The Edge of Darkness

Jana

As it happened, a few months ago, I was on my way to a small house of Ezra on foot. It was raining lightly, and I remembered tasting the drops as they fell. Maybe it was my imagination, but they seemed have a bitter flavor, and I couldn’t help but wonder: “Is Ezra crying this morning?” That day felt very quiet while I sojourned in the house of Ezra. I pondered sadly: “Have people given up on faith? Has it become so bad that they fear praying would cause them harm? Have the Falkovians wrought so much destruction and death in every city they touch?”

As fast as that thought came, it then vanished. I start praying, and suddenly a thought entered my mind, carrying with it a feeling stronger than any I have ever had before, as if someone had spoken them to me: “ I can not let my people suffer anymore it has to stop. Surely there is a way, something has to be done but what? Ezra what would you have me do, I am a true believer and my faith will never depart from you. My heart, mind, and body are devoted to you. How can I help, how can I save these suffering people? I am but one person, give me strength and fortitude, and I will build an army of the faithful. We will bring down the Falkovian army, and our people will once again be free.”

I looked around the church hall, scarcely believing what I just said. Was there someone implanting these thoughts in my head? It appeared that I was alone, and I was but thinking aloud; Ezra had spoken to me and I had answered. But how, how was I going to do this thing myself? After all, I was just one person and I needed help. As that somber thought hung in my mind, the doors slammed open, and in walked a cloaked figure, dressed in tight white-washed leathers, strong, tall, and lean of body. She unveiled her hood, her black hair falling to her shoulders, revealing delicately pointed ears, and blue eyes the color of topaz; she smiled at me. Looking up at the mural laden ceiling, I quietly whispered thank you to the Lady; I had found the help I so desperately needed.

I can recall our meeting so clearly; I remember each word… “Jana, is that really you?” The woman warrior responded incredulously, “Thalia, I can’t believe it, I knew I’d find you here, I just knew it, Ezra told me I would!” Old memories flooded my thoughts. “Blessed our holy mother, look at you Jana, you’ve have grown. When last I saw you, we were little children, but that never stopped you from beating up all the boys. You are a sight beyond imagination. Tell me, you said Ezra sent you here in a dream?” To which she said: "Yes Thalia, it was several moons ago that I was fortunate enough to have joined on to the Resistance, and became a quick study the military arts, to which I have devoted myself since. My journey, as you can imagine, has been difficult and perilous; I have ventured here seeking guidance. Thalia, our people are dying, and not just in our lands, but all over. I had heard rumors of a woman holy warrior, one that was strong, a half-blood Elf who, they say could best a 100 men. I knew in my heart that it was you and I that had to find you. Whilst passing through the humble countryside, slightly north of here, I heard the wind call out my name. “This way”, is all it said, beckoning me south to this small church. Here you are, Thalia, and I am so happy to see you!"

We embraced, and I told her: “Jana, we are going to form a devoted group of holy warriors, and I can think of no other but you to be my 2nd in command. I have some food in my pack, you must be hungry and tired, eat and rest and later we will catch up. I recall that I was so happy, and though we had much work to do, I felt a small sense of victory; both our prayers had been answered. And so my faith strengthened even more, and I knew that I must endeavor on, for in the name of Ezra we have no choice but to prevail. It was at that moment, that the wind seemed to feel warmer, and the rain began to drizzle again, but this time the water tasted pure, and I knew that Ezra was sad no longer.

View
The Veil Removed

Moe has spent the last couple of days relaxing in and around the “World’s End Inn,” a simple place in the town of Arbora, in the land of Nova Vaasa. His friends and traveling companions have agreed that their immediate futures lie on different paths from one another.

The dwarf Thurik seeks to hone is head against some rocks or something; while the half-elf paladin Thalia has her soul up for auction and wants to make a bid; and Sophia, Ava’s sister, is out to melt someone’s brain again.

“In return for giving life to those who should be dead, Grey Ravenshaw has “requested” you find an artifact known as the “Desert Flower.” The Desert Flower looks like an emerald the size of a man’s fist. The location of the artifact is unknown, but Grey believes the artifact to be somewhere within the Amber Wastes. The Amber Wastes are desert lands scorched by the relentless heat of the sun. Life is harsh and unforgiving among the land’s endless sands.

Reaching the Amber Wastes will be a difficult task in itself. The land lies hidden beyond the known lands—somewhere in the misty netherworld. The safest way to journey to this land is by a route known as “The Road of a Thousand Secrets. “This route is considered the safest and most trustworthy means to reach the Amber Wastes. The entrance to “The Road of a Thousand Secrets” is found in southern Hazlan. Hazlan is a land of ancient magic and severe oppression, found in the south of Eastland, at the southern end of the Balinok Mountains.

Grey warns he will be of no help on your journey. You will be traveling to lands far beyond his reach. But if you retrieve the Desert Flower your obligation will be fulfilled and no longer in his debt.”

The Desert Flower has been retrieved, but before the party is ready to return to Hadley everyone must go their own way. So everyone has all agreed to meet at this inn one year from today.

As the party separates and goes their own ways Moe is left to his own thoughts and where his future may take him. He ponders his future for a moment and then catches the slight aroma of fresh baked bread and before he knows what is going on, he has a sack full of fresh baked pastries which he undoubtedly paid top price and is sitting on the back of a wagon full of horse feed. Apparently while he was purchasing the overpriced muffins, he agreed to travel with a horse trader north to Bergovista, then west into Barovia. His final destination here is the Weary Horse Inn.

The Weary Horse Inn lies on the Old Svalich Road. It is a natural haven for horse smugglers, being safely within the frontier of Barovia, yet only a short ride from the bright plains of Nova Vaasa. Its owner, when queried as to his preference for Barovia over Nova Vaasa, is wont to say: “There is much that is wrong in Barovia that is true. But here it keeps to the dark.”

Over the next few days, especially after he runs out of pastries, Moe finds himself contemplating on something that Thurik said just before they departed from Arbora. “Don’t ye be gittn yerself mixed up with all that gypsy card readin’ business?” Moe thought he just meant to stay out of trouble. Then he remembers what the little Vistani girl told him about his card reading:

“The Shepherd” was selected for you because you have spent your life watching over your herd. It marks you as a loyal companion and devoted friend. On the other side because of the card drawn for your future, “The Temptress,” the card could represent you failing as a trusted friend, either accidentally or purposefully.

The second card drawn was, “The Avenger,” which represents your past. You have lived a noble life that has owed allegiance to no one… However, crimes of your past need to be rectified, you have not committed these crimes but your family has. If these crimes are left unresolved it will cause you great harm.

The third card drawn was, “The Swashbuckler,” which indicates that which opposes you. I see the Swashbuckler as a warning that you must not overindulge in your wild spirit, otherwise it will cause you ruin.

The fourth card drawn was, “The Temptress,” which represents your future. The Temptress is from the high deck so it has great power and meaning. You will be tempted in times forthcoming to leave the path of the righteous for the path of evil. I cannot see what choice you will make because it has not been decided.

The fifth and final card drawn was, “The Esper,” which represents your friend and allies. The Esper reminds us of the powers of the mind. You will find salvation in good judgment and intelligence, whether it is your own or your friends.”

Moe also remembers the dream he had when he died and the feeling he had when Lord Ravenshaw brought him back from death. The Dream of Shadows:

Deaths hand shows no compassion, or remorse, it’s final. For an eternity death has touched mortal beings and sent them to other realms. With no concern for where they went or if they would ever return, death knew only one action, to stop life, to free mortal souls and send them on their way. Today was different, today was new. Death has always been alone, forever in darkness, forever in silence, except for this day. Death reached down to touch a soul and for the briefest of a moment he hesitated, in less than a blink of an eye death was not alone. Another presence touched his hand ever so slightly. He had never experienced this before, and he reviled in the experience. The presence did not come from the meager mortal he was touching, but from something or someone far, far more powerful than a simple mortal soul. Death was enamored by this and for the first time in existence he hesitated. Death’s first thought was to reach out to the presence, but before he could do so it was gone. He continued on as he has since the beginning of time.

