another solid blow, I released my own ghost from its waxy shell. I slashed at it again, but my attack seemed much less effective. I called out for Farraj to come to me, but I had little hope that would happen. I watched Sal cure Farraj a little with the wand as the ghost I was facing touched me and withered a patch of my flesh.

Instead of waiting for some healing, Farraj rushed headlong toward the caster. He struck her with a mighty blow, which inflicted damage upon himself in turn. As the last of the wax on the caster split, an ancient crone floated into the air. She said: “Let the songs of the waste put you to rest.” The sands shifted, and a calming aroma filled the air. Eshrin looked at me with indecision, and I emphatically told him to help Farraj. He inched closer and struck the crone with more little missiles. She hissed in pain. I repositioned myself around my foe and channeled positive energy. It seemed to harm my foe more than it harmed the crone, but it hurt both ghosts. As the light from my channeling dissipated, Farraj crashed to the sand. Sal threw an alchemist’s fire, which splashed Farraj. Bartholameau must have struck the ghost then. It seemed to recoil, but then I heard another heavy thud. I knew that Bartholameau had collapsed. The crone turned to me with another evil glare. I felt something…flex within me. I felt a bit unwell for a few moments, but then the feeling passed.

Eshrin let fire with more magic missiles directly into the crone’s face. A strange essence began to leak from her. In a forlorn voice, he said: “This is exactly what happened before. Everyone went down one by one and died.” I wasn’t going to let that happen while there was still blood coursing through my veins. I threw caution to the wind as I rushed away from my foe. I invoked my ability to smite evil as I ran, and I struck the crone. I struck her, but weakly. All of the might that should have accompanied the blow did not. I could only surmise that she was not evil. I was struck almost dumb for a moment.

My former opponent took the opportunity to rush Eshrin, but fortunately Eshrin wasn’t harmed. Sal shook Farraj, who stirred to wakefulness. I was very relieved to see that he had been merely sleeping. Farraj, who was yet badly battered and bloodied, scooped his hammer up from the sand. The witch struck him, and he returned the favor. At this, he fell unconscious again. Blood was pouring from his body and staining the sand.

The creature cried out: “Stop! I surrender!” The other ghost disappeared then. Eshrin looked at me expectantly. I channeled energy to cure the worst of Farraj’s wounds along with the rest of us. I called out to not harm the ghost unless she made any aggressive movements. Bartholameau had roused then. He pulled out his wand of cure light wounds and cured Farraj. Sal followed suit. I watched the ghost warily as it retreated to a small orb in the sand. The orb was shaped like an eye, and it had a faint purple aura.

While Farraj was catching his breath, Sal talked to the orb. It turned out that the ghost (or what I now believe might be more of an ancestral spirit) could still speak with us. I continued to channel energy while Bartholameau cured Farraj.

The spirit told Sal that her beloved family had made this place for her. She identified herself as Selma of the Fisher clan. She offered to assist us because we had spared her. Sal explained that we were there to figure out what had happened to her family. He said that we did not mean her any harm. He tried to explain that we had attacked because she had locked us in and that he understood that she had just been trying to defend herself. Sal said that he would protect her if she could give us answers and that we would help if we could.

Selma seemed excited about this. She said: “What do you know of my blood?” Sal explained what we had learned, and she said that we knew quite a lot. She said that she exists within the vessel. She confessed that she can only manifest within Krigari soil.

Selma spoke of her son, Vidigast. He was grandfather to Archibald. She said that both her son and her great grandson had sought her aid. They sought vengeance and council. She said that she had made a blood dagger for her son and a blood sword for her great grandson. The dagger was of the purest crimson and was much more powerful than the sword.

As she spoke, Farraj rooted about in the junk piles. He found a broken skull. Selma sounded a bit sad as she said: “He is gone.” Farraj responded by crushing the skull in his fist.

When Sal got her back on track, Selma explained that the blood blades would not be any use to us. She said that they were made from blood magic and would only aid her kin. She said her children had come to her in search of much more mundane magic as well. She said they wanted to know about magical spells from all sorts of schools. Her son had taken her from the mine and put her somewhere away from the dirt. She said her great grandson had returned her to the soil.

Sal asked if she knew where her son was, and she said that she did not. He then asked her about the cultists. Selma related to us that they sounded very much like the ones her great grandson had sought. She said he had gone east in search of them. We told her of the bog, and she said perhaps that was where he had gone. Her son, Vidigast, had gone west. He had spoken of a great horn. Sal and Eshrin conversed and decided that this horn was likely a large mountain to the southwest known as the Beast Horn Mountain.

Sal spoke with the spirit about how much dirt was required for her to manifest. Selma said she needed just enough for the eye to be submerged in. However, she said she much preferred to have enough space to feel at home. I reminded Sal that the government would be reclaiming the mine soon.

Sal spoke to Selma about her preferences. She said she believed her kin would return for her. Sal offered to take her back to Krig. Selma strenuously objected. She said she was exiled from Krig, and she begged us not to take her back. Sal suggested that we take some dirt back to the mausoleum and keep Selma there. Selma liked the sound of that and offered to enchant weapons using blood magic in return. To a man, we declined.

While Sal was speaking with Selma, we located the remaining skull of what turned out to be Selma’s guard. As we were discussing logistics, Farraj must have recovered from his fatigue and fully realized what we were saying. He most adamantly argued against letting Selma’s spirit survive. He yelled that it was unnatural and that she must pay for the crimes she had committed in life. I tried to calm him. I reminded him that she had surrendered and that she had then aided us.

Farraj was still fuming as Sal tried to tell him that all souls, even Asmodeus himself, could be redeemed. Bartholameau added that Selma’s knowledge could help protect the people. Farraj angrily replied that he did not care about the people. He said that he only cared about cleansing this land of the great evil that is within. Bartholameau said: “Well, this is my home. I care about the people.”

I took another crack at convincing Farraj. I explained that I had tried to Smite Selma and that it had not worked. I explained that she was not evil. That still baffles me, but there are no absolutes in life I suppose. I told Farraj that perhaps after everything was resolved with her kin, Selma would move on to the afterlife of her own accord. I told him I understood the tenants of his faith and I understood how hard this was for him.

Selma chimed in and said that we could keep her with us in some dirt. She said that she could alert us to the presence of undead and help us with magic. She did seem to be sincere in her urge to help. Sal said we could take some dirt with us on the road. Farraj sputtered in outrage. Sal and Bartholameau said that sounded useful, and Eshrin seemed very uncomfortable with the prospect. I was uncomfortable as well and voted that down.

I told Farraj we would put her back in the sarcophagus and away from the dirt. I also reminded him that Sal had given his word not to harm her. Farraj said he cared not for Sal’s word. I told Farraj that Sal is our brother and that we must protect his honor as if it were our own. Farraj angrily replied: “I saw you enter the battle and exhibit bravery. I saw Eshrin casting spells.” Then he pointed at Sal and Bartholameau and said: “These two are suspect. I saw no bravery from them.” I reminded him that Sal had risked himself to heal Farraj and that Bartholameau had run ahead to engage the enemy. Farraj threw up his hands in disgust. Then he pointed a finger at me and said: “You! You surprise me with this willingness to work with this creature.” I tried to respond. He just interrupted and said: “There is too much talking in this Saorsis.”

I didn’t really know what to say to all of that. The whole thing confused me as well. I have never encountered an undead creature that was not evil. She did surrender. Sal did give his word before the rest of us had a say. What was done was done. I followed my conscience. That is all that I can do.
After the silence had stretched on, Selma said: “Because you spared me, I would like to end on a good note.” Soft winds brushed away the sand, and they revealed an ornate burial box. She said: “These were my trappings in life. I no longer need them, and I wish you to have them.”

As a final act of anger and frustration, Farraj picked up the skull that was the final guardian spirit’s resting place. He crushed it in his hand.
As we were gathering some of the dirt, Farraj began hastily leaving the tunnel; thus leaving us in his wake. I called out for him to wait so I could heal him. He did not stop. I hurried after him and called out: “Farraj, come back. You can be angry after the mission is over.” Bartholameau echoed my call for Farraj to return. Farraj begrudgingly returned. We healed ourselves up and left to explore the other two mine shafts.

Oddly, there was mined gold lying around in piles. We had a brief conversation about the fact that the gold was about to belong to the government, and we left it alone.

After we had cleared the two remaining mine shafts, we returned to the Fisher estate. Sal smoothly explained to the butler that we had found something at the mine that belonged in the mausoleum. The butler thanked us for returning it and readily gave us the key. We put the eye that contained Selma back into the socket in her son’s burial chamber.

After another brief consultation, we decided it was unlikely that Jody’s visit to Vergen would garner much information that we had not learned from Selma. We traveled to Jody’s village to let her know that we would no longer needed to make the trip. When she asked why, Sal said that we had found some old family history that explained things. Farraj gritted his teeth so fiercely at this that I feared he would break a tooth.

We took a room in the town’s little inn for the night. During the night, a bird appeared at the window and pecked at the glass. Bartholameau opened the window, and a message appeared. It had the seal of the Praesidium upon it. The message made it clear that a non-urgent matter had occurred. We were not to deviate from necessary business, but we were to come as soon as was practical. The message said there was a package waiting at Eshrin’s office.

We traveled for the next day and a half and reached Regunt just after mid day. On the way, it was clear that word of our disastrous deeds at the Arboretum had spread. We had to calm the people and explain things as we went.

As soon as we reached the capital, Eshrin insisted that we go to his office straightaway. When Wilhelm produced and opened the package that had been delivered, it contained a scarf. It was not the crimson and silver of the warden’s scarf. This scarf was crimson and black. Sal yelled at him not to put it on. Eshrin gave him a disdainful look and said: “This is not a positive sign.” He examined the note from the Praesidium and assured us the seal seemed genuine.

As we headed to the Praesidium, we caught bits and pieces of people’s conversations. People were speaking of some sort of a raid and a flashing light. Sal went right up to a pair of citizens and asked what they were talking about. One of them eagerly said: “Some bigwig hotshots in Crent had their home raided.”

When we reached the Praesidium, we were greeted by William. He seemed a bit reticent but said: “Have you heard?” Sal said: “About the raid?” He said: “Well, that too. I meant about Bloomington….” I nodded my understanding that I knew people were talking about it far and wide.

Sal said: “What about the raid?” William said the Courtwright brothers’ home had been raided, and they had been arrested. They were being charged with treason. Eshrin said: “On what grounds?” William looked confused by the question and then slowly said: “Based upon your reports. The case has yet to go to trial.” William promised to get us a meeting with the investigator, and then he solemnly said: “Chief Croft is waiting.” I squared my shoulders and prepared to take my medicine.

When we entered, Chief Croft told us in a very heartfelt manner, that he was glad to see us safely returned. It was a much kinder welcome than we deserved, and for that I am grateful. Eshrin showed him the scarf. Croft explained that five scarves of the same color had been delivered both to the Praesidium and to the Royal Residence. The chief did not know the meaning. He said someone had delivered them to the Praesidium during the devotions. He said that a child had thrown them down very near to the Imperial Residence. The police were trying to find the child.

After we finished discussing the scarves, I gave my report. I made it clear that the vast majority of the mess at the graveyard had been my fault. When I was done speaking, Chief Croft said: “We can do damage control. I must remind you that we are asking you to uphold the image of the police force.” I said: “Yes sir.” He said that the field execution had been iffy. I explained that we had been concerned that the assassin would escape before we could get her to the central cities. He conceded that had been a fair concern. Eshrin produced her signed confession. I told him I hoped it would solve a good many unsolved crimes for him. The chief took the paperwork with interest.

Farraj chimed in and said: “There is still the matter of the shadows she controlled.” I explained that the church could bind them to a circle easily enough and destroy them. Farraj said: “Are you sure they will destroy them and not make some deal with them instead?” My new brothers do test my patience some days. I did, in all earnestness, assure Farraj that the shadows would be disposed of.

I proceeded to give the rest of my report about our findings in the mine. Farraj is still angry. Bartholameau voiced his concern that it would be best that the fact that we made a deal with the spirit not get out. He was concerned it would be taken out of context. The chief said he did not want it known that we consorted with spirits. He did say that we had gained valuable knowledge. His posture did not suggest that he felt we had made the wrong decision.

We expressed our desire to question Ali, and the Chief gave us free reign to do so. Farraj chimed in that we must be the ones to raid Xael Noth’s office in Regunt. Again, the chief did not object. We began discussing the Courtwright brothers. Chief Croft expressed his outrage at their insidious behavior. Sal heatedly said: “They are not insidious! I will not have you condemn them unfairly just because of something in a stupid report.” The chief roared back: “Excuse me!” He then rolled his eyes in disgust. I may be forced to reevaluate Sal’s sense of self-preservation. He yelled back: “No! No! Don’t roll your eyes.” I could see the pulse beating angrily in the chief’s neck as he tersely replied: “They are on government retainer. Their accounting does not hold up. There is no record of the order placed for the printing press.

Sal shot back: “They’re airheads! I know them. They lose stuff all of the time. I won’t let you do this!” The chief was quickly losing his temper and rightly so. Sal all but accused him of framing the Courtwrights even in the face of evidence. The implication hung in the air that he was not truly seeking justice. Justice is what I want too, but I also felt indignant on Chief Croft’s behalf. I barked at Sal that that was enough. He looked like he had more to say, but he remained quiet.

Eshrin jumped in and said: “This is an important lead. I have seen their house. It is very disorganized. We would like to look over the house and the records, please.” In a commendably neutral tone, the chief said: “You may have access to the files, house, and prisoners. It is the records on our side that do not add up. The vast amount of wealth they have, even from government and private contracts cannot be reconciled.” He concluded that by this point, their arrest was very public knowledge.

Having gotten what we wanted there, I asked the chief if he trusted the members of the Citizen’s Advocacy Group. The Chief said: “In as much as they are helping the people. I don’t always agree with their politics.” I chuckled and said you could never trust politicians completely. The chief laughed hardily and said: “Truer words…Xander.” I was glad to see that he was not too angry with us. I looked over to see a look of disgust on Bartholameau’s face.

After we cleared up the fact that Sal had never joined the police force during the rigmarole around Farraj’s involvement with the state, a contract was drawn up. He was absolved of any past crimes he may have committed in the field, and he signed the same agreement I had signed.

Farraj asked about Ali. The chief said he was a fixer on the social scene. He said he was not unpleasant…for a socialite. Sal huffed in offense. Nigel laconically said: “Try to be civil about your questioning.” We all nodded, and then we were dismissed.

It was very easy to track down Alistar. He keeps a very nice office. The door was labeled with the words: “Introductions & Courtesy Services.” The lobby was fairly busy. We were greeted by a polite receptionist. She informed us that Alistar would be available within the next ten minutes. We murmured amongst ourselves that that would be just enough time for him to slip out the back. Farraj quickly said he would guard the door. I was a little uneasy and said: “What will you do if you find him out there?” Farraj said he would subdue him. Then he left the office. I still felt nervous about Farraj being out there by himself. Understand, it was not Farraj that I was worried about. I asked Bartholameau if he wished to rock, paper, scissors to wait with Farraj. Bartholameau said: “Are you kidding? He likes you way better than he likes me.” I pointed out that he was still angry with me about the spirit. Bartholameau agreed to go wait with him. Once we were called into Alistar’s office, I asked Sal if we should get Bartholameau. He said no.

We were shown to Alistar, who was sitting behind a large mahogany desk. Sal had asked me and Eshrin not to talk. I tried to detect evil upon Alistar, but I found none. Sal started by asking him if he had heard about the Bloomington Arboretum. Alistar politely said that people talk. Sal then said he had heard some concerning things about a half elf named Ali. He said: “Have you ever heard of him? He knew Isabel Lorde.” Alistar said: “Hmm…that doesn’t ring a bell off the top of my head.” Sal gave the description of Ali, which of course matches the description of Alistar perfectly. He then explained that Ali was involved in a possible theft.

Ali said: “I don’t know anything about it. My network of contacts is very wide though. I could try to find something out.” I could tell that he was trying very hard to hurry the conversation along. Sal looked at me with a mixture of frustration and pleading for aid. I just leaned forward and said: “Are you sure he doesn’t sound familiar?” Ali said: “Let me wrack my brain…” Sal drawled: “I can certainly think of one person that fits that description perfectly. If he were to confess, the penalty for the crime could certainly be eased. And it could be kept quiet so he could save face.”

Ali grew flustered as he said: “Is there some reason you believe I might know something?” Sal just explained that he understood that the crime seemed small but that it had to do with something much larger. Ali blankly said: “The details escape me.” He was definitely getting very nervous at that point. Sal pressed forward at full speed and said: “If we brought Isabel Lorde in here right now, would she know you?” Ali said: “No. I will help you in any way that I can.”

I didn’t know how else to proceed. It seemed clear that we were simply going to dance around these questions for the rest of our lives at the rate we were going. I could tell he was withholding things. I could also tell that the confession was beyond my abilities to extract. Sal wasn’t having much luck either. I said: “Then you won’t mind going to the Praesidium to answer some more questions?” Ali seemed alarmed and said: “Now? I have many clients waiting for me.”

I couldn’t give him the opportunity to confer with his employers or whomever he was in league with, so I said: “Yes, now.” Sal apologized for the great inconvenience. Alistar testily replied: “Accepted.” He was clearly growing very nervous by that point. We made no move to grab or restrain him as we walked to the Praesidium.

Once we got him into a holding room, we delivered our evidence and divulged the nature of our questioning to one of the skilled police interrogators. The interrogator agreed to interrogate Alistar. We were told that we had permission to search his office and home for evidence.

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Quick Summaries
Key Summaries from Field Reports

Preface: Centuries ago, the Valley of Multae was long uninhabited and widely thought to be a cursed land. Determined to break ground for civilization where all others had failed, Abadarian crusaders embarked on a mission to colonize the valley. They created an organization called the Founders. The Founders constructed the Thresholds, magical gates used to travel to and from Seorsus.

Scattered around the landscape of Seorsus are mysterious shrines. The shrines wield various potential magics, from healing, to increased strength and speed, to the ability to breathe underwater for a time.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 1: The Nation of Seorsus was under attack by highly organized bands of gnolls. Outlying villagers were being massacred. Citizens were disappearing and reappearing dead, mutilated, and very far from their homes. While some of their methods may have been objectionable, this band of adventurers fought with bravery and used diplomatic means in order to facilitate the evacuation of the Village of Torvent.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 2: When gnolls attacked the caravan of refugees, they used highly organized tactics. When the battle ended, the hyenas and remaining gnolls retrieved their fallen before retreating. District Police Chief Amelia confided that the police forces were spread too thin and that the western villages were vulnerable to attack. She contracted the group to locate the gnollish camp and deal with the threat. Jaena Adair divulged that her mother, Cassandra, and Ellamere Allard’s husband, Dravo, had been abducted recently.

After searching for several days, the party came upon a cave occupied by ratfolk. Sibyl entered a sealed room that contained creatures called “The Deep Ones.” Something unknown happened to her in the cavern.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 3 After additional tracking, the group came upon a fairly sizeable gnollish encampment. They engaged in a very lethal encounter and were lucky to prevail. Among the gnolls they killed was the leader of the group that had attacked the caravan of refugees several days earlier.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 4: The group and Chief Amelia concluded that the maps found in the gnollish commander’s tent indicated that supplies were coming from a keep in the mountains and were then being funneled to camps in Seorsis. Amelia was very confused because no known fortresses existed in that area. The group agreed to travel north to investigate in hopes of disrupting the supply lines. The young ranger from Torvent named Verna joined them on their travels north for reasons unknown. The group discovered that the pouch recovered from the gnoll commander created an illusory storm and sped travel speeds.

After traveling further north, the group arrived at a chasm with no obvious way forward. They located a strange and large square of packed earth and a small cave. In the cave, they saw a small basket.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 5: The party discovered that the gnolls were being supplied from the mountains. A colossal bird that seemed to be composed of shadow was carrying a very large cage from the mountain to the valley. Once their findings were reported to Chief Amelia, the party was dispatched to the mountains to locate the source of the supplies.