He knew that he will find this presence, and perhaps for the briefest of moments again he will not be alone. He only had to wait, and to Death, time has no meaning.

Moe Zwergziege was mortally wounded; he could feel his life leaking out of him. The darkness was closing in on him and things began to go silent. He knew he was dying, and the darkness was Death coming towards him. Moe was more curious than he was afraid. He has never been dead before and his last thought before Death touched him was, “I hope I still can get some biscuits.”

Just as the last bit of light escaped his mind, and Deaths grasp totally surrounded him, Moe felt a presence, was it light? he was uncertain. The darkness paused for the briefest of moments as if it too sensed this presence. Moe ran, or at least in his mind he ran towards this presence as fast as he could and just before the darkness engulfed him completely, he saw the presence, it was not darkness nor was it light, it was shadow.

Moe has died in a shadow, and stepped back into the gloominess with a bit of shadow in his soul. He now has a new purpose, the protection of this land. Moe still has a lot to learn about the Shadowfell and now is indebted to a powerful individual that can teach him more about the land of the mist. He will follow in Lord Ravenshaw’s goals…. At least for now.

Since they have recovered Al-Andalus, Moe’s path is unclear for the first time in many months or actually in a couple of years. He is now in charge of his own future, or at least the next year of it. Moe thinks to himself, “I need to figure outs how to fight these undead that have infested the lands. Who knows a lot bout killin’ Undead? Umm, let me thinks… Oh yeah that’s right! Radu! The weird guy who followed the Morninglord.”

Moe pulls out the old holy symbol that his mother gave him when he left home. The symbol was a simple, rose-tinted disc of gold. He looks it over, slips it back in his bag, and says “Now where did Radu live again?”

Moe hitched a ride over the mountain pass from the village of Bavoria to the town of Vallaki—the same mountains pass the he and his companions crossed almost about a year ago.

Moe gets a room at the Blue Water Inn, the same place he spent several months in his last visit waiting for winter to end. Moe remembers a few of the faces in the area, but no one seems to remember him. The Blue Water Inn is an ancient hunting lodge converted to the task of lodging visitors to Vallaki. It offers an excellent view of Lake Zarovich, with good quality rooms, private conference rooms, and good quality food.

Moe spends the next couple of days, quietly looking around Vallaki and discreetly asking about Radu to no avail; either Moe was mistaken that Radu was from here or he simply does not want to be found.

On the third day in Vallaki Moe spots a man who looks like a merchant or possibly a trader. The guy is watching Moe very closely. He was not watching him like he was a “mark” more like he was watching him like he knew him.

Moe did his best to try and avoid the guy, but before Moe could figure out a place to disappear, their eyes locked for a few seconds. Moe thinks to himself, “Did that guy just wink at me? Nah…” Moe glances away but after a few seconds he looks up again and the guy does it again; however, this time the winks are different because there is a hand movement and some body movement included. Moe thinks to himself, “possibly some kind of code?” Moe was uncertain, so he glances away again.

When Moe looks back at the guy, he sees that the guy is now STARING at him with a confused look on his face. Moe decides to bluff the guy and does some combinations of winks and a hand gesture or two. The man’s jaw drops for a brief moment as he suddenly looks like he just saw the dead Pharaoh Anhktepot. The man quickly leaves and vanishes into the dim light.

Moe thinks, “Wonder what I said wid my winks?”

A few nights later Moe is awakened by a large bumping noise, and a sound that is similar to flesh hitting wood. When he finally comes out of his slumber the pain in his head and his back is almost unbearable. Apparently he is in a burlap sack of sorts and just been tossed on a table or onto a wooden floor. He is bound with rope, gagged, and blind folded. He has a large knot on the back of his head and the taste of blood in his mouth.

Apparently as Moe is trying to figure out what is going on he moved around too much and he is smacked in the head, just before he falls unconscious again, he thinks to himself, “I wonder if Sophie is getting revenge on me, oh wow maybe Thurik is here lying next to him too?” Blackness.

Moe was awakened a few moments later by the smell of cat urine. After he gags a few times he finds himself tied to a chair still wearing a blind fold. He is asked by a male voice, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

Its felt like days since Moe had eaten or had drinken anything; so he was only able to manage a scruffy sounding “Moe” and a few squeaks and grunts.

“What are you DOING here” the man protests again. Moe fumbles words and manages to say “Wa-terr.” The man gets up and moves to the other side of the room, after a few moments the man comes back to Moe and dumps a bucket of water on his head. Moe tries his best to slurp up some of the water which now has washed the dried blood down his face.

The water has moistened the blind fold enough to allow Moe to adjust his vision and see into the room. The room is completely dark except for a small candle on a table about ten feet away. Moe sees his backpack and weapons on the table. He shifts his head and sees the man he winked at holding a club of sorts. The man again says, “What are you doing here.”

Moe, now with damp lips can speak and says, “Somebody apparently stuffed me in a bag and brought me here!” Whack! Moe is thumped in the head again, and sees stars briefly. With the distraction, Moe notices that the area behind the man is shrouded in dim light; he uses his “Shade Stride” ability and teleports to the other side of the room. In a flurry of motion, now free from his restraints, Moe acts, pulling his blind fold off, he bolts right back at the man, snatching the man’s kukri from his belt and just as the man is turning around to figure out what happened. Whack! The man is knocked out.

Moe eases the man into the chair he just vacated and ties him up with the bindings. He checks the door and hears some voices that sound like they are twenty or thirty feet away, but not getting closer.

As the man starts to awaken from the exchange, Moe holds his kukri up to his throat and says, “Ssuuu, be quite and you might live.” The man eyes are wide with astonishment and whispers as quietly as possible, “Brutale”? Is that you?”

Moe interrogates, the man for the next few minutes, checks the man bindings, gags him, and slips out of the room into the hallway. Fifteen minutes later, Moe is leaving the small warehouse with a nice new kukri, which he calls “Wink,” and more information than he is ready to comprehend at the moment.

(Insight will reveal he is not telling the whole story.)

Later that night, Moe is contacted via a shadow, very much like the one that Grey Ravenshaw used. The shadow explains to Moe that it was sent here by a friend of the Ravenshaws and that he would like for Moe to come to the City of Midnight. The shadow does not explain much to Moe, other than his presence is requested and he needs to get the city as soon as possible.

The shadow explains that it will guide him to the city. The shadow will attach itself to Moe’s shadow and will guide him along the way. (Imagine Peter Pans Shadow.)

The next morning Moe leaves the town of Vallaki, never finding Radu which was his original purpose for coming to the town.

Over the next few days, Moe traveled back to Bergovitsa in Nova Vassa to pick up a pony named “Tip-Toe.” Moe says he mainly went that way because it was the way his shadow was going.

Moe travels for several days until he reaches the Shadow Rift. The Shadow Rift is a vast chasm that festers like a wound in the center of the misty lands. Its sheer cliffs drop away abruptly from the neighboring lands as if the land has simply crumbled into nothingness. While approaching the cliffs Moe meets some really mean looking creatures which call themselves the “shadow fey.” These shadow fey are hostile and are very violent towards anyone that is not “Of Shadow.”

Moe explains that he needs to head into the rift. The shadow fey warn him not to travel too deep in the rift because dangerous giants roam around the bottom of the rift. They allow him to pass because he is part shadow but warn permission would not be granted to those who are natural. Moe asked them, “You guys mind watching out for my pony, Tip-Toe?” The shadow fey agree so Moe departs towards the rift—letting his shadow guide lead the way. Moe hears the whinnying of his horse and the laughter of the shadow pixies as he gazes into the black abyss.

Roughly two hundred feet below the Rift’s edge, black vapors swirl in hypnotic patterns, an unsettling, ebon reflection of the Mists themselves. These tenebrous vapors conceal whatever lies at the bottom of the Rift. As Moe descended into the Shadow Rift, he felt a chill run down his spine, the journey to get here was not without complications.

(Insight will reveal he is not telling the whole story.)