While in transit to the mountain pass’s base camp, the group was waylaid by a primitive tribe of people. The people entreated them to destroy the beasts that had appeared in their temple during prayers. The group discovered that the tribe’s village was situated around a fairly ancient structure with an underground temple. They faced extra planar creatures with bull heads and wings. The group exterminated the beasts and discovered that they had been summoned by the tribe’s ancient prayers. The prayers were in a bastardized form of draconic.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 6: The party spoke to a group of Vouri in the mountains. Verna chose to go back with them to their home in hopes of finding her Vouri father. As they continued higher up into the mountains, the party encountered a ware bear. The bear gave them directions to a ruined keep. His manner seemed sly and threatening. As they continued on, they came to an arrow-head shaped rock the Vuori told them about. The Vuori had instructed them to turn east, and so they did.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 7: The party had a difficult run-in with a pair of mountain-dwelling gargoyles, but they were able to prevail. As they pressed on, the weather turned into a blizzard. The party had felt that something had been shadowing them for quite awhile. Wisely avoiding an ambush point, they went off the mountain path. They had a brief fight with a group of kobolds before the creatures surrendered. The kobolds told the group that a terrible entity they called “Supreme Leader” lived in the ruined fort ahead. They said the creature had killed many of their kind and that it could control the weather. Ellamere feared the creature was a winter hag. The kobolds agreed to take the group to the ruined fortress and also confirmed that there were gnolls living further up the mountain pass.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 8: Whilst traveling in the mountains with the kobolds, the party came upon two partially eviscerated kobolds who had been thrown down upon the trail from a great height. The group continued to be shadowed by figures that the kobolds professed to know nothing about. After accepting bribes, the kobolds agreed to tell the party about the numerous traps at the keep and in their warren.

After carefully traveling across the dangerous ice flow, the group reached a keep encased in ice. They were able to bypass the ice and enter the keep. While they inspected the foyer, they were attacked by a mass of vines that penetrated the skin of Sibyl, Eshrin, and Cormin. The group destroyed the vines with fire and explored the ground level more fully.

Eshrin was able to find five journals which chronicled the founding of this research station in the mountains. It sounded as though it was some manner of observatory and that the project was staffed by Desnan researchers.

Six months in, the weather began to turn foul. It worsened precipitously over the next five months. Eventually, a figure referred to only as “She” appeared. She demanded obedience from the researchers. They refused, and it seems evident that “She” killed them. Upon hearing the description of “She,” Ellamere identified her as a winter hag. The group reviewed their capabilities and decided they needed better outfit themselves before they were able to defeat her.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 48: After arriving safely back in Regunt, Eshrin sent a message for Bartholameau to meet him at his office and set off for Chief Croft’s office. He made his report about the terrible loss of his four companions. After the debriefing, he was introduced to Xander Grantham, paladin of Iomedae. He was told that a vision had brought Xander to them. The chief told Eshrin that Xander could be trusted completely and bade the paladin assist Eshrin in whatever way he could. When Eshrin and Xander went to Eshrin’s office, they were met by Bartholameau and two newcomers. These men were an elegant elven man named Sal and a large nomadic warrior named Farraj. After a great deal of back and forth and bargaining, it was agreed that all four of the men would join Eshrin in his quest to root out the evil plaguing the land. Eshrin did, however, have deep reservations about whether Bartholameau would be able to handle himself in combat.

The group met with Chief Croft. It was decided that an announcement would be made to the populous about the deaths of the other wardens. Eshrin was to be on hand to provide some sense of safety for the people. The rest of the newly assembled group was to be there to quell any rebellions that might arise amongst the fearful citizenry.

During the night, a masked man visited Eshrin while he was sleeping. He convinced Eshrin not to scream out. He told Eshrin that he would be there whenever he needed help. Eshrin informed him that the sort of vigilantism he was involved in was illegal. As soon as the vigilante left, Eshrin got up to write about the visitor in his report. He did not mention the visitor to his companions in the morning. Farraj, who had been sitting on the rooftop, saw the man leaving the inn and hoping across rooftops. He also failed to mention the visit to his companions in the morning.

The group met with the Citizens’ Advocacy Group on the following morning. There were a few shaky moments, but they agreed to back the group with whatever support they could provide.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 49: During Emperor Blackwood’s announcement to the people about the deaths of the wardens, trouble broke out. Several party members did a fine job of calming the vast majority of angry crowd members. Unfortunately, about a dozen people insisted upon resorting to physical violence. In order to pacify two foes, Xander struck them with a blunted blade. One badly injured man tried to flee, but Farraj pursued. He hit the man hard enough to knock half a dozen of his teeth out. Luckily the man received healing before he died. The rest of the rioters quickly surrendered after that show of force.

Back at Eshrin’s office, Wilhelm provided a potentially important lead. He explained that Archibald Fisher, the last scion of a wealthy family, had died under very strange circumstances. On the night of his death, he had been heard yelling: “No, I won’t wear it! Get that thing away from my head!” It was also recorded that Archibald was obsessed with some possession that had belonged to his grandfather. The family’s main estate is said to be but a half day’s ride from the arboretum.

The party set out for the arboretum and stayed overnight in a fairly sizeable town. During the night, whilst he was on the rooftop, Farraj saw a shadowy figure. He said it was wispy and insubstantial. It was on a rooftop just a few buildings over. When it saw him, it dropped to the ground.

On the following morning, Sal, Farraj, and Bartholameau climbed the building to see if they could see tracks on the rooftops. The three scouts did find a slight disturbance amongst the moss and dust on a nearby rooftop. The men dropped down to the street where Farraj had seen the shape drop. They followed tracks to a rather ordinary looking shed. The footprints seemed to stop there.

The group arrived at the Bloomington Arboretum late that evening. Before dawn on the next day, the group headed over to the arboretum with a number of tourists to witness the “morning sprout.” The group was told that the bulb in the center of the arboretum was called the Lorde bulb. Eshrin identified it as the same kind that had been in the marsh. The bulb in the arboretum was only three feet high. The party learned that the bulb acts as a brain for all of the other plants at the arboretum and allows the botanists to communicate with every plants there. Apparently the morning bloom, in which giant dandelion-like plants release seeds into the air, helps to aid in this communication.

While Sal distracted the attendants with questions, Farraj studied the bulb carefully. When he placed his bare hand upon the bulb, he asked in Sylvan how the plant found itself that morning. A tingling sensation rushed up his arm to his jaw. Then he experienced a tide of sensations about how all of the plants were feeling.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 50: Sal attempted to gain an audience with Dr. Bortion, the head of the arboretum, without tipping his hand as to who we were. Eshrin ruined this by firmly stating that he was with the police and needed to speak with the doctor as part of an investigation. Sal made it clear that someone was spying on Eshrin and that it was safer not to reveal where we had been or what we knew. Eshrin did not seem to see the merit in this argument.

We were told that Dr. Bortion was indisposed due to the very recent death of his young child. We were told that the doctor’s second in charge, Dr. Ludimere, could see the group soon.

While we were waiting for Dr. Ludimere, Sal learned that Dr. Lorde had an estate roughly an hour’s walk from the arboretum. Sal and Bartholameau decided to go and check it out.

Through communing with the plants, Farraj became aware that a shadowy, smoky creature had recently been sensed at the outer limits of the plants’ awareness.

As Sal and Bartholameau were walking, a black carriage with the banner of Pharasma passed them. Bartholameau doubled back to follow it while Sal pressed on to the Lorde estate. The carriage stopped at the arboretum. It left again as soon as Dr. Elizabeth Lorde retrieved her husband.

Eshrin, Xander, and Farraj went to visit Dr. Ludimere. He seemed quite astounded at the similarity between the Lorde bulb and the plant sample Eshrin had gathered in the bog. Dr. Ludimere promised to deliver a report about the disposal of any past bulb prototypes, a list of recent and current employees, and a note of any unusual occurrences that had happened in or around the arboretum within the last few years. He also confided in the men that Dr. Lorde’s estate now belonged to his daughter. He said that Ms. Lorde could be quite difficult, but he promised to make an introduction after he had compiled his report.

Sal went to the Lorde estate. He had a run-in with a very sour caretaker. The man flatly and rudely refused to allow him entry despite Sal’s charming demeanor.

When the group reconvened, Sal told them that Ms. Lorde had thrown her fiancé out of her home a year or so ago over some ugly altercation. Bartholameau revealed that a man working at a southern research station had his entire project’s worth of orchids die overnight. He said there were no signs of footprints, and he did not know what happened.

We went out to check the research station where the orchids were. We discovered that all of the other plants were still alive and well. Farraj found a fresh footprint. Inside the shed, he found a footprint that was half cut off like the one we had recently seen in our travels.

Xander went to visit the cleric of Pharasma about the Lorde child’s death. She told him that the cause of death was asphyxiation due to foreign particulate matter. She said the Madame Dr. Bortion had been investigating dangerous plants in the field and had her young child with her. The cleric said the child’s death appeared to be a tragic accident and nothing more.

The circumstances of the child’s death were all anyone was talking about when Sal and Bartholameau attempted to ask questions in the taverns.
In the morning, Xander broached the topic of whether the group members wanted to be resurrected if any of them should die. Through an agonizing round of questioning, cajoling, and forcing his companions to focus on the question at hand, he managed to secure the answer that everyone would like to be brought back if they died. Xander said that he did not fear death. He told his companions to resurrect him if they felt that they still needed him.

The group dressed as respectfully as they could and attended the reception before the Bortion child’s funeral. As we stood in respectful silence, Sal began to get twitchy. He whispered that something was “off” about Madame Bortion’s appearance. He walked away and came back a few moments later. He whispered that there was some sort of magic on the mother and on the casket. Sal pressed Xander to see if she was evil. Xander detected evil, and he discovered that the woman was bone-deep evil. The coffin also had something evil within it.

Eshrin detected magic discretely from afar. He informed the group that there was a faint necromantic aura upon the casket and a moderate one upon the woman. He also detected illusion magic upon the woman and transmutation magic upon the casket. Xander emphatically demanded that we get the people away and destroy the evil immediately. Sal said he could easily divert the people.

The group paused only long enough for Sal to divert some people and for Xander to retrieve his armor. A hasty plan was hammered out wherein Eshrin would cast dispel magic on the woman. This was supposed to reveal the evil creature lurking beneath the illusion.

We approached the casket. Eshrin cast dispel magic, and nothing seemed to happen. Farraj rushed in like a hell-bound dervish. He bore down on the grieving mother with a vicious cry of: “Sarenrae’s justice is upon you!” He brought his massive earth breaker over his head and crashing down right on top of the woman. She crumpled and landed in a pool of her own blood.

Xander stared for a moment in utter disbelief. He yelled at Bartholameau to open the casket as he rushed to heal the woman. Bartholameau did not open the coffin. He stumbled blindly away from the carnage and half shrieked: “Whoa, dude, what the hell?” The husband was in tears as he tried to drag his bleeding wife to safety. The Pharasman cast a spell to cure the woman of more of her injuries.

Farraj flipped the lid of the casket open and revealed the body of a dead baby. There was no obvious malevolent object or creature. Then he turned and ripped the necklaces from the woman’s neck. Xander grabbed the manacles from his pack and wrapped Madame Bortion up in an iron grip. He also yelled for someone to get the cleric away before she healed the woman anymore.

Bartholameau was still frozen with shock, so Xander roared in his face to get him moving. This seemed to galvanize Bartholameau, who moved over and pulled a wig off the woman’s head. Oddly, the hair underneath was the same color.

Eshrin tried to move toward the coffin when a bright spot of red blossomed on his robes. He cried out in pain, but we could see no attacker. He whirled and cast a great many balls of snow at the air.

With tears still streaming down his face, Dr. Bortion yelled at Xander: “Unhand her you devil!” He drew a dagger and tried to stab the paladin. The Pharasman was yelling about blasphemy in a near-apoplectic fit.

Farraj hurried to Eshrin’s aid and swung his hammer wildly. Xander plead with the cleric to understand that this woman was evil. Bartholameau began to briskly wipe at the woman’s face. Eshrin was stabbed again and looked to be quite badly injured.

Dr. Bortion looked extremely confused when he looked at his wife after Bartholameau was through wiping away her makeup. The cleric also looked stunned to see the imposter before her.

Farraj swung his hammer again and connected with something. Despite the solid blow, we could see no blood. Xander laid hands upon Eshrin and healed him.

Bartholameau stopped the woman from grabbing her wig as the invisible attacker fled. A shadowy figure retreated to the shade of a nearby tree. Then it disappeared.

It took everything they had for Eshrin, Xander, and Sal to convince the cleric and Dr. Bortion to examine things further. Dr. Bortion finally agreed to hear us out at his lab. After divesting the woman of her foul trappings, the whole group of people went to the lab. We told Dr. Bortion all about the plant in the swamp and about the plant growth spell in the child. After hearing all of the evidence, he agreed to an autopsy of his child.

When the cleric and Xander opened up the baby, they found a strange red tuber in the place of his spine and brain. They surgically removed the tuber and placed it in a magical specimen jar. As the cleric and Xander sewed the child back up, they both seemed deeply shaken by the terrible experience.

Sal was very eager to aggressively interrogate the woman. He was emphatic that she would not answer questions through gentle interrogation. Xander was equally emphatic that the group would not use torture. Xander asked the woman to repent of her sins. She said she would confess to everything once she was brought before a duly appointed judge. Farraj raised the concern that she was buying time to escape. Bartholameau said that the Praesidium would use torture to get information if that is what it came down to.

Eshrin said that Xander should serve as judge. He reasoned that Iomedae was the goddess of valor, justice, and honor. He said: “who better than a paladin of Iomedae to know the law and to administer it justly?”

The entire group contributed during the questioning of the woman. She said that her name was Xael Noth. She never seemed to truly lie, but she did her best to avoid answering certain questions completely. She confessed to the murder of Elizabeth Bortion and her child. She also confessed to a host of other crimes. She said she had disposed of the doctor’s body in the woods near the research station. She admitted the amulet and anklets had been illegally obtained. They allowed her limited control of two shadows and a ghost. She said she did not know who had tried to kill Eshrin.

Xael Noth said she kept an office in Crent. It was clear that she knew Jay, but she said she did not associate with him. When the group had no further questions, Eshrin produced a confession for her to sign. Xander sentenced her to death. He promised to make her death as quick and painless as possible. He drew forth a gleaming blade, struck her through the heart, and killed her.

Farraj immediately leapt forward to cut off a hand and a foot. He feared she could rise again undead. The group decided to be as cautious as possible and had the body cremated.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 51: As the group returned to the inn, it was clear that word had spread about what had happened at the graveyard. All manner of rumors were circulating, and the townspeople gave the group a wide berth. While the rest of the group retired to our room, Sal went out to try to explain the situation to the people. Whilst in the room, Xander and Bartholameau had a heated disagreement about whether Bartholameau was prepared to adventure with the group. Angry words were exchanged.

In the morning, a messenger arrived with the reports from the arboretum. Eshrin perused them and found nothing immediately concerning. As there was a letter of introduction to Ms. Lorde included with the papers, we departed for the Lorde estate.

The very cantankerous caretaker was once again disinclined to let us in, but the letter from the arboretum did the trick. Once inside, we met with Isabel Lorde. She was as unpleasant as local rumor suggested. However, once she learned that the theft of her father’s research from the house could be tied to other crimes, she eagerly shared information with the group.

When she had finished describing the half-elf man named Ali who had stolen the items, Farraj let us know he felt that sounded exactly like Alistar, the messenger for the Citizen’s Advocacy Group.

As soon as we reached town, we departed for the estate of Archibald Fisher. We rode for half a day and arrived at a well-tended estate. We were greeted by an elderly servant who proved most helpful.

The man, who seemed to be the butler, helped us to find Archibald’s diaries. He also showed us a red bladed sword that bore enchantments similar to those that were on the gnoll king’s axe. The estate was filled with Krigori artifacts. Eshrin informed us that the Fisher clan had been a powerful group of warlords until Archibald’s great grandfather had married a witch. Then, they immediately fell from power.

During the course of our investigation, we went to the mausoleum to inspect the tombs of the past three Fisher scions. Curiously, we noted that the expansions connected to the grandfather’s crypt were built together. They were not built in such a way as to facilitate later expansion beyond Archibald’s death. It should also be noted that Eshrin found Protection from Evil spells and something akin to Detect Undead on the doors to the crypts.

Archibald’s crypt was strangely bare of the personal belongings a wealthy man would normally be buried with. The butler told us that Archibald had amended his will asking that he not be buried with these things. We also noted that Archibald’s crypt was inexplicably smaller than it should have been.

The father’s crypt had the belongings one would expect. Farraj noticed that the lock on a briefcase was broken. Eshrin examined the business papers therein. He noted that they stopped at paperwork for a nearby gold mine the family owned.

The grandfather’s crypt delivered quite a shock as his body was not entombed within. The ceiling of the crypt contained the Fisher sigil of an eye pierced by a sword. There seemed to be a socket in the carving where something was missing. Eshrin said it bore moderate transmutation and moderate necromancy magic. Bartholameau noticed a maker’s mark in the crypt for a society in Vergen.

Once we closed the tomb, the servants provided us with a letter of introduction to the family’s Pharasman friends. We traveled to a nearby village to speak with the daughter of the Pharasman who buried Archibald. Her name is Jody Cooper. Ms. Cooper readily provided us with burial records for the family. The grandfather’s were absent. After further research, she learned that burial preparations were cancelled at the family’s request.

Farraj had an impassioned outburst about the grandfather being an undead monstrosity that was walking the earth. This, of course, caught the complete attention of the Pharasman. Sal quickly explained that the body was missing and explained what we had seen at the mausoleum. Jody said she wanted to help in any way that she could. She said she had friends in the society that had built the mausoleum, and she volunteered to speak with them. Xander was nervous about her traveling alone. The group agreed to escort Jody to and from Vergen after we had explored the mines.

At first light, we departed for the mines armed with schematics and two keys. The butler had told us one key opened the front gate. He did not know what the other key opened.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry 52: The party entered the Fisher gold mine in search of clues. We reached the foreman’s office without incident. As we approached the office, we noticed a disturbance in the earth near the edge of the structure. Farraj warned the rest of the party that he heard noises from within. When he opened the door, he encountered an extremely large scorpion. While Farraj was handily dispatching the scorpion, thousands of its babies erupted from the ground. They swarmed Bartholameau and Xander. Eshrin burned many of them with a fireball, and the rest retreated.

Inside the office, there were a few notes pertaining to the closing of the mine. The notes clearly indicated that the leftmost shaft was to stay closed in preparation for the arrival of the proprietor. The extra key that Archibald Fisher’s butler had given us didn’t fit anything at the office.

As we neared the end of the left-hand shaft, the ground became soft and dusty. The soil became thicker as we moved forward. Farraj bent to examine it and said that the soil was not native to Saorsis. Eshrin said this was similar to but not the same as what he had seen at the Copperchop mine.

As we rounded a corner, we saw a solid iron door. The key opened the door, and we entered to investigate. Once inside, we saw three shapes move in the back of the room. Then a screeching voice said: “You are not of my blood!” The sands rippled, and the door slammed shut.

Without hesitation, Eshrin cast a spell. A thundercloud appeared over the head of the shape that had spoken. It didn’t seem to do the creature any harm. The creatures were oddly devoid of features but uniform in color. As Farraj and Xander got close to two of the waxy figures, the creatures’ features contorted to mirror their foes. Unnatural blue light spilled from their eye sockets.

The party fought a pitched battle with the two waxy warriors and another waxy spellcaster. Eshrin identified the creatures as constructs and advised the group to use fire. Each time the creatures were struck, shards of material exploded out into their attackers. The spellcaster hexed Farraj in some way. Each time he struck a blow, he injured himself as well.

Once the waxy outsides of the creatures were obliterated, ghostly figures appeared. The battle raged on until a very badly injured Farraj destroyed the ghost he was facing. Instead of waiting for much needed healing, he rushed on to aid Bartholameau against the spellcaster. Both men struck solid blows against the caster, and Eshrin continued to providing spellcasting support against both remaining foes. The spellcaster used more magic, which put Farraj to sleep. Bartholameau was able to strike two mighty blows against her before he too fell asleep.

At that point, Eshrin let fire with more magic missiles directly into the crone’s face. A strange essence began to leak from her. In a forlorn voice, he said: “This is exactly what happened before. Everyone was incapacitated one by one and died.” Hearing his companion’s despair, Xander broke away from his ghostly combatant. He invoked the will of Iomedae to smite evil. He reached the now flying spirit of a crone and struck her with his sword. The blow struck true, but it didn’t seem to do her as much harm as it should have. Xander looked thunderstruck for a moment. In a confused voice, he said: “She is not evil? I thought all undead were evil.”

While the battle raged on, Sal shook Farraj awake. Farraj grabbed his hammer. He took a blow from the spirit for his troubles. He struck her, more wounds erupted in his skin, and he fell unconscious. Blood poured from his body and stained the sand beneath him.

As Eshrin and Xander eyed the spirit with deadly intent, she cried out: “Stop! I surrender!” The other ghost disappeared then. Xander hastily channeled energy to keep Farraj alive. He called out to not harm the ghost unless she made any aggressive movements. Bartholameau had roused then. He pulled out his wand of cure light wounds and cured Farraj. Sal followed suit. We watched the ghost as it retreated to a small orb in the sand. The orb was shaped like an eye, and it had a faint purple aura.

Sal was able to speak with the ghost in the orb. The spirit told Sal that her beloved family had made this place for her. She identified herself as Selma of the Fisher clan. She offered to assist us because we had spared her. Sal explained that we were there to figure out what had happened to her family. He said that he would not harm her if she could give us answers and that we would help if we could.

Selma spoke of her son, Vidigast. He was grandfather to Archibald. She said that both her son and her great grandson had sought her aid. They sought vengeance and council. She said that she had made a blood dagger for her son and a blood sword for her great grandson. The dagger was of the purest crimson and was much more powerful than the sword.

Sal asked if she knew about the cultists. Selma related to us that they sounded very much like the ones her great grandson had sought. She said he had gone east in search of them. Her son, Vidigast, had gone west. He had spoken of a great horn. Sal and Eshrin conversed and decided that this horn was likely a large mountain to the southwest known as the Beast Horn Mountain.

Selma said she needed just enough soil for the eye to be submerged in in order to manifest. Sal offered to take her back to Krig. Selma strenuously objected. She said she was exiled from Krig, and she begged us not to take her back.

As we were discussing logistics, Farraj must have recovered from his fatigue and fully realized what we were saying. He most adamantly argued against letting Selma’s spirit survive. He yelled that it was unnatural and that she must pay for the crimes she had committed in life. The entire group worked to convince Farraj not to destroy the spirit.

Farraj was not swayed by words that Selma had aided us, that all could be redeemed, that the spirit was not evil, or that Sal had given his word. Feeling that he did not have another choice, he relented to the reasoning that she may yet lead us to much greater evil. He threw angry words at Sal and Bartholameau. He said: “I saw Xander enter the battle and exhibit bravery. I saw Eshrin casting spells.” Then he pointed at Sal and Bartholameau and said: “These two are suspect. I saw no bravery from them.” Xander reminded him that Sal had risked himself to heal Farraj and that Bartholameau had run ahead to engage the enemy.

At the end of things, everyone had agreed that the group would take some dirt and house it elsewhere. The eye Selma is housed in was placed back in her son’s empty sarcophagus. Selma very generously gifted her earthly belongings to the party.

During the night, the party received a missive from the Praesidium asking us to return when we could. It said there was a package at Eshrin’s office.
On the way back to Regunt, the people were very wary of the group. It was clear word had already spread about what had happened in Bloomington.
At Eshrin’s office, Wilhelm produced and opened the package that had been delivered. It contained a scarf. It was not the crimson and silver of the warden’s scarf. This scarf was crimson and black.

When we reached the Praesidium, we were greeted by William. He warned us that news of what had happened in Bloomington had reached the city. He also said the Courtwright brothers’ home had been raided, and they had been arrested. They were being charged with treason. He said they were being charged based upon Eshrin’s reports. The case had yet to go to trial. William promised to get us a meeting with the investigator.

When we spoke with Chief Croft, he said that five of the same scarves Eshrin had received had arrived at the Praesidium. Five had also arrived at the Royal Residence. Xander gave a report. He made it clear that the vast majority of the mess at the graveyard had been his fault. Chief Croft said the police could do damage control. He said: “I must remind you that we are asking you to uphold the image of the police force.” Xander gave him an abashed: “Yes, sir.”

Eshrin produced Xael Noth’s signed confession. We told the chief we hoped it would solve a good many unsolved crimes for him. The chief took the paperwork with interest.

Farraj expressed his concern that Xael Noth’s shadows be dispatched. Xander assured him the priests at the Praesidium could take care of it. Farraj sourly said: “Are you sure they will destroy them and not make some deal with them instead?” Xander took a deep breath before assuring Farraj that they would be disposed of.

We expressed our desire to question Ali, and the Chief gave us free reign to do so. Farraj chimed in that we must be the ones to raid Xael Noth’s office in Regunt. Again, the chief did not object. We began discussing the Courtwright brothers. Chief Croft expressed his outrage at their insidious behavior. This sparked a heated and uncivil exchange between the chief and Sal. The chief said: “They are on government retainer. Their accounting does not hold up. There is no record of the order placed for the printing press.”

Sal shot back: “They’re airheads! I know them. They lose stuff all of the time. I won’t let you do this!” The chief was quickly losing his temper.
Eshrin jumped in and said: “This is an important lead. I have seen their house. It is very disorganized. We would like to look over the house and the records, please.” In a commendably neutral tone, the chief said: “You may have access to the files, house, and prisoners. It is the records on our side that do not add up. The vast amount of wealth they have, even from government and private contracts cannot be reconciled.”

Xander changed the topic of conversation to politicians and even elicited a laugh from the chief. After we cleared up the fact that Sal had never joined the police force, a contract was drawn up. He was absolved of any past crimes he may have committed in the field, and he signed the same agreement Xander had signed.

Farraj asked about Ali. The chief said he was a fixer on the social scene. He said he was not unpleasant…for a socialite. Sal huffed in offense. Nigel laconically said: “Try to be civil about your questioning.” We all nodded, and then we were dismissed.

It was very easy to track down Alistar. He keeps a very nice office. The door was labeled with the words: “Introductions & Courtesy Services.” We stepped into a busy lobby and were greeted by a friendly receptionist. Farraj elected to guard the back exit so Alistar would not try to flee. After a bit of a debate between Bartholameau and Xander about which of them Farraj was angrier with, Bartholameau agreed to go out with Farraj to make sure no one was seriously injured.

After a long series of questioning about Ali that grew more and more pointed, Alistar would not confess to anything. It was clear that he was trying to hurry things along and that he was growing nervous. Sal and Xander could tell that he was withholding information. They also shared a look that said they had no idea how to get at the information. Finally, Xander insisted that Alistar accompany them to the Praesidium immediately for further questioning.

Alistar was very unhappy and nervous about this turn of events. He was not led out as a suspect. He walked along with the group to the Praesidium. There, the group passed on the information they had to a skilled interrogator who agreed to do the questioning. The group was also informed that we had permission to search his office and home for evidence.

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Xander's Journal: Entry 51

Entry Fifty-One

Days Six-Eight

After we finished up at the arboretum, we decided it would be best to rest and collect ourselves. As we headed back to the inn, the citizens of the village gave us an extraordinarily wide berth. Some whispered and gave us condemning looks. Some were simply afraid. I do regret the rash way that we plunged into that encounter. I know that I was the one that got the others worked up to do it. I will try very hard to be more circumspect in future.

When we reached the inn, the innkeeper said that we would have to explain our actions or leave. Sal did a good job of explaining everything. The innkeeper said he believed us. He said we could stay for the time being. We thought it best to lay low in our room. Sal went out to talk to the people about what had happened. He said there was an air of tentative unfriendliness towards us. He also said the people were widely questioning the rapid execution of law and order regarding the assassin.

While Sal was out, Bartholameau and I had a very ugly exchange of words. In retrospect, I was still worked up about the whole encounter, about having to execute a person, and about having to autopsy a dead baby. I was determined to have a serious discussion with Bartholameau about his freezing up in the field and my concerns that he is not ready to fight with us yet. My concerns are legitimate. I should have waited to have this conversation. My frustration bled through and set everything down a bad path. I take responsibility for that. Nonetheless, I hold Bartholameau responsible for his own words. They were mean-spirited in the extreme.

I started by saying that I believe that in his heart he thought he was ready for this. I said that be that as it may, he had frozen completely in the field when he saw carnage. I told him that this contributed to my overall belief that he is not ready to adventure without more training. My intent going in had been to offer to train with him. He started to coyly demure and try to deflect my concerns like he always does. I raised my voice, and I did interrupt him. I was harsh with him when I said that he is always talking over me during these conversations and that it is my turn to talk. I shouldn’t have handled things that way.

Bartholameau began yelling then and never stopped. His words dripped with vitriol, and there was no chance that he was going to try to see things my way. He leveled complaints that I, as a military man, resort to fighting without ever using my words. He said I needed to learn to try to find a diplomatic solution instead of just hitting. I took offense to his words. I told him that I had often used words first. I tried to steer things back to his training. I reiterated that he panicked. He was already too angry with me to make offering to train with him a good option. I said that perhaps Farraj had many skills that he could share with Bartholameau. He took offense and said they had very different fighting styles. His very tone suggested that what I proposed was complete stupidity.

Then he said that he was in bar fights all of the time. I tried to point out that bar fights are not the same as combat to the death. I talked about how difficult being run through or set on fire could be. I asked if he had ever had his femur pulverized. I have seen a hard bitten warrior cry for his mother and beg for his end from that very injury. He sneered and said he didn’t make it a habit of getting hit like that. He said he was able to get out of the way fast enough for that not to happen. He said clearly I do not possess his skills or I would not need to wear armor. Then he asked if I had seen his military record. I admitted that I had not. He essentially told me to shut my mouth then. If he had chosen to offer up his military record when Eshrin and Farraj had concerns before rather than offering up a sheaf of papers detailing wins in boxing matches, perhaps I would be less concerned.

Then he went on about how Farraj was the only one he had seen hit anything. He railed about how he hadn’t seen me do anything (intimating that I need to prove myself.) I don’t. I have been completely upfront about my gear and what I bring to the table. I haven’t bragged about strengths I don’t have. I haven’t tried to hide my weaknesses. Then he snidely added that he hadn’t seen me hit anything…except two peasants.

I say again that I brought a lot of his anger on because I was too blunt and broached the subject very poorly. I didn’t invite the barrage of insolence from him. I should have walked away sooner. I was still foolishly trying to salvage things whilst simultaneously losing my temper.

I was not suggesting that Bartholameau turn around and go home. I was trying to say that it seems like he needs to learn to do a different kind of fighting than what he is accustomed to. He screamed that it was not my decision but Eshrin’s. He turned on Eshrin and demanded to know if he found any fault with his performance during the battle.

Eshrin seemed a bit flustered but said: “It would have been beneficial if you could have acted sooner.” Eshrin told him that I had been yelling for awhile to get him going before he moved. Eshrin also said that he was not a martial expert. He said that Farraj and I seem competent. It seemed like he was implying that Farraj is quite capable of teaching him. He also said that I would not have been made a knight if I had not been competent.

Apparently dissatisfied with this answer, Bartholameau turned back to me. Farraj added fuel to the already blazing inferno by eagerly goading Bartholameau to spar and reminding him that he had suggested it before. Bartholameau spat out that he did not want to fight Farraj. He talked about how no one would want to. I didn’t bother saying that I had only meant for Farraj to teach him. It would have been pointless.

I think I said again that my concern was that Bartholameau had frozen when he had seen something gruesome. I don’t know what my exact words were. I was fuming by that point. Bartholameau said he had been concerned for “that poor woman” that Farraj had hit. He pointed out that the injury was gruesome. Indeed it had been. I also do not believe for one moment that someone that powerfully evil was actually felled by that one blow. The woman made it her life’s work to murder and manipulate. Bartholameau yelled at me asking if I really expected him to hit her again. Of course I did not and had not. I had asked someone to open the casket and to keep the cleric from healing the woman more than I and she already had. He asked how I could not have felt sorry for the poor grieving mother. I told him I saw that her soul had been incredibly black and evil. I reminded him that I had told him I detected evil and that is what I had seen. His response was a very rudely intoned: “So you say.” He asked something along the lines of “why should I believe that?”

The man was there when the woman confessed, uncoerced, to murdering dozens of people! She confessed to kidnappings and to controlling the undead. He heard her confess her great evils. He watched her sign her confession. He participated in her questioning. I got very angry. I asked him why I was expected to believe in him when he did not believe in me. The man accused me of lying about either my ability to detect evil or the fact that I had detected evil in the woman. Either way, I am not a liar! And he knows it.

The final nail in the coffin was when he asked again how I could not care about the “poor woman” suffering on the ground. Then he said: “I can’t just stop caring about people whenever I want like you can, Xander.”

I had a terrible impulse to do him violence then. At least I did not indulge in this impulse. I was choking on my anger though. I managed to bite out the words: “You need to stop talking.” Then I hastily withdrew from the room before things became any more disastrous. I was seething with anger. I still am. His flippant, blatantly disrespectful words keep cropping up in my mind. He could have gotten his point across without such intense and purposeful rudeness. He chose not to. I feel my anger like a burning in my heart. I must pray long and hard on this so that I can find forgiveness for him. I have hope that I have it in me to do at least that much.

In the morning, a messenger arrived. He was very nervous when he asked for the Warden. Eshrin met him and received his delivery. The messenger handed over a great deal of paperwork before quickly scurrying away. Eshrin sat down to skim through everything. He said that nothing jumped out at him other than the letter of introduction to Ms. Lorde. He said he would need more time to review the papers more thoroughly. Sal’s eagerness to return to the Lorde estate got us moving pretty quickly.

When we walked through town, people were visibly afraid of us. A few cheered for us, but the cheers were driven by some malice toward the scientists. As we left the town behind us, we had a peaceful walk with a lovely view. It took us about an hour to reach the Lorde estate.

When we reached the door, Sal was greeted by a cantankerous older man. He was very surly and seemed intent upon turning Sal away. Then Sal presented the letter of introduction from Dr. Ludimere. As he did, Eshrin mentioned that it said something about a stipend and assisting the warden. The caretaker gave us a sour look after reading the letter and said he supposed we could come in. He bade us wipe our feet. Farraj pointedly refused to do so.

The home was a pretty, well-kept manor. There was a great deal of wood and lovely décor. We admired this from afar as the caretaker withdrew.
Not long after he departed for the upstairs, the caretaker returned with a pretty, well-dressed woman. She had a cascade of thick chestnut curls and a look of pure disdain on her face. She told us that she had received our letter of introduction and that she was Isabel Lorde.

Sal started out by telling her that we had just taken part in capturing a dangerous assassin in town. Ms. Lorde gave us a snide look when he said this. She asked what we wanted. Sal told her that we would love to see Dr. Lorde’s notes and plants that he may have kept at the house. Ms. Lorde briskly replied that the estate no longer housed her father’s work. I could tell that she was telling the truth, but it was just as clear that she was holding something important back. This made it even more likely in my mind that her ex-fiancé had stolen these things of import from her.

Sal gently pressed and asked if there was anything else that might help us that she could remember. She sniffed and curtly replied that the items had been removed from the estate. Bartholameau said: “Removed where?” She said: “Have you asked your friends at the research center? What were you going to do with the notes anyway?”

After sharing a quick, hushed exchanged with Eshrin, Sal divulged that some of the research may have been used to facilitate wrongdoings. He stressed that it was very important that we find out where the work had gone.

Ms. Lorde’s face lit up at that. Her look grew sly as she said: “Do you have reason to believe the person who took my father’s things is involved in criminal activities as a result of it?” Just like that I felt like I had been transported to the Queen’s court. I could read Isabel Lorde’s motives like an open book. Not that she made that difficult. I knew exactly how to talk to her then.

I waited for Sal to reply that it was possible and that it really depended upon what we found. I figured that Sal could play her game at least as well as I could. Probably better. Ms. Lorde quickly made it clear that she wanted the thief crushed like a bug. No more doubts about it being the fiancé who jilted her. Sal whispered back to her in a sly tone of his own saying that any information she could give would aid in the investigation.

Ms. Lorde said that a short time ago, a man named Ali from the research center lived in town. She said he may have stolen miscellaneous journals of her father’s. Sal asked why. She angrily replied that he was a shifty fellow. Sal coaxed her on and asked if they were definitely stolen from the estate.

Just then, Farraj, who had been standing close to me, whispered far too loudly in my ear: “Is this her lover?” I tried to quiet him, but the damage had already been done. I saw Sal struggling to keep from laughing. Ms. Lorde’s face grew red and angry as her expression soured. Then she continued on as if she had not heard. She said: “Ali was charming. Far too charming for those fools at the research station. He probably stole their research too.” She went on to say that she had been hosting a gala at the house the previous year. Some of the doctor’s things had been moved from their usual place to make room. She said that was when some of his possessions had gone missing. Sal seemed a bit reluctant at that point to push her any further.

I very deliberately met Ms. Lorde’s eye. Perhaps the storminess of my own emotions called out to her anger and distress. She seemed to relax into her anger like it was a favorite shawl. I said: “Did Ali disappear that night then?” She said yes. I asked her if she had any idea where he may have gone. She haughtily held my gaze and demanded to know if we were going to charge him with anything. I said it certainly sounded like he had committed larceny. I said: “If we can find him with the property…” I let my words linger in the air. She put on a great show of trying to remember a lost detail.

Then she said: “He was here with people who said something about going to one of the central cities. I think it was Regunt. To kiss behinds no doubt.”

In the background I heard Farraj say: “This is very strange. Is this a common greeting?” Eshrin murmured back that it was metaphorical. I held Ms. Lorde’s gaze to convince her I was serious about what was happening and willed her to continue. Sal chimed in with: “What does Ali look like?” Ms. Lorde turned to Sal and said: “He is a half-elf. He has dark hair and a medium complexion.” She gave another haughty sniff and said: “He was always too formal and stiff. Excessively so.” Sal continued on and said: “Does he have any trinkets he likes to wear and doesn’t usually take off? You know, something to help us identify him. In a wistful tone, Ms. Lorde said: “Ali always dressed well. Far too well for those slobs up at the research station. His clothes were always embroidered with gold thread.” Then she more briskly said she looked forward to hearing the results of the investigation. She grilled Sal on how public the charges and investigation would be. He told her they would likely be fairly public.

As we were departing, Eshrin admonished Ms. Lorde not to discuss what she had heard today. He warned her that it could jeopardize the investigation. Ms. Lorde readily agreed.

As we were walking back to town, Farraj casually said: “Is this Ali not the half-elf who greeted us at the Ledger? The one with the gold robes called Alistar?” We all stopped and gaped at each other. No doubt everyone else also felt foolish for not recalling this fact. I need to be more vigilant about really noticing the people I interact with. Once we recovered, Sal said: “He is new to the social scene. It really could be him.”

When we reached town, we were ready to go to Archibald Fisher’s manor. Sal settled up with the innkeeper as we prepared the carriage and all of the horses. As usual Abraxis picked up on my simmering anger. He was irritable and fussy all the way to the estate. I couldn’t calm him no matter how hard I tried. I can never calm him when I cannot find calm myself.

After riding for half a day, we traveled up a well-kept drive to the Fisher home. There was a large manor with a sizeable lawn and garden. There were also several outbuildings. When we arrived, it was clear that the estate was well-kept and occupied. We knocked and waited for some time before the door opened. A bewildered looking servant of considerable age answered the door.

Sal introduced us, explained that Eshrin is a warden, and asked to speak with the owner. The man hurriedly said it was not yet time for the state to seize the property. He said the family fortune was running out but that it was not gone yet. Sal reassured the poor man that that was not why we were there. When the gentleman was calmer, he explained that Archibald Fisher had died with no living relations. He said that Archibald had not left the estate to anyone. He had made provisions in his will that it should be tended to as long as possible.

The man welcomed us into the home. He said it was nice to have visitors. He said the only visitors they ever had were tax collectors. Eshrin chimed in that they should be coming annually.

As soon as I entered the house, I felt like I was back in Krig. It almost felt like a bad dream. The house was lavishly decorated with Krigori arms and armor, banners, and other such things. Sal chirped that the décor was very interesting.

The butler led us to a sitting parlor. Then he politely but firmly asked about the reason for our visit. Sal explained that things Archibald had said toward the end of his life line up with the unfortunate circumstances that are happening now. He said that we wished to investigate that further. I was momentarily distracted from the conversation as I observed a large sigil of an eyeball pierced by a sword. Later Eshrin told me it was the symbol of a once prominent Krigori house. The name has been changed a little but it is essentially Fisher. He said the Fisher clan were once well-regarded warlords. They fell out of power in one generation when the clan chieftain wed with a witch.

When my attention wandered back to the butler, I heard him say that he had served the Fishers his entire life. His parents had served Archibald’s father and his grandfather before that. He said that both the father and Archibald were troubled men. He said the father was very sickly. He also said Fisher had been troubled by something. He would not say what it was.

The butler said that Archibald had died of either a failure of the heart or the brain. He expressed anxiety about Archibald’s death being linked to the current troubles. He said Archibald had died with unfinished business. He had been obsessed with his grandfather’s legacy. Archibald’s documents and journals were still at the estate. Sal convinced him to let us look at them.