Moe brushes off his hesitancy and continues. Luckily Moe came prepared for the climb down, however he did not expect to have company. After one hundred or so feet of climbing, Moe stops on a small ledge to catch his breath, when he turns away from the cliff and looks down into the rift his blood freezes. From the blackness he sees shadowy shapes emerging from the blackness. Bits of darkness move out of the vapors and are moving towards him. Moe glances up and then back to the shapes. “Oh, crap! There is not enough time to flee,” he thinks. So he wedges himself onto the cliff edge, checks the sturdiness of the piton he is using to anchor himself in this spot, and draws out his magical short sword and mumbles, “I am just a rock, just a fat rock… Please don’t see me….don’t see me.” He closes his eyes as the shapes get right up to him. He can feel the coldness of the shapes as they get next to him. He peeks open one of his eyes, and is staring at one of the shapes, which has eyes! Red pin point eyes and it is only a few inches away staring directly at him.

Moe says, “Hi,” as his breath is letting out a cold mist. The shape, moves back at the sound of Moe’s voice, pulsates in a grey and black pattern, and then darts directly at Moe. Moe instinctively leaps back, slamming himself against the cliff face and partially loses his grip. He immediately drops his short sword and it goes falling into the rift.

He grabs for the wall. As he catches himself, the shadow figure is on top of him. Moe’s heart stops, flashes of shadow dance around his face, swirling in and out of his mouth, eyes, and chest. He can feel the tendrils of coldness moving through his body searching and probing him. Moe lets out a giggle, “Tee he, stop that tickles.” Soon Moe notices that he is no longer holding on to the cliff face. He half expected to blink his eyes and wake up from a nightmare. Then he feels the rush of air blast him in the face and notices he is falling, his eyes begin to water as the wind is whistling in his ears. Moe thinks for a second “Wweee” and then sees that he is heading directly for hundreds more of these figures.”

Moe tries to stir away from the pack of shadow figures, back peddling and flapping his arms about, but he has no experience in flying, or rather long distant falling. So he throws his arms up in front of his face just before he is engulfed by the waiting dark tendrils. Then everything goes quiet. He peeks his face out and he is standing or rather floating among the dark clouds. The air here has no odor, and is thin, similar to the air on the top of the Balinok Mountains, and almost as cold.

He has the feeling he is in the mist again, but with a different feel. This place is darker than the mist and much colder. It’s as if he has gone into the mist’s shadow. As the shadow figures are swirling around him and under his feet a portal or door way appears in front of him along the cliff wall. He is urged to move through the portal. He steps through and time seems to stop, Moe can feel that he is being transported. The gloominess and dread that he has grown up with has now changed. He still feels that he is among the shadow, but somehow in a different location. He describes the feeling as if he was trapped in a dark and forbidding bottle, and somehow he was poured out into a dim and ominous bucket.

Moe finds himself standing on a cobblestone road leading off into the darkness in both directions. He glances about searching for his dropped short sword, but does not find it. He hears music coming from behind him, shrugs his shoulders and starts walking in the direction of the music.

The music is getting louder as Moe is walking to the music. He thinks the music is some kind of wind organ or bag pipe of sorts. The music is very eerie and off-key. Soon he can make out two figures ahead standing next to a small hill. The larger figure is moving from the small hill, picking up a handful of stones, moving them to the road, and then stomping on them a few times. Meanwhile, the smaller figure is standing behind a cart of sorts, turning a crank on the side, which is obviously where the music is coming from.

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As Moe approaches the two figures through the gloom he can make them out more clearly. The large creature is a construct of sorts; its body is made up of pieces of stone, wood debris, and miscellaneous junk. The smaller creature appears to be a monkey. Not unlike the monkeys Moe had seen near the oasis outside of Har’Akir, only this monkey is larger. The monkey turns the music box crank and the golem dances. Moe thinks out loud, “Wow that is really neat!” This gets the attention of the monkey, and he stops cranking the music box. The golem stops in midstride dropping one of the stones and rolls over. Moe glances down, picks up the stone as if to bring it back to the golem. But the stone feels strange in his hand so he closely inspects the stone. Suddenly he realizes it’s not a stone but a skull. He screeches, drops the skull, and looks at the small hill, which he realizes is a pile of skulls. Moe takes a step back, looks down at the road, which is crushed skulls. He jumps off the road with a startle and involuntary shivers. The monkey, starts laughing hysterically at Moe, pointing and laughing. Moe says, “Hey, it isn’t funny, those ones were people”. The monkey stops laughing briefly, looks at the pile of skulls, then back at Moe, and starts laughing again. Moe, now a little frustrated at this monkey, picks up the skull he dropped and takes aim at the monkey. Suddenly, the monkey stops laughing and says in perfect Mordentish, “I would not do that if I were you!” The skull falls from Moe’s hand once again as his jaw almost hits the floor. Moe says “A talkin’ monkey?” The monkey responds, “I was thinking the same thing about you!”


Moe spends the next day following his shadow until it leads him to the edge of a bog. Here he negotiates with a short, evil looking Halfling for passage on his barge. Moe later learns it is not a Halfling but a “Dark One.” The Dark one takes him through a nightmarish swamp full of foul and disturbing creatures to a large city on the edge of a vast ocean. This is the City of Midnight.


To hedge out unwanted dangers from land and sea, a massive black wall encircles the city. The wall’s foundation sinks deep into the moor on land, and descends to the bottom of the shallow waters of the city’s harbor. Lanterns hanging from posts extend out from the walls and cast a sickly green light across the surrounding lands. This keeps the bog monsters at bay and wards ships away from the slimy rocks hidden just below the water’s surface. Stone limbs, hands, feet, and even faces provide macabre wall décor. These protrusions twitch and writhe, and the sounds of their laughter echoes in the cold wind that blows off the sea. More disturbing are the city gates. Carved to resemble skulls with jaws agape, these entrances mar the walls at various points. Peering eyes set in the rock watch those who pass beneath them. Worse of all, the gates don’t stay put for long, drifting along the walls as suits their fancy.


Inside the walls, the city is dank and crowded. The cityscape is a jumble of buildings piled one on top of another, with the occasional tower thrusting out from the heap to waver in the air. The structures are fashioned from the same dark stone of the walls, and feature the same curious design, complete with staring stone faces and headless torsos. Buildings seem to crane inward, as though they were eavesdropping on whispered conversations in the streets. The streets themselves are a twisting maze of passages, corridors, canals, and bridges. Disturbingly, the city’s features share the bog gates’ mobility. The city constantly shifts and changes, as if alive. New buildings sprout from uncertain depths, twisting up and out of the mass of low-lying rooms and corridors to form a new tower. Months later, the spire collapses into a heap of rubble.


Moe spends the next ten months or so learning about this place and its land. His combat and stealth skills are honed. He spends most of his days within a place he calls the Opera House. He became friends with a humanoid known as a Tiefling named Yarol. Yarol liked to gamble so he and Moe spent many nights betting on everything from dice rolls to toad racing. Yarol won some kind of house that had black lanterns during a game one night and departed shortly afterwards. He never saw him again.


Moe did a fair bit of traveling on secret missions here and there for the group at the Opera House. Moe was somewhat in the dark most of the time, but he just went along with the flow of things, grasping on to as much knowledge as he could.


Moe says, “Yep it was fun alright! I left and came back here. Can you guys help me?
I need to find Grey Ravenshaw’s dagger again.”


“Oh and I almost forgot, I brought you all some presents!”


He fumbles around in his bag and pulls out some black goggles with black lenses.
He says, “I got these off a dead keeper. These are for you Sophie. Sorry, they are a bit banged up—you’d should have seen the dead guy!”


He pulls out two identical jewelry boxes and hands one to Thurik and the other one to Thalia. He says, “I bought these in the Plaza of Gargoyles using the rest of the Pharizian gold I had.”


The jewelry boxes contain holy symbols to the Raven Queen.


Moe says to the rest of the party, “So where did you guys go?”


Everyone notices a few minor changes in Moe, he actually has a bit more of a shadowy appearance, and his short sword is now replaced with a kukri. The kukri has a skull on the pommel and has leather wrappings on the hilt with red and black stripes. His backpack is new and seems to be full of all kinds of miscellaneous trinkets now. He also has a new glow in his eyes, as if he is looking at the world with a different outlook. You also might find him writing in a small journal from time to time. His accent is a bit different, and his vocabulary is sometimes amiss. For example, he occasionally will call someone a “bloak” or a “barney.” You also may catch him whistling a tune that you have not heard before. Over all you get the general idea that Moe has gained a vast amount of knowledge and is still trying to sort through many of his thoughts.