The butler escorted us to a storeroom which adjoined the master’s chamber. In the bedchamber, there was a longsword of unusual quality. It bore a very curious crimson blade. Eshrin cast “Detect Magic” upon it. He said it allowed the wielder to wound himself in order to temporarily gain greater health. He said it was a stronger cousin to the axe the gnollish king had wielded. When Bartholameau asked the butler about the sword, the man said it had been with Archibald always.

As seems to be the nature with all venerably aged men, the butler insisted upon dragging about things that were far too heavy for him as he was searching for the journals. My ceaseless stubbornness finally won the day, and he allowed me to move the boxes for him. I scanned about as I did so but did not sense any evil.

We took the journals downstairs and began reading them. I asked the aged man if he had considered closing up one or two rooms of the house and selling the contents so he and the other servants could remain there comfortably. He said that the master would hate that. He did seem to know his master’s mind. It just seems so odd that the man would prefer to have his entire house and belongings seized by the state rather than have his servants remain for as long as they could. What use is the house to a dead man? The butler assured me that the servants would receive stipends when they were forced to leave. That at least eased my concern somewhat.

The journals detailed how as a child, Archibald despised his father. He repeatedly described him as a weak invalid. The grandfather died when Archibald was quite young, but Archibald venerated him in his writings. In early adulthood, Archibald seemed to be obsessed with having successful business ventures. The journals detailed some truly ruthless business tactics. A reemerging theme of something that was bothering him was also written about. When he wrote of the death of his father, there was no lamentation. I don’t honestly know if I will feel any sadness when my father passes. But even after what he did to me and to Aurora, I don’t truly hate him. I do suppose he despises me as a weakling and would not mourn my passing. I guess the roles were simply reversed in this family. I wonder if my father ever feels any remorse for the things that he did. I wonder if he ever misses his children.

Clearly I digress. The later journals said: “I found a thread…I shall follow it to…” At that point the words were blotted out unintelligibly, and there was dry blood on the page. Another entry said: “I shall use them to make my way forward. First I must prepare. I found the writing of my grandfather. I see where his power lies. Great grandmother must have been quite something.”

Later still, it said: “It is done but unsatisfactory. It is nothing close to what grandfather had.” Then there were a great many details about espionage that had been committed.

Near the very end of the journals it said: “I am discovered.” Then there were more blotted out words. There were a great many lamentations and morose words. Then it said: “My preparations have been for naught.” In the last entry it said: “It all ends with me.”

We returned to the storeroom. Eshrin and Sal began casting “Detect Magic” to find any magic items. They found a few magical items that were fairly routine. There were no headbands. In a lockbox, they did sense strong transmutation magic and faint divination magic. The box held an ornate, oversized iron key. The butler told Eshrin it was for the family mausoleum. He said that one was for the father. There was another that was for the grandfather’s tomb. Eshrin discerned that the keys carried the spell “Knock” upon them. He also discerned that there was a strange spell something very similar to “Detect undead.” That is very interesting indeed. The butler said he carried the key for Archibald’s tomb. He also said he had not been in the mausoleum in years. I looked around at my companions and discerned that they also felt we needed to go to the mausoleum. I gently told the butler that we needed to see the mausoleum. I reassured him it was simply to make sure that nothing was disturbed or amiss.

He took us to a modest sized mausoleum. Eshrin noticed right away that the architecture was very peculiar. The building was divided into three parts for three sarcophagi. The first one showed signs that it was prepared for eventual expansion. The second and third parts seemed to have been built together. They were not readied for expansion. Why would that be if they were built well before Archibald was even born?

We decided to open Archibald’s tomb first. The butler insisted upon opening the door despite our best efforts to convince him otherwise. I do admire him for the sense of duty he feels toward his former master. I did not detect any evil as we waited. Eshrin informed us that there was a very potent “Protection from Evil” spell upon the doors. That is very strange as well.

We half expected trouble as the tomb was opened, but we found none. Eshrin noted that the chamber was smaller than it should have been, but no one could find any hidden doors or the like. I was prepared for the body to be propped up and unshriven as is the Krigori custom. There were four side chambers off of the main room. They were clearly intended to be for wives. They were all empty, and there were no demarcations for children. Again, that is very odd as the tomb was built well before Archibald was born.

As we searched about, the butler told us that Archibald’s father doted upon him. I had a closer look at the body along with Bartholameau. There were no signs of harm to the skull. There were severe gashes in the bones of the arms and the legs. Two wounds seemed to have been from slashing damage. Two seemed much deeper as if they perhaps came from an axe.

The butler told us that the Pharasman family who had interred Archibald lived nearby. The family had long been friends of the Fishers and had likely cared for their dead for many generations. He gave us directions to reach the previous cleric’s daughter.

Archibald’s crypt was oddly devoid of magical things or things that are normally of significance when burying one’s dead. When we commented upon this, the butler said that he had changed his will and asked not to be buried with such things.

The father’s crypt was a larger room. It had unfilled spaces for children. Two of the spaces for wives were filled. This crypt contained a great many personal possessions. One of the items was a scroll case. Sal opened it to find that it contained Archibald’s birth certificate. Farraj noticed a brief case of sorts that looked like it had been tampered with. The buckle had been haphazardly left open. Eshrin examined it and asked the butler if he had accompanied Archibald to visit his father’s body. He had not. The papers pertained to his successful businesses. These stopped at papers detailing a local gold mine. The butler confirmed that the family owned a gold mine nearby. He said that it had saved the family from financial ruin.

As we approached the grandfather’s tomb, the butler grew very nervous. His hands were shaking, and he said that he had never been in the tomb. When he opened the door, he shouted: “Yee gods!” Then he clutched at his chest. I was able to snatch him out of the way as Farraj nearly ran him over in his haste to see what had happened. I shuttled him over to the far side of the mausoleum and reassured myself that he was alright. I briefly went back over to see what the matter was. I entered a wildly decorated crypt to find that there was no body displayed in the place of honor. There were three wives laid to rest and no other children. The tomb was filled with plaques, rare coins, and battle worn armor. At the peak of the tomb was a carving of the sword through the eye. It had an indentation where something should have been. As I moved back out to watch over the butler, I heard Eshrin say that there was magic on the socket. It was moderate transmutation and necromancy. As I continued to try to soothe the poor butler, I heard Bartholameau call out that there was a maker’s mark near the eye. Eshrin recognized it as belonging to a society in Vergen. After we discovered all that we could, we closed up the crypt.

When we reached the house, the butler was very clear that he wanted to help in whatever way he could. He explained that the gold mine had been dormant for some time. He gave us schematics and two keys. He said one key was for the front gate. He did not know what the other was for. He also had Judith (the housekeeper I think) write us a letter of introduction to the Pharasman friend of the family. Her name is Jody Cooper.

After we thanked the butler, we traveled to the village where Jody Cooper lives. We gave Jody the letter from Judith, and she gladly invited us into her home. Sal explained a bit about what is going on and why we were there. After giving us tea and snacks, Jody retired to a shed in the back. She returned with burial records for the last two Fisher scions. The grandfather’s burial records were conspicuously absent. Jody was as puzzled as we were. She returned to the shed while we looked over the burial records for Archibald and his father. For Archibald, the physicians determined the cause of death to be from fatal heart strain. There were notes that the arm and leg wounds were sustained earlier in life.

When Jody returned, she brought us a record that showed preemptive preparations were made for the grandfather’s burial. The record then said: “Voided at the request of the family.” As I was asking Jody if there had been any signs of poisoning, Farraj burst out that the grandfather was an undead monstrosity wandering the lands. This, of course, caught the full and undivided attention of the devout Pharasman. It necessitated further intervention on Sal’s part. Sal explained the fact that the grandfather’s body was missing. He also said that Farraj was jumping to wild conclusions. Jody told us that the family had meant a great deal to her. She said that she wanted to help in any way that she could.

We did have a few more questions, which Jody answered for us. She said Archibald had died eleven years ago. His father had died eighteen years before that. The father died of lung failure. Jody said that she was familiar with the society in Vergen that made the tomb. She has friends in the society. She said that she wasn’t busy and that she could go talk to them for us.

Jody doesn’t seem particularly combat capable. I was worried about her traveling alone for a day and a half each way to Vergen, so I offered that we could accompany her. It would be unconscionable for us to put her in danger while undertaking a mission on our behalf. The group seemed okay but not thrilled with this idea. Eshrin nodded his ascent though. I wanted to leave for Vergen in the morning. Sal was burning with curiosity about the mine. He was quite insistent that we go there first. Jody didn’t seem to mind either way. Sal wanted to leave immediately. That would mean arriving at the mine at night. I voiced objections, as did Eshrin. Sal begrudgingly agreed to leave at first light.

After Jody directed us to the inn, I invited her to have an ale with us. I could hear the entire group murmur in surprise around me. I’m really not sure why. She seemed like a very nice woman, and she had helped us. I just wanted to repay the favor in some small way. Perhaps they think I am incapable of getting along with a Pharasman. Jody happily accepted my invitation. We had a pleasant evening of conversation with her.

We departed bright and early for the gold mine. Sal was practically bouncing with anticipation. On the way, Farraj asked me why I have a problem with Bartholameau’s perceived inability to fight but that I’m fine with Sal being with us. I explained that Sal had been up front at the beginning that his way to help the group would be to talk to people and that he had been clear that he could not fight. I said that I knew that he would hide if danger drew too near. I’m not sure if Farraj understood the difference. I know up front that Sal may need protection and that I can turn to him for aid in political matters but not martial ones. He knows his limits in combat.

My conversation with Farraj elicited from Bartholameau a very loud “whisper” to Eshrin about me having a big, dirty stick up my ass. Certainly not even the hundredth time I’ve heard that. Well, the “dirty” part was new. That was a bit weird.

We arrived at the mines with keys and schematics in hand. Sal seems intent upon going inside. He does seem to brim with curiosity. I may have to shield him if he is set on the idea of going in. Inheritor knows I don’t need or want to stir the pot anymore by alienating another party member.

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Xander's Journal: Entry 50

Entry Fifty

Days Six-Seven

Sal continued to talk with the scientists for quite some time. I heard him ask whether it was possible to talk to the plants through the Lorde bulb. I heard one of the scientists say it is possible. He also said he wasn’t sure what good it would do. Apparently the bulb has no actual awareness. Then Sal finally got down to it and asked if we could have a discussion with the leader of the establishment. He talked to him about how interesting the plants were and said we wanted to know more. The scientist looked quite gloomy. He said: “I’m afraid the lead scientist will shortly be indisposed. He recently had a loss of a personal nature.”

Bartholameau quickly chimed in and said: “Was it a death or something more unusual?” Sal hissed at him to be quiet. Understandably, the comment rankled the scientist. He demanded to know who we are. Eshrin confidently announced: “We’re with the police.” The man seemed surprised but volunteered that the doctor’s child had just died. His child had been out somewhere with his wife at the time. The wife was due to return at any moment.

I asked if we could see the second in charge of the arboretum. We were informed that his name was Dr. Ludimere. We were told it would be a few hours before the doctor would be available, so we waited at the arboretum. As I was looking at the plants, I saw Sal pull Eshrin aside. Sal looked a bit agitated, so I went to see what was wrong. When I got into earshot, I heard Sal say: “Eshrin, while it may well be the easiest course of action to say that we are with the police, it would really be better if we were more discrete. A lot of people are trying to find you. We need to stay a step ahead of them. We’re not going to be able to do that if we leave a paper trail behind us.” Master Eshrin argued that we should just be honest. I joined him in his argument. Sal soldiered on and explained that he felt we are fighting an information war as much as anything else. He argued that we shouldn’t leave breadcrumbs behind for our foes. I had to grudgingly agree with him. Eshrin did not seem convinced.

We were able to spend some time looking at the plants while we waited for the museum to open. It was nice to take a moment to relax and to just be with other people.

The museum was quite nice. There were some very good portraits along with a fair amount of educational material. We were able to examine the solid case where several of the preserved, shriveled prototype bulbs were. There were no obviously missing sections.

Sal, who was once again chatting with one of the arboretum employees, found out that Alexander Lorde had an estate not too far from the village. The guide told Sal that Lorde frequently took work home with him. It is just as likely that a bulb was stolen from there as it is that it was stolen from the arboretum itself. I gotta hand it to Sal. The guy talks a whole lot, but people do seem to want to open up to him.

While we were continuing to wait for our appointment, we discussed the languages that we speak. Not surprisingly, Eshrin speaks many, many languages. Everyone seems very interested in having a “secret” language that we can all communicate in in front of other people. Sylvan was brought up as a possibility since Sal, Farraj, and Eshrin all speak it. I do admit it’s not terribly likely that most people we encounter will speak the language. I found Master Eshrin to be very condescending when he spoke of teaching me to speak Sylvan. He spoke like one would speak to a slow child and said: “I might be able to teach you to speak Sylvan since I am able to teach a kobold to speak common.” I admit I got a bit perturbed by this. I know I gave him a cross look and told him to be careful. I’m not proud of it. I don’t know why he got under my skin. He certainly isn’t the first wizard to tell me how stupid I am. I think being in Krig for so long and having so many people give me flack all the time just got to me. I’ll have to work on that.

Sal and Bartholameau got tired of waiting for Dr. Ludimere. They decided they wanted to go scout out the Lorde estate, which is about an hour’s walk away. I was worried about the two of them going alone, and I asked if they were sure. Bartholameau took offense and curtly said they would be fine. I backed off, but it didn’t keep me from being worried. Farraj sat and talked with the plants for a bit longer. Apparently they told him that a strange smoky shadow was at the edge of their “awareness” recently.

Not long after Sal and Bartholameau left, a black carriage with the banner of Pharasma pulled to a stop outside of the arboretum. A pretty woman about my age stepped out. She was clearly in mourning. I feel so deeply for her loss. What a terrible tragedy to have to endure. Once she had disappeared behind a door, I went out to speak with the carriage driver. I asked him to pass along my condolences, and I offered my services should anyone need aid. He seemed like a very caring and kind man. He asked me to keep the family in my thoughts and prayers, and I promised to do so. Just as I reentered the center, the woman emerged with a clearly distraught man. They quickly headed to the carriage.

Just after the carriage departed, we were ushered up to the conference room to meet with Dr. Ludimere. He looked at the plant specimen Eshrin acquired in the bog under a strange magnifying apparatus. He seemed quite astounded. He was sure that it was very similar in structure to the Lorde bulb. He said it was spongier, was clearly once incredibly well-hydrated, and had strange vessels. He said the vessels were almost like animal veins. Farraj offered that the plant did not seem to be more than one year old. The current Lorde bulb is thirty years old.

Dr. Ludimere assured me that all of the prototypes that had not been destroyed were accounted for. He was not, however, sure of how they were disposed of. He hadn’t been a member of the research team at that time. He assumes they were either burned or composted. He said none of the other researchers, save the grieving Dr. Bortion, were at the center then. He promised to produce records about the disposals along with a list of all of the recent researchers’ names within one day. He also said he would make note of any unusual occurrences at the arboretum within the past year. He stated that the staff sometimes consults with druids both from the central cities and from Three Bridge Falls.

In Celestial, Eshrin told me that the growth of the plant was far more likely to have been achieved by necromancy rather than through druidic magic.
It was a bit difficult to coax Farraj into talk to the doctor, but he finally did. He discerned that the bulb in the bog could not have been grown from the roots of the current Lorde bulb. The doctor told us that some internal structures for the complex root system are missing in the charred sample. Farraj suggested that we leave a sample with the doctor to study. Eshrin seemed comfortable with it, so we gave him some of the plant.

Dr. Ludimere told us that the current Lorde estate is owned by Dr. Lorde’s daughter. He said that she is a very difficult and unpleasant woman, but he agreed to make an introduction for us.

When the entire group reconvened at the tavern, Sal revealed that he had gone to see Lorde manor. He didn’t make any mention of Bartholameau being with him. He said the caretaker had turned him away. He also learned that Ms. Lorde had thrown her lover over last year after some kind of ugly altercation.

Bartholameau revealed that a man working at a southern research station had his entire project’s worth of orchids die overnight. He said there were no signs of boot or footprints and he did not know what happened. I asked if it sounded similar to the time that the plants had all died near the slavers’ cabin Eshrin’s last group visited. Eshrin got angry with me for not remembering all of the specifics. He is very hard to please. How can he expect me to memorize the details of twenty seven large tomes worth of reports and all of their various supplements in four days’ time? He is being unreasonable.

We decided that it would be best to go out and check the research station where the orchids died. The whole situation was rather peculiar. Farraj explained that orchids are very frail and can die easily. Still, it was odd to see all of the orchids completely dead and none of the other plants in the greenhouse suffering any ill effects. Eshrin cast “Detect Magic,” but there were no lingering magical auras. Farraj checked the soil and said there was nothing amiss there. He checked around outside and found that someone had been there recently. Inside the shed, he found a partial footprint that was cut off by a line. Just like we saw in the village the other morning when the shadow had been seen. We didn’t find any further leads, so we returned to the inn.

Early in the evening, a messenger came to deliver the bad news that the Bortion child had perished. He announced that there would be time to publically pay respects the following afternoon.

It never feels right to hear that a young child has died, but something just felt off about this. I decided to go visit the Pharasman cleric at the morgue. For some strange reason, no one cared to join me. The cleric is a human woman past middle age. Come to think of it, I never caught her name. After cutting through the necessary red tape, she told me the cause of death was asphyxiation due to foreign particulate matter. She said the Madame Dr. Bortion had been investigating dangerous plants in the field and had her young child with her. The cleric said the child’s death appears to be a tragic accident and nothing more. I know that people do foolish things every day. I just find it hard to believe that a mother would bring a young child to such a dangerous place. I have heard many whispers about town about how reckless she is though, so I suppose it’s possible. I also know how ugly town gossip can be. The cleric said she was certain the family would like to see me at the services tomorrow.

I arrived back at the inn to find that Sal and Bartholameau were still out gathering intel. They seem to get on well, so that’s good. Farraj was on the roof as usual. I assume he is keeping a watchful eye out for the shadow, but he may have just been trying to escape the confines of his “box.” Eshrin was in the common room enjoying a bottle of honeyed wine and compiling volume twenty-eight of the field reports. At least I think it’s volume twenty-eight. It may be twenty-nine.

In the morning, I thought it best to bring up the question of what to do if one of our number should be killed; assuming the body could be recovered. That was an exasperating exercise. Bartholameau was alright. He just said that of course he wanted to be brought back. Eshrin launched into a long-winded explanation of his heirs and devisees. That, of course, was in the event that he should not be recoverable. He said that otherwise, he would want to come back. Trust me, the telling of it and the pinning down of an answer took much longer than the recounting now. I thought I might have to bring in an inquisitor in order to get past the talk of wills and to a straight answer. Sal seemed absolutely appalled by the very notion that he might die. Like the thought of gallivanting around with the police might not be dangerous. He kept interrupting other people to emphatically tell us that he wanted to be brought back. He told me I would be hearing from his father immediately if he died. Not exactly reassuring. Tangling with an elven council member is not high on my to-do list. Farraj was nearly impossible. He kept insisting that the desert would take him and that he was somehow incapable of dying here in this verdant land. I kept quoting his own scripture back at him about how man does not control his own death and that it will come for him when it will. He still would not concede that he could die. He finally said: “If it will salve your conscience, my brother, you may bring me back.” It is not about my conscience. I was just relieved to finally get a commitment one way or the other, so I went with that.

When it came to my turn to talk, I told them that I do not fear death. I told them to bring me back if they felt like they still needed me. Eshrin launched in with: “What if Wilhelm is overwhelmed with paperwork and I need someone to assist him? Can I bring you back for that?” I honestly couldn’t tell if he was baiting me or not. I almost think he was serious. Farraj chimed in and said: “As long as I walk this land, I will bring you back my shiny friend.” That was actually really endearing.

I found out that Sal has spent a good deal of time in Krig and that he really liked it there. I cannot fathom why. I simply cannot. I have never met so many fools in my life. It seemed that half the country insisted upon starting a fight with me. First I had to fight because I hadn’t proven myself. They thought I was an “easy target” because I didn’t want to fight. Then I had to fight because I had proven myself and every jackanapes I encountered wanted to garner greater reputation by besting me. I supposed I needn’t dwell upon it. We got our mission done, that’s what matters.

After we attired ourselves as respectfully as we could, we went to the viewing ceremony for the poor child. When we arrived in the afternoon, we learned that the coffin would be interred that evening. We could see the doctors next to the Pharasman priestess. As we stood in respectful silence, Sal began to get twitchy. He finally whispered that something was “off” about Madame Bortion’s appearance. He said that it looked strangely “pieced together,” like an illusion. He walked away and came back a few moments later. He whispered that there was some sort of magic on the mother and on the casket. He eagerly whispered: “Is she evil? Did you check to see if she is evil?” I told him in a hushed tone that I was not in the habit of detecting evil upon grieving mothers at their children’s funerals. Still, Sal seemed very agitated, so I decided to heed his instincts.

The woman was bone-deep evil. The kind of evil that sets your blood to boiling when you detect for it. The coffin also had something evil within it. I hadn’t even noticed Eshrin leave. I did notice him come back to my side. He calmly reported that there was magic upon the woman and the casket. He said that there was a faint necromantic aura upon the casket and a moderate one upon the woman. He also detected illusion magic upon the woman and transmutation magic upon the casket. Before I go any further, let me just say that everything that happened next was a series of colossal errors. It was awful, and it was entirely my fault.

I was still reeling from the aura of evil that poured off of the woman. All that really sunk in were the words: “illusion,” and “necromantic aura.” All of my vaunted discipline melted away like ice in the desert. I demanded that we get the people away and destroy the evil immediately. I only paused long enough to get my armor on. I rattled off a hasty order to get the people away so we could engage. Sal said he could easily divert the people by telling everyone the parents were too distraught and needed a moment. I was so certain that Eshrin would dispel the evil woman’s illusion and some horrible beast would be there for all to see. I was confident that even if he failed to dispel the illusion, she would use some vile attack to make her evil obvious to everyone. I was such a fool. It never even occurred to me that she could truly just be some very evil woman. The group looked at me with so much trust. Because I am a paladin of Iomedae, and I am supposed to shine in her legion.

I did not shine. I was arrogant, and my arrogance nearly caused something we could not recover from. I would have gratefully accepted the humiliation of having acted so rashly were it not for the fact that my actions inflicted terrible grief upon another human being. An innocent man who had just lost his child. I know his grief would have been there regardless, but my foolishness increased his suffering.

The entire engagement was a dog’s dinner. Right from the moment when Farraj said: “So we are murdering this woman then, yes?” I said yes. Because I was sure she was some vile creature in disguise. We rushed right in. Eshrin cast his “Dispel Magic.” Nothing happened. I assumed the spell had failed, but I was still committed.

Even if we hadn’t been fully committed, I had set something in motion that could not be stopped. Bartholameau did a great job of trying to get Dr. Bortion to step away from his wife, but the man was understandably baffled. I barely had time to notice that several people in the back of the crowd had scattered. The doctor tried to comfort his wife, and the Pharasman roared about how disrespectful we were being.

Before I could even get to her, Farraj rushed in like some hell-bound dervish. He bore down on her with a vicious cry of: “Sarenrae’s justice is upon you!” He brought that massive earth breaker of his over his head and brought it crashing down right on top of the woman. She crumpled and landed in a pool of her own blood. It was an absolutely brutal blow. I just hadn’t counted on the fact that Farraj would take her out with one blow. She was so evil that I assumed she would be absurdly powerful. Everything fell to hell. I can’t remember a time when I have been so at a loss as to what to do on a battlefield. I could feel the eyes of the onlookers boring holes into my back. We were far too deeply committed to go back. I yelled at Bartholameau to open the casket. I knew I would regret that too. I rushed to the woman and laid hands upon her so that she would not die in front of all of the people. I knew we would have to account for our actions. When I healed her, she grasped feebly at her husband’s pant leg.

Farraj’s blow, so up close and personal to Bartholameau, caused the effect I feared it might have. Bartholameau did not open the coffin. He stumbled blindly away from the carnage and half shrieked: “Whoa, dude, what the hell?” The husband was in tears as he tried to drag his bleeding wife to safety. The Pharasman cast a spell to cure the woman of more of her injuries.

Farraj flipped the lid of the casket open and revealed the body of a dead baby. There was no obvious malevolent object or creature. Just a dead child. Farraj turned and ripped the necklaces from the woman’s neck. When I would not take them, he dropped them at my feet. I grabbed the manacles from my pack then. I could feel adrenaline screaming through my body. I grabbed the woman and wrapped her up in an iron grip.

I had to restore order to the situation before it spiraled any further out of hand. I called out for someone to figure out what was in the coffin. I also yelled for someone to get the cleric away before she healed the woman anymore. The absurdity was almost overwhelming. Bartholameau was still frozen with shock, so I roared in his face to get him moving. I felt like an utter ass, but it worked. Apparently he had seen something I hadn’t. He walked over and pulled a wig off the woman’s head. Oddly, the hair underneath was the same color.

You may think that things could not get worse. You would be mistaken. Eshrin was standing a fair ways back from the tumult. He tried to move toward the coffin when a bright spot of red blossomed on his robes. He cried out in pain, but I could see no attacker. He whirled and cast a great many balls of snow at the air. I do not know if it did any good. He is a very clever fellow though and thankfully avoided harming any bystanders.
With tears still streaming down his face, Dr. Bortion yelled at me: “Unhand her you devil!” He drew a dagger and tried to stab me. A part of me said I deserved to get stabbed. Of course the blade bounced harmlessly off of my armor. This made him look even more desperate and afraid. The Pharasman was yelling about blasphemy in a near-apoplectic fit. I don’t blame her either.

Farraj hurried to Eshrin’s aid. He reached Eshrin’s side and swung his hammer wildly. He didn’t seem to hit anything. I was able to shackle the woman. I plead with the cleric to understand that this woman was evil. While I was pleading my case, Bartholameau began to briskly wipe at the woman’s face. This upset her husband further. I was distracted for a moment when I saw Eshrin get stabbed again. He didn’t look too healthy at that point, and I was getting pretty worried about that. I looked back at the husband and noticed a marked change in his demeanor. He looked extremely confused and just said: “What?” The cleric also looked stunned. I cannot tell you how grateful I was to Bartholameau in that moment. His exposing the woman as an imposter shifted the mood to one I could work with.

Eshrin thrust his hand out, and a thunderstorm appeared in front of him. Nothing else really happened. Farraj swung his hammer again and connected with something. Despite the solid blow, I could see no blood. I thrust the woman at Bartholameau and rushed to Eshrin. I laid hands upon him and healed him. He still looked pretty banged up.
Bartholameau stopped the woman from grabbing her wig as the invisible attacker fled. A shadowy figure retreated to the shade of a nearby tree. Then it disappeared.

Even after all of that, the Pharasman interfered when Eshrin tried to look into the coffin. Eshrin had to explain his actions at great length and then invited the cleric to detect magic into the coffin. She was still very angry because she believed the spell present was just gentle repose. Eshrin persevered and finally pointed out to both her and us that there was a plant growth spell within the coffin. She conceded that it was there and that that was wrong. She also analyzed the necklace and some anklets, which also seemed suspicious. She confirmed that both had strong necromantic auras.

I worked with all of my might to calm and convince the Pharasman and to comfort the devastated father. He was, of course, inconsolable. Eshrin said that he wanted to autopsy the child to see what was within his body. The father refused. The Pharasman would not go against his wishes. I had to explain that he could not consent because he did not understand what was happening. I implored her to trust me. Eshrin implored her to trust the magic that she was seeing for herself. I showed her the terrible symbols on the anklets. They are used to animate the dead. Eshrin explained that the symbols were not tied to her person but to something else.

Finally, the Pharasman pointed out to the doctor that the woman was not his wife. She said something was amiss and should be checked. The man was shattered. I had to tell him about our fears and implore him to help us. Farraj nearly ruined the whole thing by speaking of the necessary sacrifice of the child. That was awful. He went on and said there was a vessel of a monstrous plant likely within and that it was a corruption of the Lorde bulb.

I could not apologize enough to the poor doctor. Sal had finally returned. He explained about the terrible monstrosity that had been found in the bog. Dr. Bortion finally agreed to hear us out at his lab. We were able to transport the coffin and the woman back to the arboretum. I studied her again without her items. She was still vile to her core.

When we reached the lab, we all quickly agreed to be completely forthcoming about the report. Eshrin tried to get the doctor to agree to a non-disclosure agreement. He was too emotional to be willing to agree to anything.

After hearing us out, he agreed to the autopsy. Sal pleaded with the doctor to withdraw, but he refused. He stayed even after he vomited.

I assisted the Pharasman with the autopsy. When we opened up the baby, we found a strange red tuber in the place of his spine and brain. We surgically removed the tuber and placed it in a magical specimen jar. I cannot put into words how awful that experience was. I had to cut open a baby and put my hands inside his chest and head. The despair and revulsion I felt were almost completely overwhelming. I wanted nothing more than to weep. I have never seen a Pharasman so badly shaken by death. I tried to push away my own distress so that I could offer her comfort.

We had scarcely sewn up and shriven the child when Sal very eagerly demanded to interrogate the captured woman. Something about the look in his eye and the zeal with which he said he wanted to interrogate her made me very nervous. I said that first we should just try questioning her. He very emphatically said it wouldn’t work and that we had to do whatever we needed to do to get the answers. Farraj and Bartholameau were not so emphatic, but they we nodding in agreement. I made it perfectly clear that we would not be torturing anyone. I also made it clear that I didn’t feel great about murdering a bound and helpless woman. I recommended that we return her to the Praesidium to stand trial. Bartholameau said they would likely use whatever means necessary to extract information from her. I turned to Eshrin to ask if this was true.

Eshrin misinterpreted my questioning look to mean that I was asking whether torture was okay. That’s alright. He doesn’t know me well yet. He said torture simply causes the target to yield whatever the questioner wants to hear rather than the truth. It was a “no” based upon logic rather than upon morality, but I’ll take it. Eshrin seems to me to be a good man. He is just a man of learning and procedure above other things. Farraj chimed in that the woman was hatching a plan to escape.

I knelt down near the woman, but not too close of course. I asked her if she would repent of her sins. I already knew she would scoff at the notion, but I also believe that any mortal soul can be redeemed under the right set of circumstances. She declined my offer, but she did say she would answer any questions posed to her as soon as she was before a duly appointed judge. That is when I knew that Farraj was right about her hatching a plan to escape. At the very least, she was trying to open the door for that possibility.

I reminded Eshrin that Chief Donovan had told me that we were entitled to dispense justice in the field if we deemed it necessary. I meant for Eshrin to serve as judge and to hear her crimes. Much to my surprise, even after I had stumbled so badly in my leadership just earlier that day, Eshrin looked at me with complete trust. He said that I should serve as judge. He said that Iomedae was the goddess of honor and who better to know and dispense the law than her paladin. The others seemed to be in agreement with him. I was humbled by their trust in Iomedae and in me as her servant.

The woman asked what authority we had to do this. Eshrin announced that he was a warden of the state and that he had full authority. Though his scarf of office was clearly visible, the woman asked him to come closer so she could see it. Eshrin wisely told her she could see it just fine from where she was.
During the course of her questioning, the woman prevaricated and tried to talk around answers she did not wish to give, but she did not ever seem to lie outright. The entirety of the group contributed to the questioning with very intelligent questions.

The woman revealed herself to be named Xael Noth. She readily confessed to murdering Elizabeth Bortion and her young child. She said that Dr. Bortion’s body was buried at the research station where she had been studying. Xael Noth went on to confess to a litany of deplorable crimes. She did not show a shred of remorse. These crimes included assassinations, kidnappings, and espionage. Master Eshrin recorded the entirety of her confession. She was quick to say that she committed all of these crimes of her own volition. She said she had led a difficult life and fell into this lifestyle at a young age.

She went on to confess that the amulet and anklets she wore had been illegally obtained. They allowed her limited control over two shadows and one ghost. She confessed to Sal that she had been so concerned about her disguise when she was attacked because she had hoped that others would come to her aid if they thought she was Dr. Bortion.

Xael Noth admitted that she ran an unlicensed office in Crent for the purpose of accepting contracts to commit assassinations and other crimes. She said she never saw the people who hired her and never knew who they were. She said that was true in this case as well. I asked her if she was a member of a guild. She said no, but I could tell she was avoiding the whole truth. I asked her if she knew Jay. She said she knew lots of Jays. I narrowed it down to an orc or half-orc named Jay. She said he was not a creditor. I pressed her on other ways she knew him. She said she did not associate with him. I did doubt her then. Or at the very least, I could tell she was not telling the whole truth. Bartholameau certainly picked up upon it as well. He told her that her body language said that she was not telling the whole truth. It seemed we had exhausted all of the information we could get from her then.

Eshrin produced a document detailing all that she had said. The document also said that she was signing it of her own free will and was not under duress. She readily signed it.

It is not often that I interact with such an evil person who adheres so strictly to a code. It is a twisted and corrupted honor, but in her mind she stuck to her code of honor. When we asked her why she confessed so freely, she said she had failed. She said her life would be forfeit anyway. From the look on her face, it was clear that some terrible horrors would befall her if she ended up back in the hands of her associates or superiors.
I sentenced Xael Noth to death for her crimes. I promised her the quickest and most painless death I could deliver. I executed her swiftly and with the added grace of Iomedae’s strength. Farraj came forward with a ceremonial dagger he had been holding for quite some time. Since the graveyard now that I think about it. He swiftly lopped off a hand and a foot so she would be useless as an undead creature. The group as a whole decided to do one better. We saw her body cremated. This seemed the wisest course of action.

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Xander's Journal: Entry 49

Entry Forty-Nine

Days 4-6

When Bartholameau arrived back at the Praesidium, he bore neither arms nor armor. I tried to convince him to go down to the armory to see himself properly outfitted. He quickly declined. I thought that perhaps he felt he was not entitled to the gear. I tried to explain to him that he should be allowed at least as much gear as the officers assembling around us had. He demurred again. He would not even accept a dagger. I am trying to follow my code and believe in my brother, but it is proving to be so very difficult for me. I am worried that he doesn’t know what it is like on a battlefield. I am worried that I will not be close enough to help him if he gets in over his head.

Farraj initially gave me pause as well, but that turned out alright. I went to explain to him that the people could act out because they are afraid. I asked him not to kill them if they did rise up. He stubbornly insisted that he will protect Master Eshrin. That is certainly a laudable goal, but he said it in such a way that it sounded like he would destroy anyone who threatened Eshrin. After talking further, he finally said that he understood. He said that I did not want him to kill the spooked heard. Clearly this not referring to the citizenry as “the heard” is going to be a much more difficult conversation. I didn’t have the time to have that talk. He seemed to grasp the important part, so I left it at that.

Mercifully, Sal said that he would be amongst the other socially elite members of the community. Bartholameau said he would join him. Thankfully Master Eshrin is just as pragmatic as I suspected he would be. He immediately saw the sense in accepting a “Shield Other” spell when I pointed out that he could be a target at the announcement.

When we arrived at the large town square where the announcement was to take place, Emperor Blackwood was already present. A good many senators and representatives were also there. The crowd that had gathered was quite large. I was relieved to see that there were a very respectable number of guards present.

Emperor Blackwood delivered the news of the wardens’ deaths with very little prevarication. I respect him for that. He told his people the truth while still being very respectful of the wardens’ memory. Unsurprisingly, the people took the news very hard. They were clearly shocked, and several of them were reduced to tears.

As Emperor Blackwood continued to speak, a flare was launched into the sky off in the distance. I wasn’t sure what it signified, but I gathered it did not bring good tidings.

The emperor explained to his people that the threat that took the wardens’ lives still exists. He told his people that even in death, the wardens had brought the country invaluable knowledge that would help them quickly and decisively end the threat. The crowd grew increasingly uneasy when he said this.

As the emperor was telling his people that they had to stay strong, another flare appeared in the sky from across the square. I noticed that several of the guards near my post were wringing their hands in concern.

The emperor concluded his speech by imploring his people to keep the wardens in their thoughts and to remember their bravery. He asked his people not to let panic seize their hearts.

After the briefest silence, someone in the crowd bellowed: “You sent them to die!” Then a torrent of cries filled the air. There were calls demanding to know what everyone else was doing while the wardens were out dying. People were yelling that the emperor had failed them. I stood and watched a wave of palpable agitation wash over the crowd. Then people started throwing punches.

Sal stood up and yelled out: “The wardens would have wanted us to be united!” To my surprise, Warden Eshrin stepped forward to the fore of the stage and called out: “I believe people had questions. I can answer your questions, but you must keep it civil. I will only be able to answer one question at a time.” I don’t know what came over me, but I nearly laughed aloud at that. I know the fellow was doing his best. Truly I do. It was just such an incongruous thing to say to a mob of people who were growing violent.

Still, along with Sal’s help, it did help. Eshrin was able to continue and say that he and the “warden” Raya had survived. He assured the people that the emperor had not sent them to their deaths and that they had done very significant damage to the enemy. Several people called out questions. Eshrin once again demanded that people raise their hands and ask one at a time. To my surprise, the crowd stilled a bit, and people did raise their hands to ask questions.

Eshrin explained that various police forces had been protecting the outlying lands while the wardens were making their assault. He also explained that it had not been tenable to bring a large fighting force where they had been.

As Master Eshrin spoke, another black flare flew into the sky directly behind the square. Master Eshrin continued talking about the fact that the group had brought a large number of police with them to end the gnollish threat. At that point, the crowd had quieted significantly. Master Eshrin continued to give them very matter-of-fact answers to their questions.

Just as I thought this might go off without significant violence, the sound of a group of angry voices could be heard approaching the square. Sal and Eshrin both beseeched people to stay calm and to exit the square in an orderly fashion. A handful of people left. The rest seemed to want to wait and see what was happening.

They didn’t have long to wait as a group of about sixty or so angry people approached the back of the assembly. Eshrin called out to them to be peaceful and that he would answer questions. The people in the back of the assembled group tried to tell their angry brethren that Eshrin was answering questions if they would just ask. The rioters were having none of it, and they began to clash with those in the back of the audience.

I was torn as to whether to leave my post, which blocked the way to the emperor, Eshrin, and a great many senators. Thankfully, Sal and Bartholameau rushed forward together to try to calm the newcomers. I took that opportunity to start evacuating people from the square.

Sal did a commendable job of calming several of the would-be- rioters. Some of them yelled that he was rich and fancy and didn’t have a clue what they were going through. Sal kept his cool, and Bartholameau stayed right with him.

As I watched, a group of four antagonists broke from the main body, blocked the path of those I was trying to evacuate, and began getting physical with them. I hurried forward to intercept them and protect those who were remaining peaceful. I was confident Farraj would be able to hold the stairway leading to the stage. I called out and told the antagonists that they were welcome to ask questions. I drew enough attention from the four men that the rest of the people were able to continue leaving. I proved to be a very good target for their frustrations. They didn’t like me, and they didn’t like the fact that I was from another land.

I did cast a look in Bartholameau’s direction and saw that at least half a dozen people in his vicinity were still very angry. They began pushing their way toward the stage at the same time that my four began to do the same. The agitators did have simple weapons visible, and they were doing their level best to push through the police lines at the stage.

I kept pace with my angry quartet of citizens. Finally, insults did not seem to suffice for them, and they began pushing me and trying to hit me. Allowing the citizenry to assault an officer of the law unpunished does not bode well for future order in the city. I have seen law and order disintegrate for less. Nonetheless, I understood that they were acting out of fear. I told the four of them that they had one chance to peacefully disperse. I told them that if they tried to lay hands upon me again, I would retaliate.

Two of the men were sensible enough to back down, and I let them go peacefully. The other two shoved me again. I ensured that my blade would be mercifully blunted before I drew it. Over my shoulder, I saw three attackers advancing angrily on Sal and Bartholameau.

I certainly did not take any pleasure in attacking these two men. Nonetheless, I issued them an ultimatum, and they chose to ignore it. I hit the larger man squarely in the chest with my blunted blade. He doubled over, gasping for air. His companion, who had also assaulted me twice, spewed profanities at me. Then he tried to drag his friend away. I slashed him soundly with my blunted blade as he tried to push past me. It is not something I really wished to do. I just didn’t want to chance him dodging the remaining police or injuring one of them as he tried to escape. I hurt him badly, but I didn’t drop him outright. He let his friend fall to the ground and took off at a run.

I was grateful to see that a goodly number of officers were converging on the man. Though he was evading arrest, I was completely loath to chase down an injured, fleeing man. My conscience was feeling pretty bruised as it was. It turns out that neither my theoretical pursuit nor the many converging guards mattered one bit. I saw Farraj go streaking past me with hammer drawn. I had barely enough time to shout: “Don’t kill him!” before Farraj reached the man.