View
Sophia Shade

As I entered the small village of Immol, I couldn’t help but feel detached somehow. Looking around at the busy villagers, selling their wares, arguing with each other, drinking and laughing. The women doing their washing in the stream paused when I came up the road. I waved, trying to appear like a normal traveler. A mother’s arms were occupied with holding her baby, but she nodded and smiled. Some older children, a boy and a girl, waved as well. Such a strange feeling…It felt good, though. Like I wasn’t ostracized for, well…just existing.

Their life just seemed too quaint and…uneventful. I couldn’t even imagine my life being this simple. I would die of boredom, surely.

After all I’ve been through with Moe, Thurik and Thalia, everything else was just unimportant. I knew I couldn’t just stop and slow down. It’s been a long way since I left Mordentshire and I can’t look back now. I’ve seen too much. I’ve got too much more to do.

Mordentshire…

A pained expression crossed Sophia’s face as she recounted her journey.

“Remember me?” this question entered her mind and interrupted her thoughts. Sophia looked up and saw only the statue of some long unknown hero in the town’s square along with the normal people milling about. “Over here!” the masculine voice laughed again.

She turned her head and there he was. Stepping out of the shadow, taller than the other villagers by at least a head. Somehow he was more handsome than she remembered. His pale golden hair flowed past his shoulders, she could see his deep green eyes sparkle with a mischievous smirk, and she found herself smiling. “How could I forget you, Fabian?”

He answered her by smiling. Starting in a direction to her right, he walked with a confidence that bordered on arrogance. He was wearing a deep black velour cloak over a green and black tabard that matched his eyes.

“Right this way,” he said, bowing too gallantly as if I was royalty but still smiling. I began to follow him back towards the inn called the Bolting Stag. Upon entering, it seemed like every inn I’ve remembered, nothing standing out—only me. However, with Fabian standing next to me, I didn’t feel so ‘out of place’. Strange, but I almost felt at home. The dusty floorboards creaking under the strain of the people inside, the charred smoking fireplace and the noise of mugs clanking and sliding on tables. The inn-keeper, a rather plump chap with dark hair and ruddy cheeks nodded a greeting to Fabian, he nodded back. I watched the exchange curiously, but said nothing. I’ve learned not to be so quick in opening my mouth, or my mind for that matter. For some reason, I trusted him without question. He was an Elan and that meant more to me than I had realized.

Fabian led me back to the cellar downstairs. I quickly realized this was where we first met. Seemed like a lifetime ago – yet it had only been just a couple months. He opened the secret door that lead to the series of tunnels, dimly lit. He grabbed a torch from one of the walls to the left. I immediately thought of Thurik’s hammer. We never had to worry about a light source; I supposed it was something I just took for granted. Lost in her thoughts, Sophia stopped paying attention and tripped on the uneven cold stone floor—completely caught off guard, her face smacked right into Fabian’s back. He turned around too fast than humanly possible, catching her before she hit the ground. His strong arms were around her, making her blush and unable to express her gratitude. She looked up into his eyes, his laughing smile had disappeared. “Are you injured?” he asked with all seriousness.

Only my pride, I thought. Clearing my throat, I gathered myself. “No, I’m truly alright. It would take more than a clumsy trip to take me down”. I was trying not to be awkward, but he just made me lose all train of thought. “I’m actually quite capable of taking care of myself.”

He laughed merrily. “I’ve no doubt Sophia Shade.” Fabian backed away and turned about. We continued through this maze. I don’t think I could ever know how to get back, but that doesn’t worry me, after all, I am with my people, right?

“Fabian, do you know why I’m here?” I asked. Trying to fill the awkward silence and sound unaffected.

“Not really, though I suppose it has something to do with either your curiosity of your people or you must have really missed me,” he stated matter of factly. Even though I couldn’t see his face, I knew he must have been smiling. I just stared at the blackness of his cloak. It seemed to swallow the torch light. I’m glad he couldn’t see me blush.

I cleared my throat again, trying to gather my thoughts. “Exactly! Well…I mean, the first part of what you said…” I trailed off, losing all confidence. Bloody hell! What was my problem?!

“Haha! I missed you too!” he said, intentionally misinterpreting my meaning. “Many things have happened since you left. The north seems to constantly be at war with each other.”

“Yes, I had heard about that in Nova Vassi. Has the conflict reached this far south?”

We made a sharp turn to the right and the air seemed to warm.

“No, at least, not yet anyway. The noble families of Immol have their quarrels against each other, but for the most part they just follow the Count’s orders. The Thaani do as well and are happy to do so, so as not to draw any unwanted attention. However, my father and the rest of the Cassiells keep their true feelings about the Count, this realm, and our powers hidden from the Unenlightened. Our numbers are still too few.

“Someday, we Cassiells need to leave and find a place that’s not under such a ruler as Count von Zarovich. Somewhere we can study and live the way our people did before “the Silent Ones” overtook us. I, myself, relish at the thought of leaving here and obtaining vengeance for my people. We do not belong. It’s quite maddening, actually. There has been five generations of Cassiells in Immol, that’s four too many. I feel we have overstayed our welcome. Situations are coming to a head, and this conflict between the elves and the Count is not ours.” He turned around again to face me and grabbed my shoulders. “Sophia Shade, there is a higher purpose that brings you to us; I know it in my blood. The past several months my brother and I have grown more restless and less patient. I truly believe the fate of our people rests in our hands.” He paused, closing his eyes. “Apologies, I mean not to alarm you. Please, tell no one I’ve said this to you. Not yet.”

I nodded trying to find the right words. “I understand your need for discretion.” Fabian let go and turned abruptly, then continued on down the tunnel.

“By the way I can’t help but tell you, you smell like a field of the sweetest smelling flowers. It makes me want to just gather you up and breathe you in. When you fell back there, I almost did.” He spoke candidly and without fear.

I laughed nervously at the sudden, intimate comment. Quietly wishing he would have done so. “It’s not me, its Al-Andalus” I said.

“Al-Andalus? Is that some sort of perfume?” he stopped and turned towards me.

“No, it’s this!” reaching in my pack, I pulled out the orb. Grateful for the opportunity of the focus not being on me. It glowed with blue fire and swirled with power as if the sky was aflame and became trapped. I smiled at the pleasure just looking at it brought me.

“Unbelievable! Is that a magical orb? It is so strange, but why does it smell of flowers?” he asked.

“Some call it “The Desert Flower,” because of the fresh flowers it smells of. But, yes it is a magical orb. You wouldn’t believe how we found it if I told you nor the powers it not only unlocks within me but, I, within it as well.”

“It is strange, but I would believe anything you tell me, Sophia Shade. I can see you have been on quite the quest since I saw you last. Curious though, that you have returned alone and without your companions.”

My smile faded. My eyes turned downcast at the mention of Moe, Thurik and Thalia. Yes, even Thalia, in all her righteousness shall be sorely missed.

“The fact that you can wield something so great, tells me a clumsy trip couldn’t fall you at all.” He smiled trying to break my thoughts. Looking into his eyes took my breath away and made my pulse rise. “I should like to hear your tale, but first I must take you to my father, Rastlyn”, the brightness of Fabian’s voice seemed to diminish as he spoke of his father. "He is dying, I’m afraid. By the looks of him, he should have already been so, but he seems to be holding on to something, for a reason I cannot guess, until I saw you in the square… Come, we are very nearly there.”

The catacombs of their headquarters hadn’t changed overmuch. It consisted of one main hall that splintered off into other rooms, some doors were open, and others closed. The round, domed ceilings of gray bricks, faded tapestries depicting violent scenes I know nothing of, simple but functional furniture. It warmed my heart to be in a place free of ridicule. I closed my eyes and took a long deep breath of fresh flowers and exhaling very slowly. I could feel my mind relax which seemed to sharpen my focus, somehow. When I opened my eyes, Fabian was just standing there, staring at me. I blushed.