Farraj yelled: “Stop!” The man turned his head toward Farraj and looked terrified. Farraj drew back his fist and smashed it into the man’s mouth so hard that blood and broken teeth went flying. The man dropped like a stone. He didn’t even crumple. He just…crashed to the ground. I truly thought he was dead.

Our unfortunate incidents sent people flying into a frightened frenzy. Many of them fled the square. I know that is what my aim had been but moments ago, but it felt pretty awful to have people fleeing me.

Master Eshrin prudently erected some manner of glowing wall in front of the people left near the stage in order to keep them safe. I was relieved to at least see that the group of men that had been menacing Sal and Bartholameau were backing away and were being taken into custody. Sal and Bartholameau were both uninjured. Thankfully, I was able to channel positive energy in time to save Farraj’s “detainee” from dying.

As the last of the citizens were dispersing, Bartholameau told me that he was able to hold off three attackers and that he hoped that instilled some confidence in him. I confessed to him that I had not seen the fight but that I was glad he had done well.

I could see the emperor speaking to Chief Croft onstage. He did not look pleased. I couldn’t hear what he said. Sal did hear, and he looked affronted. Eshrin said something to the emperor, who then departed.

The representatives from Regunt were quick to approach those who were arrested to ensure that they had adequate legal representation. Sal offered to write them statements explaining that the situation had been very emotional.

Once we were dismissed, Eshrin said he had no issue with me going to the church. I prayed for guidance and understanding. I did not feel displeasure from the holy realm. I know that I was properly keeping the peace and protecting those who were not being violent. I know that I even offered the men mercy and forgiveness. I think it is the facts that these men were not my equals in combat and that they were not overtly evil that caused me such discomfort. I have upheld the law and have not transgressed, so I have chosen to make peace with my conscience.

The rest of the group had gone to Master Eshrin’s office in order to get some sort of report from Wilhelm. To my surprise, they fetched me near dusk and said we were riding out. I must say, Sal’s carriage exceeded my already high expectations. The carriage is both luxurious and cavernous. It has a team of six matched black geldings. The inside is very well-stocked, and it has a large work area for Master Eshrin.

We traveled until late into the night before arriving at a fairly large town. When we reached the inn, Sal let me know what Wilhelm had discovered. He said Wilhelm had not specifically turned up much about the heralds of the dark crown. He did find a story of a wealthy, old (by Saorsite standards), but extinct family. Apparently the last son of this line was named Archibald Fisher. His manor and estates had been located but half a day’s ride from the arboretum. According to his servants, Archibald had died in a drunken haze. This alone was not shocking, since he was a known alcoholic. He had even been heard arguing with himself, which was also apparently common. The strange thing that was reported on the night of his death was that the voice that argued with his own was a bare echo of his own. Archibald was heard yelling: “No, I won’t wear it! Get that thing away from my head!” It was also recorded that for the past three generations, the Fisher scions had grown increasingly withdrawn from society. They had also been known to associate with very disreputable people. It is also reported that Archibald was obsessed with some possession that had belonged to his grandfather.

Master Eshrin ordered Wilhelm to continue researching the backgrounds of these people of ill-repute, the lost properties, and contracts the family had entered into over the final three generations.

Sal also let me know that before they left the office, a Maiden Charavesedlaren stopped to visit. This is the Maiden Chara mentioned in earlier reports. She brought the group a beautiful white orchid and expressed her condolences for Eshrin and Bartholameau’s losses. She told them that her group would be distributing these orchids as a reminder to the people of all that the wardens had done.

When I suggested that we set a watch, Sal openly scoffed and asked what could possibly happen in a large town’s inn at night. In my experience, a great many unfortunate things can happen in just such an inn. Master Eshrin said he had no part in the past watch and left it to me. We did set up a suitable watch, which Sal commended me for in the morning.

During the night, whilst he was on the rooftop, Farraj saw a shadowy figure. He said it was wispy and insubstantial. It was on a rooftop just a few buildings over. When it saw him, it dropped to the ground.

On the following morning, Sal, Farraj, and Bartholameau climbed the building to see if they could see tracks on the rooftops. Thankfully Master Eshrin had no desire to go above, and I was able to avoid the perilous task of scaling a building in full plate mail.

The three scouts did find a slight disturbance amongst the moss and dust on a nearby rooftop. It was made by something about the size of a medium humanoid. The men dropped down to the street where Farraj had seen the shape drop. We followed its tracks to a rather ordinary looking shed. The footprints seemed to stop there. After determining that there was no magic within, we entered. The shed held nothing of interest. Sal shared his concern that perhaps this could be a particularly subtle agent of the black cloaks. Farraj rumbled in reply: “Not all dark clouds on the horizon bring rain.”

We got back on the road early that morning. Sal and Eshrin continued to enjoy the comforts of their carriage. Farraj continued to run alongside the horses in his armor like some sort of super being. Just looking at the guy makes me tired. Abraxis seemed content today. I think he’s just relieved not to be cooped up. Our travels were uneventful. We reached the arboretum in the evening. As we passed, I could just make out some very beautiful and exotic looking plants. The town that supports the arboretum is a modest collection of cottages.

We found a somewhat interesting inn called the Storm’s Mouth Inn. The inn has been here for a long time. The proprietors refuse to change the name to a plant-related name like the other two inns in town. When we entered, business seemed to be decent. The proprietor proved to be a large-bellied man with a thick moustache. He was quite pleasant in his welcome. We went another round with Farraj because he said he did not want a box for the night. Bartholameau kindly reminded him that it is illegal to sleep outside inside communities. That one still seems to completely baffle Farraj. He reluctantly agreed to share the King’s suite with the rest of us.

When the innkeeper noticed Eshrin’s scarf and asked if there was trouble, Eshrin assured him that we were just passing through. Sal proceeded to talk the man’s ear off. The innkeeper seemed to enjoy the talking though. He said that we may want to visit the horticultural center to talk to the horticulturalists and botanists that support the arboretum. He also let us know that we wouldn’t want to miss the blooming of the plants at sunrise. Apparently this is some manner of special event. Farraj was insistent that we go to see that. We all readily agreed. It does sound like something nice to see. I lost interest in the conversation when the innkeeper started rattling on about getting pressure to change his inn’s name.

When I wandered over to Farraj and Eshrin, I caught the tail end of Eshrin saying he needed to start teaching Farraj how to read. Farraj calmly told him that he could read and pointed to the tome he always carries at his hip. Eshrin said he had never actually seen him read it, and Farraj said Eshrin simply was not very perceptive. Eshrin agreed with good grace. After we enjoyed an ale, Farraj took half a dozen pots of ink out. He began illuminating a page in his enormous book in Sarenrae’s scripture. It was actually quite good work, and he has the scripture down cold. He’s an interesting fellow. I like him.

I joined Bartholameau in the room before we dined so I could get out of my armor. He was kind enough to help me out of my plate. On a whim, I asked if he wanted to join me in my exercises for the night. He is an affable fellow, and he readily agreed. I have to say, he wore the strangest attire for our outing. He donned a shirt with only a narrow band for sleeves and very short pants. I do not mean knee breeches. I mean short pants that stopped above his knee.

During our run, I tried to convince Bartholameau to accept a dagger from me in case he needs it. He refused again. He said maybe if we got into combat he would ask for one if he needed it. The point is to outfit oneself before combat begins. I am…vexed by his obstinate refusal to adequately arm or armor himself. He did say that armor gets in his way. He seems fairly spry, so that at least makes some sense to me. I was relieved to find that his stamina seems good. He did a decent job of keeping pace with me while we ran. His physical strength was a bit of a different story. Again though, he does seem very spry. He doesn’t necessarily have to be strong as long as he’s fast.

As we were about to go back inside after our exercises, I saw a well conveniently located right in the courtyard. I pushed myself hard in my exercises, and I was quite hungry. I decided to just sluice myself off with a bucket of water and get something to eat. Farraj had already gone to bed. Sal, Bartholameau, and Eshrin were all disgusted with me for merely rinsing off with well water. Sal and Bartholameau both adjourned to the room to bathe. Eshrin told me I was disgusting and prestidigitated me clean while I ate. I’m not going to call them fussy or anything. It’s just unusual for me not to actually be the most fastidious person in my adventuring party.

In the morning, we got up very early and headed over to the arboretum. We were joined by families and other tourists who were also headed to the botany center. For a moment, I really felt like a regular tourist just going to see something beautiful. Except for the full plate. I suppose if I took a vacation, I probably wouldn’t wear heavy armor.

At the center, we were welcomed for the “morning sprouting.” We were given a tour of the arboretum. In the center, there was a rather strange arrangement of plants. There were four plants that resembled gigantic dandelions. In the center of those, there was a curled over stalk. It was about three feet tall. Eshrin recognized it as the same kind of plant as the one in the marsh.

The guide told us that the bulb is called the Lorde bulb. He said it is the only one in Bloomington. Apparently it acts as a brain for the other plants. It allows the botanists to communicate with all of the plants in the arboretum. That is really incredible. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many plants there are. The arboretum is really amazing though. It is one of those wonders that makes you smile just because it is so beautiful. It feels so peaceful here.

When the sun hit the center of the structure, the dandelions began to shiver. They shed many seeds, which flew off into the air. Bartholameau asked the botanists how the plants were created. They said they were created by Alexander Lorde but that he had sadly never lived to see the final version of his Lorde bulb. Eshrin asked what had happened to the prototypes. They said a few had been preserved in a very dense state. Farraj very brusquely demanded to know how many they had lost track of. The attendant seemed uncomfortable but said they had not lost any that they were aware of. As Farraj made a beeline for the bulb, Sal ably engaged the attendants in conversation. The rest of us hurried after Farraj as Sal was asking questions about soil.

Nothing appeared to be inside the bulb, but it was somewhat difficult to tell. Farraj did say the plant had a great deal of flexibility built into its make. He felt confident that it could be made to generate things. Farraj took his glove off and placed his hand directly on the plant. He spoke to it in Sylvan. He waited a moment and withdrew his hand. He didn’t make any move to destroy the plant immediately, so that at least is a good sign.

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Xander's Journal: Entry 48

Entry Forty-Eight

Days One- Four

I am beginning a new field journal as Iomedae has guided me to a new mission. Because I am a late arrival to this military campaign, I have picked up where the numbering of the field summaries for Master Eshrin L’vatt left off.

My quest began not long after my companions and I defeated the summoner, Nerashtu, and his fell bone devil. The horrors that I saw within that chamber stay with me when I close my eyes. I had returned home from Krig not two days before, and I had sought solace in my prayer to the Inheritor. As I prayed, her divine hand touched my awareness. I felt such immense love wash over me, but then it quickly turned to despair. It was a sliver of the feeling of her own despair, and it was so very intense in its depth. Deeply disturbing visions began to flash through my thoughts. I saw three sparkling jewels of civilization pass me by. Then I saw a burning crown. Masses of undead abominations were slaughtering the living. Armies of black cloaked men and women with rivulets of blood running down their faces walked among them. Then I felt an intense tearing sensation; as if some mighty and terrible being was trying to rip my very soul from my body.

When I was violently jolted back to awareness, I quickly sought counsel from the church elders. I entreated them to send me to Saorsis with all due haste so that I could root out the evil that Iomedae had shown me. The elders agreed. Transportation was quickly arranged for me to travel to Saorsis via the Great Threshold. I quickly put my affairs in order, retrieved my letter of introduction from the High Priest, and traveled through the threshold.

It has been awhile since I teleported anywhere. Despite the great distance traveled, the trip through the portal was surprisingly smooth. Even Abraxis didn’t seem to mind it.

Though I wouldn’t say so in Her Majesty’s presence, the city of Regunt is truly a sight to behold. I made decent time through the streets and was able to arrive at the Praesidium in good time. It was an interesting temple. The inside is beautiful of course. The National Police Force has its headquarters directly inside the temple. Certainly efficient. When I arrived, a nice young clerk named William quickly delivered my letter of introduction to his superior, a Chief Donovan. After a brief delay, I was ushered into the office of that man’s superior. He is called Chief Nigel Croft. He was an older gentleman as befits his rank, but he certainly held himself like a capable warrior.

After Chief Croft welcomed me to the Praesidium, young William came knocking on his door. He whispered something to the chief and was quickly dismissed. Chief Croft looked troubled and asked me to wait in the sitting area while he handled a matter of urgent business. I of course took my leave.

As I was making my way to the sitting area, I passed a relatively young man struggling to balance a hefty stack of papers and tomes. He seemed distracted and withdrawn as he approached. Just as I was about to pass him, I saw the unmistakable flash of bone-deep grief cross his features. It was gone almost before it surfaced, but I saw it all the same. I stopped and asked him if I could help him. Mistaking my offer to be about the papers and not his pain, he shuffled them a bit, said “No, I’m fine,” and entered the chief’s office without knocking.

After waiting but a quarter of an hour, I was fetched by William and asked to return to the chief’s office. When I entered, the bookish fellow I had passed in the hallway was still present. Chief Croft introduced the man as Eshrin L’vatt. He explained that he was a police warden of Saorsis. The Chief explained to Master Eshrin that I was a paladin of Iomedae, that I was from an exceptionally good family, and that I could be trusted completely. Master Eshrin just nodded vaguely. The chief told Master Eshrin that he would need someone he could trust, and he instructed me to assist Eshrin in whatever way I can.

Chief Croft went on to explain that my vision had been eerily accurate. He explained that there had recently been five wardens and that now there is but one. He further explained that a great threat hangs over the nation. He spoke of a cult of black cloaked men wearing headbands who were committing terrible acts of evil. While Master Eshrin looked on, the chief explained that Eshrin’s party had gone into a bog. They had descended beneath the waters in search of clues. When they got there, they encountered a great force of enemies and many fell creatures. Inside a tower, they had found a great trove of intelligence. While Master Eshrin continued to gather the invaluable tomes, the rest of his companions went on. They had an encounter with a ghoul. He did not have to tell me how they met their ends. As they went in not knowing what they would face, it would have been painfully easy for them to have been picked off one by one. This is very tragic news indeed. Things seem to be nearly as bad as I feared they might be.

After the chief finished his briefing, I assured Master Eshrin that I was at his service. He nodded and woodenly said: “I have to go to my office now. Someone is waiting for me.” We crossed to the capitol offices and entered a generously apportioned suite of rooms. It was there that I was greeted by a sight I had not exactly expected to see. The rows of immaculately maintained books of course were no surprise. Nor was the bespeckled young clerk named Wilhelm. Waiting in the office however was a very unlikely trio of fellows and a vicious looking alley cat. The cat looked like it might have recently escaped one of the nine hells.

Master Eshrin nodded to one of the men and said: “Hello Bartholameu.” Bortholameau smoothed back what can only be described as an extravagant pompadour hairdo and said: “Hey Eshrin. Good to see you! It’s been a while.” Bartholameau looked a bit quizzical but waited for Eshrin to speak. I cannot begin to describe the fellow’s affect with any accuracy, so I will not even try. I will just say he seemed a very colorful person and leave it at that. In the sitting room with him were two other men. Eshrin looked at them and bluntly said: “Who are you? Why are you here?”

A well-dressed black haired elven man rose and bowed his head slightly. His clothing was very tasteful and cut of the highest quality fabric. He possessed the usual beauty of his race, and his manners were impeccable. He introduced himself as Salimeeriahn. He asked everyone to call him Sal. I recognized his name straightaway. His father is a member of the High Elven Council in Alberai. Not surprisingly, he explained that he is a diplomat to Seorsus. He makes his home in Crent in the elven enclave.

Sal explained that he has been working closely to aid the Citizens’ Advocacy Group. He recently sent masons to a place called Copper Chop in order to help with rebuilding efforts. He said that he wanted to help end the threats that have plagued the nation. He admitted it had taken him a while to realize that the wardens were the lynchpin to ending the threat. When he had realized this, he had come to their office to await their return.

Once Sal had explained all of this, we looked expectantly at the last man in the room. I have to admit that I have never seen his like before. Sitting at his feet was the largest warhammer I have ever seen. It was made of a peculiar dark metal. I would be hard pressed to wield the thing efficiently in battle. The man was perhaps a shade under six feet tall. He wore armor dulled in shades of tan, and he had a massive leather bound tome at his hip. His very dark skin and muted arms and armor lead me to believe that he hails from Mughim. He stared back at us for an uncomfortably long time until Sal said: “This is Farraj Marwan. He’s from Mughim. Do you want me to tell them a little about you Farraj, or do you want to do that?”

The man stood, and I could tell that he was very heavily muscled. He had a quiet and serious demeanor. He explained that he was usually on his own and that he was not used to being with so many people. He said that one by one the tribes of gnolls in the great desert had disappeared. He said that they were a savage people but that they had also been a part of the place. He had tracked the disappearance of all of the gnolls, and it had brought him to Seorsus.

I would say it is an incredible coincidence that so many strangers converged upon this office during this time of great need, but I don’t really believe in coincidences.

Once introductions were finished, Eshrin very matter-of-factly said: “Bartholameu, I called you here to give you some bad news. Sibyl is dead along with the rest of our friends.” Bartholameau looked thunderstruck by the news. It quickly became apparent that Warden Sibyl had been his inamorata. Bartholameau did not break down for even an instant. Not even when Salimeeriahn offered a very heartfelt condolence. Instead, he got that look that always worries me. The one that says he will never accept her death until he sees her again one way or the other. Master Eshrin gave a guarded explanation of what had happened to her and his other companions.

Once he had a moment to digest the information, Bartholameau said: “Eshrin, we have to do something. We have to go back there. We’ll go get them and bring them back to life.” Farraj said: “The gnolls are gone. Fighting this great evil is a worthy cause. I will help you with this.” Bartholameau said: “Good. Let’s go then.” Master Eshrin held up his hand and said: “Wait. Farraj, I can’t just let you know all of this secret information without checking your credentials and abilities and then checking with Nigel.” Then he asked what sorts of experiences Farraj had had. Farraj told the story of how he had come upon a fallen trade caravan. The wagons had been crushed, and the bodies of the dead had been badly charred. Sal interrupted and excitedly said: “Ooh, was it a blue dragon?” Farraj nodded and said: “A very young one, yes.” He went on to say that he had tracked the dragon to a cave, ignored its pleas to bargain, and slaughtered it. Eshrin asked what proof we had that the story was true. Farraj raised his chest piece a bit to show a thin belt made out of blue dragon hide. Bartholameau excitedly said: “Well I’m with you. Let’s go.” Sal said: “I don’t want to fight with you, but I can definitely drum up support. Maybe money. I should have a lot of luck in the elven community. I can go there right away.

Eshrin interrupted and said: “You don’t understand. We have to do better than the last group. They were the best, and they all died. Everyone but me.” The unspoken truth that he did not die because he was not even in the fight hung heavily in the air. I am trying not to judge the man. Truly I am not. He found extraordinarily valuable intelligence apparently. He deemed that worth the risk of staying behind. He and presumably his companions took a calculated risk.

After his statement settled in, Eshrin said: “Bartholameau, I’m sorry. You cannot go.” Bartholameau zealously argued that he could help. Eshrin grew a bit agitated and said: “They killed four of the best policemen in the country. You are a bartender. A business owner. You are not an adventurer.” Bartholameau explained that he had been involved in many bar brawls. He said that he had already gotten leave from his job and was ready to go. Then he said: “Have I let you down yet?” Eshrin again said that he could not go and reiterated that he was but a bartender. Bartholameau said he had been a member of the police force five years past. Farraj rumbled: “We could spar. To see if he can fight.” I pointed out that sparring within the city is illegal. He said they could spar outside of the city. I conceded that perhaps it would be a good idea to get a measure of the man’s fighting skills before he got in over his head. Bartholameau certainly does not carry himself like a warrior.

At that point, Bartholameau lost his temper. He turned on Master Eshrin and angrily growled: “You’re a coward.” Farraj took exception to this and asked in an equally angry voice if Bartholameau had ever seen the blood of his companions spilled in battle and if he had ever seen his friends die in battle. Bartholameau angrily spat back that he had not but that it did not matter. Farraj told Bartholameau that Eshrin was a much bravery warrior than he. At that point I was forced to intercede and ask people to cool their tempers.

I asked again how we could know if Bartholameau was a capable fighter. He said: “I give you my word. Isn’t that enough?” Sal chimed in and drawled: “The paladin isn’t going to….” I interrupted him and said: “Yes. It is.” Sal seemed incredulous and said: “What?” I said: “He gave his word. That is enough.” I will not besmirch the man’s honor by suggesting that his word is not good enough. I do know that he wants to do this for vengeance. And because he is in pain. As I said, I have seen that look so many times before. This is a man who is going to try to find his beloved and bring her back with or without our help. I know that he might be a liability. At least with our help he will stand a chance of surviving. And maybe we can talk sense into him. I am certainly not going into that bog until I have more solid intelligence.