“You seem much less tense,” he smiled. "Perhaps you are in the right place at the right time. Fate brought you here, the purpose, perhaps my father will know. Come right this way.”

I followed his outstretched arm towards the back of the main hall to a double door as thick as Thurik. Fabian opened one of the doors and motioned for me to step through.

Though the room was dimly lit, it revealed an old graying man, reading a book through polished spectacles. Shelf after shelf behind him was filled with books, of all sorts: books of history, map books, and books of old folk lore among others. “Father, I have returned.” The man shakily lifted his head and smiled. He then looked to who Fabian had with him. He gave a reluctant smile, trying to conceal the worry he had for her.

“Come in, my child! It is good to see you in good health! You look as spirited as ever, yet there is a new wisdom in your eyes. That is a good thing! For last you were here, you seemed much too young”, he stated good-naturedly. His words were weak sounding similar to dried leaves blowing over stone in a light breeze.

“Thank you for welcoming me to your home,” I bowed and moved closer to hear his soft spoken words. “Apologies, Rastlyn, but what do you mean too young?”

Rastlyn smiled and looked at Fabian who seemed to be studying the cover of a book rather closely and all of a sudden.

“In due time, my dear. I would ask to what do we owe this honor of your presence, but I believe you are here to know more about your people.” I nodded. Rastlyn patted the quilt, motioning for me to sit. I did eagerly wanting to know more. "I know you would like to rest after your long journey, but Time is near and I know not how much she will give me.”

Fabian cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “Yes, Fabian, why don’t you go fetch your brother, Derrick?” said Rastlyn. Fabian turned on his heel and left the room. "I shall be brief child, but I want to tell you how we came to be here.”

“Two thousand years ago, too much time for anyone, including me, to comprehend, my father’s line became enslaved to the Silent Ones I’m sure you remember me telling you of them last time you were here. Thirty generations of Cassiells fell beneath the dark power and will of their reign of terror, in a bloody invasion unrivaled by any before or since.”

“The Silent Ones, had come from the east, too fast for my father’s armies to mobilize, too fast for the scouts to warn. They ripped two thousand years of peace in our world to shreds, and scattered those shreds among the bodies of my kin. They fought bravely, but still they were overtaken, and the Elan bloodline was all but destroyed. I was, and now my sons, are the only Elans left, all the others are buried in shallow graves, or left to the hellish creatures of Bluetspur.”

“And so, 82 years ago to the day with no choice, but to live enslaved or die escaping, I took up the challenge along with a fellow Cassiellian. He managed to obtain one of their scepters, it was made of a strange liquid that solidified through a magical process, I believe here they would call it ‘amber’, though its material is not of this realm. I rallied remaining Cassiells to me when I was little more than a child of twenty, and led us out of our lands with our lives. Only twelve of us made it out alive. The fellow Cassillian I mentioned was named Edgar Shade, who found his way to Mordent and hasn’t been heard from since.”

My eyes drowned in emotion at the mention of my father’s name. I felt guilt at not remembering his face, but I was just shy of three when he died. I did not know him. Now everything seemed to fall into place and become more confusing all at once. My hand instinctively moved to the orb under my robes. My father’s orb, I now realized, from the Silent One’s scepter. I pulled it out and held it with a new tenderness.

He smiled a knowing smile. "Sophia, I can feel the power and unrest in you. I know you to be an Elan as well and it is imperative to unlock that power within you. For now it’s your turn, along with my sons to bring our people vengeance and into the new age. The once ancient prophecy shall come to fruition:

‘Hair aflame, heart of might will hold the sky, thrust unwillingly
a Gifted child possessing the powers of the magical gods long past –
shall lead the revolution against the Silence into the heart of the epic struggle
that shall span a millennia, a conflict between the Dark and the Enlightened.
The child must find the Keepers of the ancient Prophecy – each of whom
holds a single piece of the key to saving the Enlightened from the Darkness.’

“Each of my sons hold a piece of the key around their neck, though they do not know its value. You will know when the time is right to lead your army of Keepers to Bluetspur and end their reign of slavery. For now you are not nearly ready. You must first learn what you are up against. You must kill one of the Silent Ones and live. Here is a map, my child, keep it safe. It will show you how to get to Bluetspur.” This last word made Rastlyn cough sharply. When he could cough no more, blood stained his lips as he took his hand away. “My child, your life shall never be easy, but it shall be great.” His breath came in raspy waves. One could hear the blood in his lungs choking out his life.

“Rastlyn! Rastlyn, you cannot leave yet!” I yelled at him, angry he was leaving me so soon.

Fabian and Derrick entered the room to find me sobbing and offering Rastlyn what comfort I could. Both brothers rushed over to help me up, Fabian stayed by his dying father while Derrick helped me to my room. Through my grief, I suddenly realized they were twins, though Derrick had a beard, though he kept it groomed and wore his hair shorter than Fabian. He offered me words of comfort, saying his father should have passed months ago, but still clung to life. My coming must have been the reason. Derrick was much more serious than Fabian, his clothes were that of a woodsman, dagger on his side, faded brown leather shoes. With the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen. He smiled making the crow’s feet stand out on his face.

My tears were that of grief over Rastlyn’s passing. Yet also, relief of knowing who my family is, of happiness of knowing and of gratitude for the knowledge of it all.

After the funeral, our journey had begun…

We made it to the Bluetspur; the map that Rastlyn gave to me showed us the way through the series of underground mazes and finally into a well-hidden portal.

The black void of a sky loomed over us like some shadow of doubt with its edges constantly aflame, yet never burning further than the horizon. The horizon made me think of the torture of the souls that have been tormented over centuries of slavery and mutilation. We had been walking for days Fabian, Derrick, I and now Trevor and Saira (whom were once slaves until they came away with us) following what we had hoped to be the way back. In truth no one had any idea. The starless night shone high upon our backs. We had managed to kill a Silent One. Barely making it out with our lives, and permanently scarred for life. My mind was still weak from their months of torture.

We were all captured – all of us. For almost 8 months we starved and labored until I began to lose all hope. My only saving grace of sanity was that Derrick and Fabian managed to stay by my side. I cannot go into detail of what The Silent Ones made me do, I cannot bare it.

I closed my eyes and my mind brought me back about three months ago. Fabian doing ‘penance’ for standing up for me. They had his body laid out and a rope tied to each arm and leg. Fearsome creatures pulled in opposite directions in tandem from some unknown silent command. Stretching and his breaking bones. One of the worst things about penance for anyone here was we all were made immobile and forced to watch, even partake in the torture. In this case, I was made to tie the ropes. Tears started down my cheeks as this memory unfolded. I could hear the snapping of his wrists. I shuddered.

When it was over, I was at his side trying my best to heal him, though words were all I had. His head was on my lap as I stroked his pale golden hair. ‘Why do you keep doing this to yourself, Fabian? I am strong and can take my own punishment.’ We had this conversation every time this happened.

“So you remain indebted to me’ he smiled. ’When we get out of this, I fear you must pay what you owe.” I had no idea what he meant.

Breaking my thoughts, I looked up and I saw Fabian, motion for the rest of the group to rest.

I sat on a rock I looked about my surroundings. There was vast rocky wasteland everywhere with a sky that never changed. The land was alien, unlike any I had every seen. What I would have given for a glimpse of a single blade of grass. This must be the living hell for all beings, perhaps where Thalia’s soul could have gone, if the holy symbol was not returned. I had listened as the others talked about the maddening effect the silence had on our minds. I had seen it myself, the Madness. Some said that those who went mad were being taken to another world where there was green as far as the eye could see. Others said the Madness was a punishment, sent to purge the race of all sinners.

Trevor was glaring at Saira. “What are you staring at?” he said. "We have been following Fabian for days now. Who made him leader? I sit back and watch us look to him. “Why?!” Trevor could feel something stir inside him. As he looked up and saw the confused look on Saira’s face he became enraged, the anger and hurt overwhelming him. He turned to Saira and lunged at her, a rock in his hand. All of us were too weak and couldn’t move to pull them apart for some reason. All we could do was watch.

The two of them struggled for a while, but slowly Trevor got Saira on the ground, a rock held high above his head. Fabian quickly came to his senses, but before he could utter a word Trevor brought the rock crashing down on her face. Saira almost cried in the few moments before her death. Now Saira lay crushed on the cool rocky ground, yet another victim of the Madness. Trevor wept, for he had just crushed his wife to death with a rock, such was the curse of this Madness of silence. We wept, for we could do nothing to stop this and were forced to watch it happen. Trevor would not be moved from her body. We had to leave him behind—his fate sealed.

We crested the last outcropping and suddenly the surroundings started to seem familiar… Energized by this revelation, I forged ahead. “We found it! We found it at last!” tears were streaming down my face. Jumping down from the boulder, I turned inward and saw the cave we came through about 9 months ago. The three of us remaining went through the entrance of the cave, opened the portal, and found ourselves on the cold stone floor of the tunnels underneath Immol.

We wept. We wept with joy.

Then the most unexpected thing happened to Sophia the following day. Fabian came to her room, “It is time for you to pay up, Sophia. You owe me and you know you do” he said. His cheeks still gaunt from lack of food and months of torment.

Angry at his sudden outburst, and impossible request, “I have no idea how you want me to pay you back for those months of torture! It would take a lifetime to repay that debt!” I exclaimed.

“Exactly!” he said covering the distance from the doorway to her side. “Sophia, will you marry me? I would fight by your side for the rest of time and spend my life saving you from any and all punishment. Till my last breath, Sophia, I will love you.”

Sophia looked into his eyes, there was no hidden smirk, they just radiated his sincere feelings. A single tear rolled down her cheek, her heart breaking at the sudden emotion, “I would be honored” she breathed.

He embraced her wholly and without abandon. The fierce protectiveness they felt for each other was palpable…

View
The Tale of Thurik Orinbald

I have been gifted the opportunity to once again make note of the journeys that I and my companions have undertaken.

It would seem that our acquisition of the “Desert Flower” was successful. Having put himself in great peril, our brave Moe managed to grab the Sun Disk of Ra whilst it hung about the neck of the slumbering Mummy Pharaoh Anhktepot. Upon leaving the tomb, we were accosted by another mummy who set his sand crawling zombies upon us. By shear will and determination, dear Thalia managed to fend off our foes, forcing their bandaged leader to retreat. Knowing that there were only a few hours before the end of the summer solstice, we had no choice but to make haste into the Mists to the north, having no opportunity to return to Pharazia and gift the Sun Disk to the rakshasa in order to destroy his contract with Thalia.

It was indeed grand sight to behold the greenery and damp air of Nova Vaasa once we emerged from the Mists. We traveled to the town of Arbora where we encountered George Weathermay, who informed us that grave events had befallen the west. It appears that after many years of failed attempts at expansion, the armies Falkovnia have finally reaped their bloody prize, through the rapid invasion of Richemulot just after the murder of its leader. There can be no doubt of Vlad Drakov’s involvement with this. The Treaty of Four Towers have pledged to support Richemulot, but as of yet, were unable to muster an army capable of resisting the might of Falkovnia.

All this had transpired rather recently, although we learned that it had been nearly two years since our departure into the Mists. Events were unfolding in a way that would make it impossible for us to continue on together, at least for the mean time. It was decided that we should part ways in order to resolve the many circumstances that have risen to challenge us during our absence. Having been informed by Grey Ravenshaw that his demise was near some time ago, the dark forces in Hadley have since remained in Hadley as their powers grow unchallenged. We pledged to meet back in Arbora after one year had passed and bid each other farewell.

It had become clear to me, that our recent struggles and brushes with death could only be survived by faith and hope. Ezra has blessed us and made our safe return possible. Thus I undertook a pilgrimage to visit the Great Cathedral of Levkarest in Borca, my homeland. I bargained passage with a merchant convoy making its way to Immol, and then continued on foot north into Barovia. Attacked by bandits, wolves, and rotted corpses, over the course of 3 weeks, I steadfastly crossed into Borca, bruised, bloodied, and desperately tired. Glad to descend into the wind-weathered highlands, I resolved to visit the old underground fortress that was the home of my clan, the Orinbalds.

When last I had seen those rune-carved arches spanning the entrance of our tunneled settlement, it had been in dire circumstances as a dark plague had infected our populace, resulting in death, and worse, a cursed undeath. I searched the complex for nearly three days, finding desiccated remains of those who could not flee as I did, and an abundance of valuable items whose intrinsic wealth could not purchase salvation. It became apparent that nothing remained here, and so I erected a cairn in memorial to all those who had perished, and to my clan. Soon after I departed those silent hills, and on the road, encountered a small family of my kin who were on their way to the Great Cathedral of Levkarest.

The journey was short, and as we ambled through the winding paths and narrow valleys of the trader’s road, I came to learn that no Orinbald had be heard from since the exodus. In fact, few from the highland Clans survived, most having settled in the lowland towns and others farther afoot, like myself. I turn on to the Pilgrims Road on the morning of the 5th day, having traded with the Dwarves for some hard tack, basic supplies, and more portable currency before parting ways. The golden light of dawn framed the massive edifice that was my destination, looming from the top of a massive hill about a half day’s travel east.

I remember first visiting the Great Cathedral of Levkarest when I was a child, and returning for my indoctrination as an Anchorite some years later. The smell of spiced incense wafted about in light wisps of smoke from the iron censers hanging along the main hall. I was welcomed by the Praesidius, an old noble man named Yakov Dilisnya. After informing him of my journey from Mordentshire and onwards, it was apparent that he could scarcely believe I and my companions had survived our harrowing endeavors. A synod was convened the next day, and after several hours of deliberation, I was bidden into the Sanctum of the Mists, a privilege granted only by the Praesidius and his High Anchorites.

It was at this time that I was informed of a great evil that had been imprisoned within the deep dungeons, a labyrinthine series of natural tunnels and caves that lay under the Great Cathedral. The Praesidius and his inner circle had been tasked to guard a powerful abomination that had arrived in our lands nearly two centuries ago and wrought brutal havoc upon the people until it was subdued after a long and bloody battle. Several attempts had been made to destroy this beast from another realm, but it was protected by a chaotic vortex that would corrupt any being that passed within. Only great warding magic could contain this creature, and these constantly consumed tremendous amounts of divine energy that were infused by the High Anchorites in an elaborate series of rituals repeated during each full moon.

Such devotions had rendered the Great Cathedral unable to exert its influence or assist its followers in other lands. It was surmised that if the demon were to be vanquished, the temple’s vast resources would again become available. And so I was tasked with the slaying of this demonic interloper. Venturing into the stony depths, I soon came upon an isolated cavern, and centered within there lay an inscribed magic circle located about a circular well of shaped obsidian. This was the boundary that served as the creature’s prison, and as I cautiously crossed the threshold, smoke poured from the well to fill and obscure all within my sight.

I was violently pulled off my feet, falling for what seemed like an eternity before being unceremoniously deposited onto a heap of bones so large I could only guess at its boundaries for no matter where I looked, I could see only dark and hear only the cracking and shifting of those grim remains beneath my shuffling boots. Bursting from within this morbid mountain, the demon arose, casting an awful aura of madness and acrid fumes. My details of our struggle still elude my memory, since there were times when I felt my mind slipping the anchors of sanity. I was tossed about like a rat within a great cat’s claws, I was grabbed and crushed against bones, I was scalded by caustic breath and gnashing teeth. Once my senses began to resolve, a massive corpse lay at my feet, and the mass of bones on which I stood, shook and crumbled, as the vortex that brought me reformed and gathered me into its stormy embrace.

Finding myself at the bottom of the obsidian well, I rested for some time before beginning the long climb back up to the dungeons; an endeavor which proved almost as taxing as my encounter with the demon. Emerging from the caverns, I remember the suspicious expressions on the faces of those who had sent me on my quest. After convincing the Praesidius and his fellows that I was indeed still sane, at least as sane one can be after such a malicious struggle. I was made an honorable High Anchorite in a simple ceremony on the next dawn, and leaped into my duties immediately by organizing a mission into Richemulot. I departed the Great Cathedral with a handful of Anchorites just before midday retracing my journey along the Pilgrim’s Road.