Farraj again offered to spar outside of city limits. Bartholameau demurred and said: “I don’t want to hurt anyone.” Despite the absurdity of the statement, the man seemed earnest. He finally told Eshrin that he just needed to go to Crent to get proof that he is a capable fighter. With that, he hurried out to catch up with Sal, who said he was going to get a carriage to go to Crent.

After they departed, I asked Eshrin what he wanted to do. He seemed bereft and did not know how to proceed. I gave his shoulder a squeeze and said we would figure it out.

Farraj pointed to a very fat tome and said he had been reading the field reports that Eshrin had written. That was certainly a very sensible idea. I was quite surprised that the field reports would be so dense, but I reasoned that it sounded like they had been on a lot of missions. I know there was still shock in my voice as I said: “Those are the field reports?” Farraj gestured to a shelf with rows and rows of identical books and said: “No. All of these are the field reports.” They totaled twenty seven very thick volumes with fourteen volumes of follow-up information. I nearly had a heart attack right then and there. How are the police to utilize field reports efficiently when they have to comb through that much text? I tried to remain nonchalant as I suggested that perhaps I would summarize them so they would be more decipherable for a soldier’s mind. Master Eshrin grumbled something I did not quite catch, but he did not object.

I scooped up several of the volumes as we departed the office. As we were leaving, I asked Farraj where he was staying. He seems quite wild. I don’t wish for him to get into any trouble. He told me that he would be fine wherever he decided to lay his head that night. I let him know that vagrancy was illegal and offered to help him find an inn. I offered to relinquish my room at the church so that I could stay with him. He asked if I was referring to a traveling hostel, and he told me that his kind was not allowed there. Hearing that he had difficulty finding accommodations in Seorsus didn’t really surprise me. I assured him that I could help him find a place where he would be welcome.

I asked Master Eshrin where he would like to go. He said there was an inn they had been staying at before. But he said it seemed like his enemy had been spying on him and he did not trust that inn anymore. He didn’t have any other suggestions. Fortunately I found a very helpful fellow who pointed us to a place called The Ledger. Farraj seemed displeased, but the name did seem to lift Master Eshrin’s spirits at least a little bit.

The inn turned out to be a perfectly fine establishment. The innkeeper, Malcolm, very graciously offered to put us up for five nights free of charge because he held the wardens in such high esteem. He would hear no argument on the matter. As soon as we sat down, Farraj grumbled about the place being too soft. I tried to soothe him, but frankly I was looking forward to a nice meal and something to drink.

In the morning, a letter arrived requesting Eshrin’s presence at the Praesidium. That worked out well since I was planning on heading there for morning prayers. On the way to the temple, Farraj seemed very disconcerted by his surroundings. He kept studying the citizenry very predatorily, which started to make me feel uneasy. Then he began muttering about weak herds and soft people. I suppose he’s not totally wrong. He just doesn’t seem to understand the idea of societal contribution yet. He’ll come around though.

As we were heading to the temple, we ran into Sal and Bartholameau. I know a hangover when I see one, and I saw two that morning. Sal explained that he had hosted a party to drum up support and that Bartholameau had mixed drinks for everyone. Eshrin quickly broke in with a hushed demand of: “You didn’t tell them anything yet, did you? I told you not to tell them anything.” Sal smoothly calmed him and said he had not said anything.

I thanked Sal for his support in elven. He seemed please to speak his native tongue. It was good to brush up on my elven. It reminded me a little of being in Alberai. He seemed surprised that I spoke his language so well, so I told him about how I had spent a few years there.

While we were walking, Bartholameau handed Eshrin a large sheaf of papers. Apparently he has participated in many gladiatorial matches in Crent. He won ninety-three percent of his matches. That‘s certainly better than nothing. Presumably the man has at least gotten knocked around a bit. Farraj is right though. No amount of fisticuffs will prepare you for the first time a man slices into you with his blade or a wizard tries to burn you alive. Nevermind the more fell things out there. We all have to have our first battle though.

After reviewing the documents, Master Eshrin proclaimed that the only way Bartholameau could adventure with him was if he reenlisted in the army. Farraj echoed Eshrin’s concerns and said that they were valid. It is unusual to see such dissimilar men readily agree on so many things. We’ll see how long it lasts. Bartholameau seemed to see the writing on the wall and agreed to reenlist.

When we entered Chief Croft’s office, he seemed surprised to say the least. Eshrin explained everyone else’s presence. Chief Croft said that it would be best for Bartholameau to reenlist if he wanted to join the fight. He also made it abundantly clear that it was solely up to Eshrin whether or not he wanted to accept Bartholameau into his group.

It was clear that Chief Croft’s patience was already wearing thin. I thought it best to try to hurry things along. I asked Farraj if he wanted to join the police force. He quickly said that he respectfully declined. He said that he would be happy to go as an advisor. He said: “I have already pledged my strength and weapon to Eshrin.” Chief Croft explained that it would be a mere formality of drawing up a contract. This seemed to alarm Farraj further. He very firmly declined. Sal interjected that the written word was very binding in Mughim. It carries a far greater connotation than it does in Seorsus.

Chief Croft seemed quite exasperated by that point. I was not unsympathetic to the man’s plight, so I tried again. I asked if we could sign that we witnessed Farraj giving his oral pledge. Farraj grew agitated and said that he did not wish to be enslaved by words. I told him that I would never want that for him. Chief Croft suggested that not having Farraj under contract of any kind could be exposing weakness to the country’s enemies. He felt that the front the police presented had to be ironclad. Farraj looked even more perplexed. I again tried and failed to explain.

Finally, Chief Croft said: “Perhaps we can say that all laws of the county do not apply to you?” I didn’t like the sound of that at all. Neither did Sal. He seemed very alarmed that Farraj would have no protection. He tried to offer to just read a contract between the two since he was a disinterested third party. Farraj again said no. Chief Croft pushed on and said: “You would be acting as a rogue agent from another land. You will have our aid, but it will not be guaranteed by law. We will not be bound to each other.” Farraj quickly agreed. He asked us to sign as witnesses since he would not sign. I wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement, but it was his decision to make.

The chief said I would be treated as a foreign diplomat and would be offered an at-will contract with the police force. I’ve certainly had worse offers from governments in the past.

Once that was out of the way, the chief told us that the announcement about the deaths of the wardens would be made on the following day. He feared word would spread quickly and that it would not bode well. He said that we needed to establish a course of action.

Sal broke in and said that more than that needed to be addressed. Chief Croft suggested that we identify the most pressing concerns and find out who the enemy really is. As a group, we decided that the Bloomington Arboretum would be a very good place to investigate next. It is apparently two days’ travel to the Northwest. Farraj seemed very eager to destroy the other buds that might spawn what the group had found in the marsh.

We asked about the Courtwright brothers who had built the printing press the wardens found in the marsh. Chief Croft said that he was sure another team could follow up on that for him.

Sal expressed that he understood we could not leave for the arboretum right away as Chief Croft had asked for our help in keeping the peace in the central cities. The chief expressed his gratitude for our help in this matter. He did ask us to keep a low profile for a while. He doesn’t want it to appear that they were just parading new faces in front of the people immediately as if the death of the wardens did not matter. A very sensible and surprisingly sympathetic stance on his part.

After all of that business was finished, Chief Croft asked to speak with Eshrin privately for a time. After I finished my morning prayers, I learned that Bartholameau at least has a horse. Sal apparently insists upon traveling by carriage. He said he had a great many chests and picnic baskets that he is very attached to. He said a bag of holding simply would not do. I had nearly forgotten what it was like to spend time with high elves. Now I remember. I shouldn’t think too harshly of him though. My peers are not much better. When I declined his invitation to travel by carriage, I explained that I have a horse. Sal gave me a big toothy grin and said: “Let me guess. It’s a big white horse.” I told him my horse was a chestnut. Wait until he meets the fiend. Nipping at the tips of elven ears is one of his favorite pastimes.

When Eshrin rejoined our new group, he explained that he was supposed to be present on the following afternoon when they made the announcement to the people about the death of the wardens.

After we had returned to the aptly named Ledger and began pouring over the field reports once more, a very well-dressed messenger walked in. I noticed that the back of his hand had a scar. It looked like an old dog bite or something similar. It had healed already though, so there was little I could do for him. The man said his name was Alistar. He tried to buy us food and drink just to deliver a message. We of course declined. He said that this Citizens’ Advocacy Group wished to offer their condolences and meet with Eshrin. He said that we of course were also invited. We agreed to go in the morning.

Eshrin told us more about his previous dealings with the group. He also told us about a man named Racillio. He felt concerned that the man may have tipped the ghoul, Michael, off about their plans and inquiries.

After reading and scribing at the inn for what felt like an eternity, I began to feel like I would pull out my hair. I looked up to see that Farraj looked exceptionally fidgety. I didn’t need much of an excuse to do something new for a bit. I asked Farraj what he would like to do. He didn’t have any real idea. Eshrin didn’t have anything he wanted to do either. He seemed quite content to continue to write reports. Sal helpfully asked what Farraj likes to do in the evenings. He said he likes to consult the teachings of Sarenrae. That one surprised me, I have to admit. I know I shouldn’t make prejudgments about people. That’s just not what my first guess would have been if asked who Farraj venerates. Sal offered to go to the lake with him first thing in the morning to watch the sunrise. I thought that was a very kind offer. Sal told him something about an imprisoned sunbird. Bartholameau shook his head and said that was a very sad story indeed. Farraj said he very much wanted to see this “bird of the sun.” Sal explained it was in Crent and they could not go there right then.

Farraj dejectedly said he would go confine himself to his box. The guy sounded so pitiful that I had to find something he would like to do. I finally seized upon the idea that we should go running in the park together. He perked up a bit at that but then eyed me rather dubiously. He said that he enjoyed running very much for many hours per day. That worried me a little, but he said he would like to go. He didn’t even take his armor off. As we were leaving, Sal was setting a chess board up so he and Bartholameau could play a game.

Farraj and I ran in the park. For a very, very long time. Even with my magical boots and no armor, I could just barely keep up. By the time we got back to the inn, I had that burn you get in your lungs when everything tastes bloody. He looked upon me with approbation though. At least he doesn’t think I’m soft. The guy’s a beast though. I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of that hammer. I should keep training with him though. It’s been a long time since another warrior pushed me to the edge of my stamina like he did.

When morning rolled around, we went to the office of Senator Carina at the Church of Abadar. Not surprisingly, she is a very stern woman of later years. Joining her in her study were Representatives Banes, Toler, and Hasgrad. They are a dwarf, a human, and a half-orc respectively. It appeared that Representative Hasgrad had a strong affiliation with the Church of Cayden Cailean.

Senator Carina was very polite in the welcome she bade us. Representative Toler thanked us for rallying to the cause of righting wrongs and defending good. He also let us know that the group is working hard to prepare additional aid for us and for the cause. The representatives told us of their goal to relieve the plight of the everyday citizens. This certainly sounds like a very commendable organization.

Representative Banes was very emotional about the deaths of the wardens. He was a bit hostile about wanting to know why he should trust us and what we were even capable of doing. I believe that his brusqueness was simply a measure of his grief and his fear, so I don’t take it personally. Sal did a very good job of trying to calm him with reassuring words. He told Banes that we were not trying to fill the shoes of the wardens but that we wished to fight to confront the threats that this nation has been facing. Banes seemed a bit angrier then, but I think that was about the fact that there are threats against his nation. Bartholameau somewhat unintentionally added fuel to the fire when he fiercely proclaimed that we needed to take up the sword and bring the wardens back. He told the representatives that he was in the military now and that he intended to see the job done.

Representative Toler seemed moved by Bartholameau’s words. He asked if he could share his story after an appropriate amount of time in order to inspire the everyday citizens to greater action. Bartholameau eagerly replied: “Nothing would be cooler.”

As the representatives wished to know more about our party, Sal introduced Farraj. He told them that Farraj had pledged to stop the great evil. Farraj looked squarely at the stern faced Senator Carina and said: “Matron…you help citizens incapable of helping themselves. Why do you foster such weakness?”

I’m not sure if it was the use of the word “matron,” or the fact that he was talking to a worshipper of the god of cities and civilizations in his very temple that alarmed us all so much, but I noticed that everyone in the room scooted back in their chairs save Farraj and Carina. And perhaps Representative Hasgrad, who burst out in delighted laughter. The laughter cut off abruptly when Senator Carina held up her hand. In a clipped tone, she said: “Allow me to explain our view. It is true that each individual in our civilization is less tough than those where you come from. However, all citizens have something to provide. Most provide valuable services that strengthen the nation. As a whole we are stronger because of it.” Farraj obstinately grumbled: “It is odd you do not allow them to do for themselves.” Senator Carina gave him what I would characterize as a withering look. Farraj opened his mouth, closed it again, and then said: “As you say.” Smart man.

With the same displeased countenance and clipped tone, she asked me to say more about myself. I blurted out that I have pledged my life to protecting the weak and would die for that end if necessary. She praised me for my words, and they seemed to mollify her for the moment.
Sal wisely changed topics and asked if our new group could still use the multimental creature the last group had used to communicate with the Citizens’ Advocacy Group. They said they would need but a bit of time to attune it to us and then we could use it.

The group did pledge their support again and asked what they could provide that we needed. I told them we needed more solid intelligence as that is what we seem to be lacking most. A few in the room seemed to think I was intending to insult Master Eshrin. That is not the case at all. I just know that his group died in part because they did not know what they were walking into until it was too late. You cannot win a war without a large system of intelligence gatherers.

After we were mercifully released from Senator Carina’s office, we split up for various tasks before the announcement was to be given. Bartholameau said he had a private errand to attend to and that he would catch up with us. Farraj elected to go sit down by the harbor so he could watch the sun for a bit. I feel for the guy. It can be a very difficult transition to find oneself in a new and very strange land.

The rest of our number went to the Praesidium. As is my custom, I thought it best to inquire up front about rules of engagement. Unfortunately, Chief Croft was not in the temple. Chief Donovan was however, and he graciously agreed to meet with us. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked him outright what the rules were regarding taking prisoners in the field and killing combatants. He said that if we felt we could safely manage it, prisoners would be welcome. He did quite obviously see the value of gathering as much intelligence as one can. He said they would certainly interrogate anyone we brought back alive. Chief Donovan stated plainly that we are contractors duly empowered to execute and adjudicate the laws. He said if we were confronted with a clear and imminent threat that use of more lethal means were acceptable. He also pointed out that all of our actions were reviewable by our peers. I was pleased to hear all of these things.

I was somewhat less please to hear what he said next. I struggled with it. Very much. The words concerned me because they sounded so much like they could take us all down a slippery slope. I do understand where he is coming from with regard to wanting to protect his people. I just…struggled.
He said that the people may be their own greatest threats. That may well be true. I have seen men do terrible things out of fear many times before. He said that in order to protect the people from themselves, “that may mean concealing information from them when people have a moral right to know.” I felt alarm at those words, so I did ask him to explain what he meant. He spoke of the families of the victims of Copper Chop. He said they may very well still be in grave danger, but he said it was not in their best interests to know that. I expressed my concerns. He sternly reminded me that I was acting on behalf of the Saorsite government. I found it to be a bitter pill to swallow, but I finally did say that I understood what he was saying. He told me that I would fit in well there.

The conversation turned to Bartholameau’s past experience. He said something about fighting for the ones he loves. I admit I barely heard what was said at the tail end of the conversation. I was still working out his words in my mind. I suppose as long as the government is doing everything within their power to protect the citizens of Copper Chop, they do not necessarily need to tell them that they could yet be in grave danger. I have heard that the police force is spread incredibly thin. It makes me worry that they are simply not capable of keeping those citizens safe but continue to leave them in the dark; not giving them enough information to decide if they should flee and seek greater safety.

When we departed the chief’s office, I made my salute with much more pronounced vigor than was strictly necessarily. I recognize what I did for what it is. I made an exaggerated show of respect when I was not feeling respect for Chief Donovan’s position. I will make penance to Iomedae for my infraction. I haven’t the time to do so properly now before the announcements are made. I barely had time to finish capturing my thoughts in my journal. I must go and find Farraj now to make sure that he understands what our purpose will be today.

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A Summary of Master Eshrin L'vatt's Field Reports- Entry 8

Entry Eight

As the party and their kobold prisoners continued along the path, the ferocity of the storm intensified. The group noticed that shadowy forms continued to keep pace with them in the distance. The kobolds with the group said they didn’t know what the figures were.

After the group traveled for an hour and a half with the kobolds, it began to grow dark. The party noticed a bulky shape on a rock 100 feet ahead of them. Cormin Shadowhand chucked a lit rock toward the mass. The group could see that the lump was actually multiple shapes. When everyone moved closed, they saw that there were two dead, partially eviscerated kobolds. Sibyl examined the bodies and noted that they each had several broken bones. It seemed that they had been thrown into their current position. The group looked up to find that there was a visible disturbance in the snowpack above.

The party traveled on to a safer place to camp for the night. Despite the fact that the kobolds seemed terrified of it, the building of a fire was deemed necessary. During the watches, several party members heard the skittering of rocks. They also heard what sounded like something shuffling through the snow.

In the morning, the snow and winds were brutal. Ellamere cast “Endure Elements” upon all of her warm-blooded companions. The group traveled for the day without incident other than being forced to endure Traegar singing the song: “Traegar the Brave,” that Jaena had composed for him the day before.

Around dusk, the kobolds told their captors that the ice flow they needed to cross was only an hour’s walk away. They said their home was a mile beyond that. The kobolds said they lived in ice caves near the fortress. Jaena asked the kobolds about traps around their home or the keep. She could tell that they knew of some, but they would not say more. She bribed them with necklaces, and they told the group where the traps were. The group learned that the front door through the rocks was equipped with bear traps. Traegar agreed to indicate on a map where the traps were. He said he knew where they all were because he was in charge of the storage room. Clearly the group was placing their lives in the hands of a vanquished janitor.

Traegar told the group that the leader’s chambers and the farms were protected by javelins. He told them how to avoid the trip-wires. All of the kobolds warned the group that the Supreme Leader whispers to the kobolds’ leaders.

At dawn, the eye of the storm passed over the camp. After traveling for an hour, the group came to the ice flow. The flow forked. The kobolds told them the icy path to the right was the one that they needed to take. Proceeding cautiously, the group saw a large structure with barracks and a tall tower. The building was encased in ice and had a large domed structure at the top. The ice was thickest on the east side of the keep. Eshrin studied the keep and determined that it was not a very defensible keep. He opined that it had been built for some other purpose.

Jaena tried to convince the kobolds not to tell anyone they were there yet. She told them she wanted it to be a surprise. The kobolds all expressed their belief that the group was going to die. The group asked the kobolds to wait there for them and hobbled their mounts.

Cormin scouted the keep to find that a grand spiraling cylinder of ice encased the dome. The doors to the keep were encased in ice. As he went around the far side of the keep, he saw that an ice cylinder had broken out of the wall and wrapped around the tower.

When Cormin returned to the group, a long discussion about food seemed to distract the party. Master Eshrin was able to marshal the team to go forward. He cast “Flaming Sphere” in order to melt the ice encasing the front door. When the group opened the door, Sibyl cast a “Light” spell so they could see into the pitch black interior.

It quickly became apparent that the structure had once been very fine but that it had since been compromised. The group could see a set of stairs across the foyer. They also noticed a large hole in the wall that had been blocked off by giant boulders. Eshrin estimated the opening could lead to the tower.

As the group looked at the ground, they noticed that the snow was filthy. They also noticed several blocks of ice with something in them. Cormin went forward to examine a block of the ice. Eshrin split off to examine two bookshelves. The rest of the party lingered near the doorway.

After studying the ice block, Cormin called Eshrin over. He pointed out a desiccated pig in the ice. Cormin thought it was a mummy, but Eshrin assured him that it was not. As Sibyl scooped snow out of the way in order to try to open a door lining the wall, she noticed that something was coating the ground. When the substance started to move, she jumped back. Noting her alarm, Cormin rushed over to Sibyl. He saw that bluish green and brown tendrils were thickening around her. He prudently yelled to Eshrin to bring fire. Eshrin came over to them while Ellamere darted to the stairs. Jaena peered at the substance and opined that it was some manner of fungus or ooze. Sibyl tried to cut at the tendrils. They immediately grew back thicker and started to wrap themselves around her. The other tendrils began to swarm about the group. As the group tried to cut them back, the tendrils around Sibyl and Eshrin impaled their skin. They felt incredibly cold, and they felt the tendrils touch their bones. The tendrils also pierced Cormin’s skin. They also seemed to penetrate some of his vital organs and began to sap his stamina.