It was our task to help those followers of Ezra trapped by the Falkovnian army, and as we made our way south to gather volunteers, we encountered my old companion, the holy warrior Thalia. Her red hair and shining armor were a sight to behold. It happened that Thalia was also bound for Richemulot to join the Resistance against Drakov and his military machine. It would be some days before our expeditionary forces was organized, and so I bid farewell to Thalia as she made haste towards her home land. Our band stopped by several shires and villages to post letters of recruitment and take on any brave enough to join our cause.

Within two weeks we had gathered a humble force of near twenty warriors, healers, and scouts. Upon crossing the border, the blighted footprint of war became apparent as we encountered village after village, burned and abandoned, littered with mass graves, and surrounded by ravaged fields. To avoid engaging the Falkovnians directly, a strategy that would be untenable given our small size, we avoided the roads and traveled under cover of darkness as much as possible. Over the next several months, we managed to rescue hundreds of refugees, sending them west into Mordentshire or south into Borca by way of a series of safe houses or encampments affiliated with the Resistance.

The year has almost come to an end, and with our allies beginning to form a resilient force that for now is able to stemming the tide of the Falkovnian advance or at the very least, to delay and harry Drakov’s forces until the Resistance establishes a full fledged army. Troubling news had arisen as we continue to evacuate our followers; some convoys have been intercepted by mercenaries. Having skirmished and captured some of these sellswords, we have discovered them to be in the employ of some rather sinister patrons. It appears that elements of the Ba’al Verzi and Gundarakite sympathizers have become active in Richemulot and further abroad. The degree of association these groups have with Falkovnia and their motivations are thus far unclear.

I am headed south and east, along the river, towards Borca. Thalia has joined me as we continue our journey to Nova Vaasa where we plan to rejoin our compatriots Moe and Sophia in Arbora. I pray that the Lady guide our way and bless us as we endeavor to serve the greater good and bring a swift end to this war. But before we can attempt to accomplish the later, there is the matter of Hadley and the dark powers growing there. Now that Grey Ravenshaw is gone, it is up to us to complete the task he began.

View
The Journal of Thalia Ingrid Thorenberger II

I have decided to part ways with my companions in order to resolve a number of outstanding circumstances. We pledged each other that we would again meet in Arbora one year to the day and complete our mission in honor of our old patron, Gray Ravenshaw. I initially spoke with George Weathermay and have agreed that, upon my return from the Amber Wastes of Pharazia and a meeting with Radu von Zarovich, I would make my way to Richemulot and join the Resistance lead by Javier Reinier against the blight of Vlad Drakov. I have spent some time with Sophia, attempting to learn Pharazian and mastering the rituals of her magical speech that may permit me the ability to communicate with those whom I seek. I was sure to pick up some of the soil and grasses of Arbora in order to aid my return.

With the sands gifted to us by our former companion, Drina, I have attempted to make my way into the mists, after being lost for what seemed like an eternity, the blasted lands I sought did eventually appear. I have kept my armor wrapped up and used a plain cloak to conceal my hair. Making my way along the river at night, I sought the old fisherman, the rakshasa to whom my soul was bargained with. Whilst washing my feet in the cool waters, I sensed the presence of someone. Turning, I noticed a man, covered from head to toe in black. He removed his hood, smiled, seeming to recognize me; he introduced himself as Nalik, a member of the Serpent’s Coil. I asked after the old man and was told that the rakshasa, whose name I learned to be Vanadadesh, had fled, absconding with my contract, and several of the assassins’ treasures. It would appear that this despicable and cowardly creature did not wish to deal with me and fulfill his bargain. I began to despair, for I did not wish to have the ownership of my soul belong to any other than myself. However, it became clear that, at least for now, I would have to put Pharazia behind me. Again I sought the mists, and was soon lost in its murky embrace.

The green fields and roaming herds of horses eventually did resolve in my vision, and I was relieved to be back in more familiar lands. I donned my armor and proceeded north and west along the main road to Bergovista on my way to Barovia. After nearly 2 weeks of travel, I cautiously turned onto the east-west road, and past the Village of Barovia where I kept my presence hidden, knowing that even after two years, there may still be those who would seek me out and attempt me harm. I found the temple of Ezra and spoke with the head priestess to whom I gave the necklace awarded to me by the Sheikh Allahn el Rashaan, in return for completing my training of the language ritual I had started with Sophia, along with some special materials that would allow me to use this magic whenever I needed it.

Wearily, I continued west into the mountains, giving wide berth to the cursed Castle Ravenloft. After several eerie and cold nights trekking through the passes, I was accosted by those vile frost creatures and nearly perished, had it not been for intervention of a ranger of the wilds. His name was Lek, and after spending the night encamped along the way and noting that this man had no love for Strahd von Zarovich, the cruel ruler of this realm, I inquired as to the whereabouts of those who oppose him, in particular, Radu von Zarovich. Lek was disturbed by my mentioning the name and bid me leave. Disappointed and concerned that I had perhaps gravely endangered myself, I proceeded to Vallaki and then attempted to trace our original path and the sanctum Radu kept whilst tending an enchanted Sophia. One night, sitting by a low fire, and attempting not to burn a rather large and furry rat I had ensnared, I felt an eerie presence. Drawing my sword, I looked about and saw a dark figure, back-lit by the near full moon, long hair flowing in the strong mountain gusts.

My heart leapt in my chest, for I knew it was Radu, finally after all this time. He approached me and smiled. I felt flushed and stepped up to embrace him. Radu and I talked for some time as we returned to his isolated home, nestled in the cracks of a stark ravine. Lek was a known entity in these parts from what Radu told me, but he felt Lek lacking in devotion and a wayward and selfish hermit. It appeared that Radu’s struggle was ongoing, and that Strahd von Zarovich and his soldiers had slain many of Radu’s allies within the Knights of the Raven. I was very tempted to join them, his conviction and devotion to the Morninglord so strong, I was humbled by its intensity. I struggled with the decision for some time, as Radu regaling me on the details of his latest campaign. I struck a compromise, asking for the honor of joining the Knights of the Raven, which Radu graciously granted. Since I had already pledged my support to George Weathermay and the protection of Richemulot, I told Radu that I must return to my homeland, but that I promised to return when my obligation was fulfilled, and continue the struggle against the great evil of Strahd von Zarovich and the many Undead infesting these lands.

Saddened after our parting, I was greatly torn by what I now saw as love for one who’s heart belonged to his faith. Knowing that there could never be anything between us, I resolved to focus on the mission at hand. I marched along the merchant road to Krezk, through Borca, where I encountered Thurik who regaled me of his own lengthy and strange travels. I urged him to join me in Richemulot against Falkovnia’s invading armies. His face was wrought with conflict, as he explained that all his clan were gone, and that he had returned from a pilgrimage to the great Temple of Ezra. Thurik seemed to recognize the immediate threat Richemulot was under, and as he had pledged to protect followers of Ezra in all threatened lands, he agreed to travel there as soon as he was able to gather a band of healers to aid him.

And so I continued on into my homeland of Richemulot, joining with partisans and soldiers heading north to bolster the Resistance. I was soon greeted by Javier Reinier, who was ecstatic to see me, and welcomed me into his main camp, based several miles beyond the advancing armies of Falkovnia. Reinier had not been successful in turning back the invaders, and, though scarred and wounded from his many battles, endeavored on night and day, planning his strategy, and commanding his small band of fighters. I was informed that the assassination of Jacqueline Reinier was likely planned by the Falkovnian leadership due to the speed and precision with which its army was deployed. This homecoming began what was to be an extensive and bloody series of battles in the struggle against the well organized and numerically superior forces of Vlad Drakov.

I cannot make a detailed account of those skirmishes, other than to say I came close to death on several occasions, but after some months, the time for my return to Nova Vaasa was near, and I bid farewell to Javier Reinier, praying to Ezra that he and his allies would prevail. It seems I am bound to an unending journey, with the light of the Lady of Mists to guide me and keep my soul intact, so on I go, writing the last entries of this journal as the boat I have hired passage on carries me east, the waters of the river lapping peacefully along its worn hull, and the evening sun’s dying rays scintillating on its smooth wake…

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28 Late-Autumn, 760

The Summer Solstice was ending so the decision was made to flee into the mists instead of returning to Pharazia. Thalia would have to wait to return to Pharazia to complete the trade with the rakshasa: the Sun Disk of Ra for her soul…

After spending, what felt like several days in the mists, the mists receded to reveal sweeping, flat, grassy plains.