Eshrin cast a “Burning Hands” spell and began burning the tendrils. A number of them were quickly incinerated, and Eshrin was able to drive the other tendrils back. Ellamere examined Cormin and noticed pock marks on his skin. Cormin fished out a flask of oil and threw it at the infestation of tendrils. While Ellamere was trying to light a torch, Sibyl stared at the oil-soaked tendrils. They ignited and quickly started to burn. Cormin threw more oil, and Ellamere was able to throw her lit torch upon it; incinerating the remaining tendrils.

Cormin moved snow from a door in the wall and quickly entered a pantry. Many of the shelves were still stocked. They contained jars of food, flour, salt, and dried meats.

As they were peering into the pantry, the group heard scuttling and then high pitched squeaks coming from the direction of the rocks outside. For some inexplicable reason, no one went to investigate the sound. They began eating the food and looking over the moldering books. The books were reference books and star charts. None of them were less than eighty years old.

The group continued on to the dome area. The door they entered creaked with disuse. It contained a storage room with broken boxes. They quickly located a second storage room that had also been ransacked. Continuing on, they found a bedroom. The contents of the room had been thoroughly rifled through. The group did find five journals in the room, which Eshrin quickly took. The journals chronicled the founding of an observatory. There were statements about Desna’s blessing. The first entry started eighty years before. The journals noted that six months in, the weather had grown increasingly troublesome. There had been blizzards and heavy hail for weeks. Two months after that, the weather had grown even worse. There was mention that the inhabitants had been forced to retract the telescope.

Eleven months in, the researcher made note of a hearty race of stout kobold-like creatures. He said that they had kept to themselves. The fifth volume of the books referred to a “She.” She appeared the first time the storm broke. She demanded obedience and immediate surrender. She was described as tall for a woman, gaunt, having long white hair, and looking perpetually frostbitten. The author said looking at her made him queasy.

When the researchers refused to be obedient, the storms grew even mightier. The author noted that voices whispered hateful things through the walls. One week later, the researchers used potent magics to seal the observatory. The journal entries ended with the words: “There was a loud crash. Something is creeping in. There is frost on the glass. I…”

Upon hearing these descriptions, Ellamere recognized that the “Supreme Leader” was a winter hag. These fell creatures are evil to the core. They are masters of the ice. They are brutal, sadistic, and exceptionally arrogant. They eat flesh, they use compulsion and illusion magics, and they enslave entire populations. Ellamere also knew that these hags can see in dark and fog, can see that which should be unseen, are immune to cold, are vulnerable to fire, and are strong against mundane attacks.

The group decided that they were not capable of dispatching their foe. They agreed to magically enchant their weapons, learn more powerful spells, and then return.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry Eight: Whilst traveling in the mountains with the kobolds, the party came upon two partially eviscerated kobolds who had been thrown down upon the trail from a great height. The group continued to be shadowed by figures that the kobolds professed to know nothing about. After accepting bribes, the kobolds agreed to tell the party about the numerous traps at the keep and in their warren.
After carefully traveling across the dangerous ice flow, the group reached a keep encased in ice. They were able to bypass the ice and enter the keep. While they inspected the foyer, they were attacked by a mass of vines that penetrated the skin of Sibyl, Eshrin, and Cormin. The group destroyed the vines with fire and explored the ground level more fully.

Eshrin was able to find five journals which chronicled the founding of this research station in the mountains. It sounded as though it was some manner of observatory and that the project was staffed by Desnan researchers.

Six months in, the weather began to turn foul. It worsened precipitously over the next five months. Eventually, a figure referred to only as “She” appeared. She demanded obedience from the researchers. They refused, and it seems evident that “She” killed them. Upon hearing the description of “She,” Ellamere identified her as a winter hag. The group reviewed their capabilities and decided they needed better outfit themselves before they were able to defeat her.

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A Summary of Master Eshrin L'vatt's Field Reports- Entry 7

Entry Seven

Roughly an hour after the group headed east past the arrowhead shaped rock, they were attacked by two stony blue gargoyles. The group was at a very dangerous spot at the time as the trail they were following was covered in ice and very narrow. The flying creatures definitely had them at a disadvantage. Sibyl had a great deal of trouble controlling her newly acquired mount. The ram panicked when the gargoyles appeared and began climbing the cliff face with Sibyl still on his back.

Coupled with the difficulties of fighting on such precarious footing, the group faced the challenges of the gargoyles trying to wrap them up and throw them to their deaths, and the fact that the gargoyles’ hides seemed nearly impervious to damage. Solid teamwork and a couple of well-placed spells saw the group victorious without casualties.

The party traveled on until they were able to find a safe alcove in which to camp. Sibyl notified the party that she thought she had seen a shadowy figure following them.

During Ellamere’s watch, the storm had picked up until it was almost a blizzard. She also saw a dark shape flitting about in the distance, but nothing attacked the group in the night.

In the morning, the snow continued to fall heavily. Through the snow, several party members saw something moving. The group pressed on for a couple of hours until they came to an unusual natural formation. The pass appeared to go through a natural fissure. The group recognized that this would make an excellent ambush point. As they continued to watch, Cormin and Ellamere saw more shapes darting around near the fissure. The group decided to try to go off the trail to avoid having to brave the dangerous fissure. Ellamere moved into the woods and saw tracks. She could tell that they belonged to multiple bipedal creatures. As they moved on, the party came upon a field strewn with large boulders. The way forward meant a very steep climb, and they could see more things darting in and out of the rocks above.

Jaena called out in an attempt to get the would-be assailants to come out and talk. A white kobold popped up and sent a rock sailing past her head. As Cormin drew his rapier and advanced, Jaena called out again in draconic. She said the group would not hurt them if they stopped fighting. The kobolds grew agitated and seemed to abandon their brother to his fate. Ellamere reached out and plucked him off the ground. The kobold, Traegar, begged her not to squish him and said his Supreme Leader would be angry. Then the other kobolds sent a boulder careening down the rocks and toward the party. It hit Ellamere squarely, and another was sent down the other side of the field.

At that point, the battle began in earnest. Ellamere yelled for Cormin not to kill the kobolds. After they tried to pelt him with rocks, he bull rushed one of them off the cliff. The remaining kobolds had dropped their weapons and were hiding behind Sibyl. Cormin reluctantly ceased trying to kill them.

The group asked the kobolds about their “Supreme Leader” and about the abandoned stone fortress. They were reluctant to help until they saw Sibyl heal Traegar. They believed she had brought him back from the dead.

Jaena spent time convincing the kobolds that her “Supreme Leader,” Sibyl, could defeat their Supreme Leader. The kobolds told the group that this being had killed many of their kind. They confirmed that the creature was in the old stone fortress. They said it was capable of controlling the weather. Ellamere grew concerned that the creature was a winter hag.

The kobolds also revealed that they knew there were gnolls further up the mountain pass. They said the gnolls were “on the other side of the big one.”

After some negotiating and reassurances, the kobolds agreed to lead the group to the Supreme Leader’s keep.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry Seven: The party had a difficult run-in with a pair of mountain-dwelling gargoyles, but they were able to prevail. As they pressed on, the weather turned into a blizzard. The party had felt that something had been shadowing them for quite awhile. Wisely avoiding an ambush point, they went off the mountain path. They had a brief fight with a group of kobolds before the creatures surrendered. The kobolds told the group that a terrible entity they called “Supreme Leader” lived in the ruined fort ahead. They said the creature had killed many of their kind and that it could control the weather. Ellamere feared the creature was a winter hag. The kobolds agreed to take the group to the ruined fortress and also confirmed that there were gnolls living further up the mountain pass.

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A Summary of Master Eshrin L'vatt's Field Reports- Entry 6
Entry Six

The morning after they dispatched the bullheaded figures in the ancient temple, the group set off toward the mountain pass. Two days later, they reached the foot of the mountains. The weather had turned very cold, and they were forced to don cold weather gear. After four hours of travel, they reached a plateau. As they approached the plateau, they could smell a fire and roasting meat. Cormin Shadowhand crept forward to investigate. Situated around the fire, he saw five Vuori men. When he returned to his companions with this information, Verna said that she wanted to go and talk to them. Eshrin asked if that is why she wanted to go. She gave him a non-committal “maybe.” The group agreed to go with her.

When they reached the plateau, they found the Vuori to be friendly overall. Verna asked them about a man with a red beard. They found that quite amusing as many Vuori fit that description. Jaena admirably stuck to the mission at hand and asked one of the men if he could show them on her map where the group might find a mountain keep. They explained that there was no clear path and that the terrain was difficult. They also said they had seen neither gnolls nor shadow birds.

Verna inserted herself into the conversation again and asked for a red-haired Vuori who was missing a toe on his right foot. The Vuori burst into laughter and explained they were not in the habit of looking at men’s toes. The party pulled Verna aside to try to learn why she was looking for the man. She confided that he was her father. Her mother had died young, and she had never learned his name. Verna said she wanted to go with these men in search of her father. Jaena asked how old she was, and Verna said that she was seventeen. Corman Shadowhand in particular was stridently against Verna going off with the men. He was afraid that they would harm her. Ellamere and Jaena argued that she was an adult and that it was her choice.
Verna returned to the Vuori, and they agreed to take her with them. They also said the group should heep going until they saw the rock that looked like an arrowhead and then head east.

When the group camped for the night, Cormin and Jaena shared angry words. He was very upset that she had not dissuaded Verna from going with the Vuori. Jaena explained to him that the group could not kidnap her and that it had been Verna’s decision to make. Cormin told her that if Verna never reunited with her father, it would be Jaena’s fault.

As the party continued upward the next day, the air grew very, very cold. Near dusk, Ellamere heard a sound coming from further up the mountain. It sounded to her like someone yelling out. Ellamere and Sibyl wanted to press on. The rest of the group worried that it was too dangerous to travel on the treacherous path in the dark. A compromise was reached. The group traveled for one more hour with plenty of magical light. As they traveled, no more screams were heard.

During the next day of travel, the weather grew intolerably cold. After the group grew fatigued, Ellamere cast “Endure Elements” upon them. Several hours into the day, Cormin noticed red snow off the trail. When the group investigated, there were signs of a scuffle and blood. Ellamere easily found large tracks leading into the trees. As the group proceeded into the trees, Cormin found a tuft of short fur on a tree. Against Eshrin’s advice, the group traveled further into the woods. The group came upon a rough lean-to. It contained the body of a deer and a small collection of man-made articles.

The party called out as they were trying to locate a Vuori who had been reported to have wandered further up the mountain. They heard the growl of a bear. Then they heard the sound of crunching snow on the overhang above them. A bear’s head appeared over the lip of the overhand. The head seemed not quite right. It had a scraggly beard and a wicked grin. It said to the group: “What are you doing on my mountain?” Ellamere told the bear that they were looking for a lost mountain man. At Sibyl’s prompting, Ellamere asked the bear if he had seen a human home made of stone nearby. The bear licked its teeth and said: “Yes, I have.” He told the group to follow the pass. He said there was an ice flow some days ahead. He said the pass would fork and that they should take the left fork. He said there they would find a small ruined keep.

The hear slyly demanded repayment for the help he had provided. He looked at the mules and asked for something tasty. Jaena tried to negotiate with him, but he said he did not want anything else.

As the group moved away to “redistribute gear on the mules,” the bear changed. He became a towering humanoid creature draped in cloth, and he was wielding two axes. The party had a quick, hushed discussion about attacking or giving up the mule. The group decided that fighting would be too dangerous. Sibyl agreed to sacrifice her mule. Ellamere quickly slaughtered the mule and left it for the bear man. He seemed quite disappointed by this.

The group pressed on as far as they dared before making camp for the night. On the following day, the snow began to fall more heavily. After more rounds of “Endure Elements,” the group traveled for one hour. Then they spied the arrowhead shaped rock the Vuori had told them about. They noted that the eastern direction had no trail and looked very dangerous. Cormin insisted that they continue trying to find the “lost” Vuori. He was certain the man must be Verna’s father.

The group pressed on until they came to a large drop. The ledge became very narrow. Cormin volunteered to tether himself to Ellamere and press on to lay spikes and a line at intervals. This allowed the others to cross much more safely. After traveling a bit further, the group came upon what looked to have been a small avalanche. They could see a body below.

Cormin and Sibyl climbed down to him and found that he had been deceased for a while. The man had a large red beard. The two removed his boots and found that he still had all of his toes. Near the man, they also found the body of a snow leopard. Then they heard bleating sounds. After maneuvering further, they saw a mountain ram with a broken leg. Sibyl removed her armor and made the dangerous crossing to the ram. She was able to set its leg and cure it. The large, saddled ram seemed amenable to her riding on his back. It began to deftly jump from rock to rock to get back to the rest of the group while Sibyl wore a look of sheer terror.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry Six: The party spoke to a group of Vouri in the mountains. Verna chose to go back with them to their home in hopes of finding her Vouri father. As they continued higher up into the mountains, the party encountered a ware bear. The bear gave them directions to a ruined keep. His manner seemed sly and threatening. As they continued on, they came to an arrow-head shaped rock the Vuori told them about. The Vuori had instructed them to turn east, and so they did.

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A Summary of Master Eshrin L'vatt's Field Reports- Entry 5

Entry 5

As the party of adventurers continued to wait in the cave they had discovered, the scraping sounds grew louder. Creatures made of dirt and stone erupted from the walls. They seemed to be resistant to the bite of a blade. During the difficult battle, it became clear that the creatures were guarding the basket. It seems that the group as a whole was doing a much better job of fighting as a cohesive unit. However, the young ranger, Verna, shot three of her companions with arrows during the fight. When the party examined the basket, it contained several unused sun rods. There were no signs of secret passages in the cave.

At mid-day of the same day, the group followed tracks leading from the cave to the forest. The tracks eventually tapered off, but Ellamere felt certain that they had belonged to two canoid quadrupeds.

As night fell, the group returned to the cave and set a watch. They prudently set one person to watch inside and one outside for each shift. During the second watch, the young ranger, Verna, found something that she was too terrified to report. Luckily Cormin Shadowhand also spotted something amiss and awakened his companions. The party rushed outside in time to hear a great crashing sound and then guttural barks. Jaena was able to cast “Comprehend Languages” in order to understand the gnolls. Two gnolls were calling out to ask who was there. Sibyl cast “Light” and looked up to see what had Verna so terrified. She saw that a giant cage was descending from the sky in the talons of a colossal bird made of a shadowy mist. At that point, Sibyl grabbed Verna and ran. The rest of the party save Cormin ran for the cave. He stood his ground and drew his rapier. As the party began to hastily pack their things, Jaena realized that Cormin was not with them. She rushed back out with her bow to cover Cormin. At that point the gnolls had left the cage and were loping after Cormin. Jaena chucked a rock enchanted by “Light” toward the gnolls. Cormin Shadowhand took the opportunity to stop and taunt them. While Shadowhand continued to taunt the gnolls and the giant bird, the shadow bird began to take off. As it did so, a shadowy substance enveloped the giant cage that it carried. Cormin noted that the bird and the cage headed up toward the mountains.

Discussing it amongst themselves, Jaena theorized that the bird was a magical beast. Eshrin felt that it was extra planar. Soon after that, a squabble broke out amongst the party as to whether they should remain in the cave until sunrise or flee to the perceived safety of the forest. A party vote had the majority wanting to stay in the cave until sunrise to see if anyone might be coming from the forest to get the supplies that should have been delivered.

After dawn had broken, there was still no sign of anyone. Ellamere volunteered to go alone back to the nearest outpost to report. The rest of the party wisely vetoed that suggestion. Once it became fairly clear that no one would be coming, the party started the three day walk back to town.

The party made its report to Chief Amelia. She seemed quite dubious about the report of the shadow bird. After talking everything through, Amelia and the party decided it was best for them to investigate the trail to the mountains. She told them how to access the pass to get there. She generously outfitted them with mules and other gear that they would be likely to need.

The party departed the next day on their expected four day journey to the pass’s base camp. Near the end of the second day, the party was in a very isolated location. They began to feel certain that someone was tracking their movements. After deciding on a course of action, Jaena called out and asked if whoever was out there would come out and talk. After a bit of rustling in the underbrush, a number of primitive humanoids stepped out. They were armed with spears and bows. After a series of rudimentary communications and some drawing in the dirt, Jaena explained that the party was hunting dog men and was trying to go to the mountains. The primitive men remained hostile and told the group that they had to speak with “Rolling Boulder.” Seeing little choice in the matter, the group followed the men. They walked for about one hour before reaching a cluster of roughly two dozen huts surrounding a large broken structure. The party noticed that the women and children who watched them as they arrived seemed hopeful.

Eshrin studied the ruins. The architectural style was unfamiliar to him. The group was led to an elderly woman wearing an impressive headdress. The woman asked why “Mudslide” had sent them. She asked if the group could help her. Jaena learned that these people worshipped the mountain. Rolling Boulder said that her people had been cursed by misfortune whilst offering prayer beneath the ruins. She said that strange things in their ceremonial room had chased them out. She said they were four-legged snarling creatures with horns. The group agreed to help the primitive tribe with their problem.

On the way to the ruins, Ellamere and Mudslide got into a verbal altercation that nearly turned physical. This crisis was averted, and the group was led to a loosely covered set of stairs which descended into the earth. The party was brusquely ushered in by the clam’s hunters.

Once the group descended and reached the end of a hallway, they saw a large stone door. The handle was missing, and the door was marred. It did still bare a warn marking of three rings upon it. Rolling Boulder said a prayer once the group reached the door. The prayer consisted of bastardized, pseudo-draconic words. After the prayer was finished, Rolling Boulder fled back up the stairs.

Once Rolling Boulder had reached safety, Ellamere forced the large door open. Sibyl chucked a rock with “Light” cast upon it into the chamber. When the group entered, they were confronted with the sight of a large creature with the head of a bull and vicious horns. Its legs ended in claws, and it had featherless wings on its back. The group believed that it might have been an extra planar creature. It began to breathe a mist into the room and then an icy wind at the adventurers. At that point a second, identical creature took wing from farther back in the chamber. The group members had some vicious wounds inflicted upon them, but they were able to prevail against these beasts. Eshrin discovered that the creatures were particularly susceptible to fire. It should be noted that when the creatures were “killed,” their bodies dissipated into nothingness. Eshrin reports that this is a sign that the creatures were summoned. From the accounts, the group’s tactics were quite soundly executed.

Once the creatures were dispatched, the group investigated the altar in this seemingly ancient temple. The altar’s once beautifully carved designs or symbols had been marred by these primitive people. Master Eshrin noted that the chamber was magically well-suited for the casting of spells. What he could piece together from the runes appeared to be draconic in nature. Sibyl felt that this temple represented a well-established cult of a likely powerful entity.

At that point, the group invited the people to enter the chamber and observed their worship services. They did indeed venerate the mountain. Eshrin noted a lingering conjuration aura.

After the service, many villagers came down to thank the adventurers for their help. Jaena gifted Rolling Boulder with an amber necklace. She and Eshrin convinced the people that they were intoning the draconic words incorrectly. They instead taught them an inconsequential series of words that was far less likely to lead to another summoning of fell beasts.

At that point, Rolling Boulder asked the party for another favor. She explained that her people needed special dust from a lake in order to continue their rituals. She told the group that Snowshoe had tried to go to the lake to get the dust. Something had bitten his leg off, and he had died. The group explained that it had urgent business on the mountain but promised to investigate and retrieve the dust on the way back. Rolling Boulder promised that she would not send anyone to the lake for one full moon cycle and that she would wait for their return.

Key Pieces of Information from Entry V: The party discovered that the gnolls were being supplied from the mountains. A colossal bird that seemed to be composed of shadow was carrying a very large cage from the mountain to the valley. Once their findings were reported to Chief Amelia, the party was dispatched to the mountains to locate the source of the supplies.

While in transit to the mountain pass’s base camp, the group was waylaid by a primitive tribe of people. The people entreated them to destroy the beasts that had appeared in their temple during prayers. The group discovered that the tribe’s village was situated around a fairly ancient structure with an underground temple. They faced extra planar creatures with bull heads and wings. The group exterminated the beasts and discovered that they had been summoned by the tribe’s ancient prayers. The prayers were in a bastardized form of draconic.

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