The wind whistled eerily across the grassy plains, which were occasionally dotted with a rocky outcropping. Flocks of birds flew overhead, herds of wild horses grazed, but the land felt lonely and empty. Moe, Thalia, Thurik and Sophia wandered uncertain of where to go, until finally they came across some farms which bordered a secluded town.

The name of the town was Arbora, in the land of Nova Vaasa.

After finding a room in a comfortable inn named, the “World’s End Inn,” they learned much has changed since they’ve been gone. The date is the 28th of Late-Autumn in the year of the False Shadow, 760. Almost two years have passed since they started their search for the “Desert Flower.”

In the common room of the inn people anxiously whispered of strife in the West—that war was upon the West!

The strife in the West began after the matriarch of Richemulot, Jacqueline Reinier, was assassinated on the 12th of Early-Summer, the Day of Tradition.

It was well-known throughout the lands the nation of Falkovnia, ruled by the mercenary-king, Vlad Drakov, desired to conquer its neighboring lands. Vlad used the assassination of Richemulot’s ruler as his opportunity.

On the 15th of Early- Summer, three days after the assassination of Jacqueline Reinier, Falkovnia ruthlessly blitzkrieged Richemulot’s capital city, Pont-a-Museau. There are rumors that the great city, Pont-a-Museau burned. After the attack on Pont-a-Museau the Treaty of Four Towers was upheld; and Borca, Mordent, and Dementlieu went to Richemulot’s defense. All-out war was upon the West.

The Falkovnian army is currently fighting on many fronts. The city of Ste. Ronges is under siege, while skirmishes are fought in the moors of eastern Mordent and the southern forests of Dementlieu.

The vicious tyrant Malocchio Aderre of Invidia has allied himself with Vlad Drakov.

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Tomb of Anhktepot

Tomb of Anhktepot
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Sands and Stone

I scrawl upon this feeble parchment in the hopes that anyone who finds it may put these words to use, assuming it is readable…

I am Thurik Orinbald, a foreigner to this land of bare and sun-baked sands. I and my companions: Moe, Sophia, and Thalia, have quested into the wastes in order to find the tomb of a cursed Demigod, the feared Pharaoh Ankhlpot. A mummified creature that has endured death after deceiving his family. We seek to find the Al Andalus, known to us as the Desert Flower, an artifact resembling a large gem, at the behest of our patron Grey Ravenshaw, in order to return to our lands as a force of Light against the great Darkness infesting Hadley.

We have entered the great triangular stone haven of this creature on the Summer Solstice. Thus far we have passed the entrance chamber, having just bested several stone guardians that were almost our doom. May the blessings of Ezra and the Raven Queen be upon us as we proceed further into the dark caverns of this edifice. All our hopes, and that of many innocent lives, lie with the recovery of that great treasure and our timely return to those lands we call home, lost in the Mists as they may be. I pray that our souls are not so wayward as ourselves.

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Tears of Relief

We all ran out of the house, half in panic to try and find a strategic place to meet up with Doresain. Not knowing if we had minutes left or hours of time before it happened. Running from the house, it was hard not to physically feel the evil we left behind. I was arching my back to put as much distance as I could away from that house.

Ghouls howling off in the distance slowed us down almost immediately, we couldn’t run any further, otherwise they would find and tear us apart. We made too much noise when we ran. Panting and exhausted, Thurik led us down some alley ways and streets to a place where he remembered to be the most advantageous for us. I could tell Thurik wasn’t doing well, though he hid his pain discreetly behind his beard – it was just too obvious. We were all leaving a trail of blood dripping behind us. I choked back the lump in my throat.

But it was too late anyway. We didn’t make it.

Moe heard it first. His keen ears attuned for danger. It happened so fast. Turning around, I recognized from my visions, as I’m sure we all did, Breyllic. His priestly vestments tattered, yet recognizable. Breyllic’s face was twisted with anger, all human traces of humanity and compassion gone forever. Ghouls appeared at his side, their mouths drooling blood with bits of flesh dripping from their jaws. Their clawed hands shining in the light of the fires that surround us.

I became filled with rage at the site of him. My mind flashed with images of the people, helpless tied to the floor of the church. Moe and I made our way to the roof of a nearby house for a better vantage point. Thalia and Thurik met them head on.

And then he came. A flicker of light twinkled around a chain of his neck. The ring!

Doresain, the bane of Queen Nera. I wanted him to suffer as those around did. Being eaten alive by those they once loved. I entered his mind when I saw Thurik fall for the last time, planting thoughts in his head. Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw a flash of Moe.

Moe pounced on Doresain and wrested the ring from the chain. Then Moe disappeared. I was not concerned as this was a frequent habit of his. I began toying with Doresain’s mind, relishing in his panic and frantic crying for his master’s mercy.

With an arch of a sword and Thalia’s last bit of strength, she separated his head from his body. There were tears in her eyes. Tears of exhaustion and futility but most of all tears of rage. Thurik was dead. Thurik…was dead. My chest heavy with sorrow, it became hard to breath as the reality of it came crashing down on us. We were on the brink, standing on a razor’s edge, with the threat of breaking down all to near.

Our attention was on Thurik, when Moe reappeared with his cheeks full of something. He stuck out his hand and spit the ring out.

This was the artifact we fought for. This was the artifact Thurik died for. Why? This wasn’t even our battle! This wasn’t even our time! It was just so unfair. It couldn’t be the end for him. We had to save him – we had to! If only we could take him back, but to carry a dwarf would in turn kill us all. We looked at each other and then at Thurik’s body. We all knew it, we have to cut off a part of his body. In order to try and raise him, we had to have a piece of him. Luckily Thalia volunteered to do the honors. Thalia and Thurik had become really close lately. Ezra had blessed them with friendship and a common bond of her worship. A boon worth a king’s ransom to be sure.

We moved on as quickly and quietly as possible. I thought we were exhausted before, but now we were on our last leg. If we had to fight again, it would put an end to us all.

Moe lead the way. Too tired to question, I followed him blindly. All of a sudden right in front of us, another large ghoul raging with the tireless hunger glanced in our direction and started making his way towards us howling with glee as his nose sniffed at the blood on our clothes. We froze trying to brace ourselves, once again. This was it, this is where we die.

“Ava, I shall see you soon” I whispered withdrawing my amber orb. I flinched and turned my head when a crash happened right in front of us a ghoul busted through a wall and splintered wood scattered everywhere.

The ghoul saw only what was coming towards us and immediately jumped on our attacker. Devouring the other ghoul’s neck and howling with satisfaction.

I realized I had been holding my breath and let the air rush out of my lungs. I looked at Moe and Thalia. They looked just as shocked as I was. It seems, now that the ghouls are no longer under Doresain’s control, they would attack anything that moved.

Praising a higher power, we saw our chance at escape. We just ran. I didn’t even feel anything, the only thought in my mind was to run back to Queen Nera and get the hell off this ride.

Moe heard hooves. Then the sound came to our ears as well. A fight or flight instinct at war in my body, so I just stood there till they came upon us. They bared the symbol of the queen!! My knees almost buckled in relief. We found out they had come to check on our progress, and immediately demanded to know if we had what the queen requested. At first I was hesitant to impart that knowledge, however exhaustion won out and confirmed that we did, just barely. Happy with that, they escorted us back to the queen.

We poured ourselves in to the queen’s antechamber to fill her in on all that has transpired. She had everyone leave save her most trusted advisors. Her frown lines deepened at our tale. Her face was a mask of concealed pain. Her eyes spoke of a determination that willed her to a task unbeknownst to us.

“You shall be rewarded, of course.” She said with a false bravado. “You may ask of anything you want”.

I inquired mentally, she looked up at me with a face filled with tragedy. She was riding to her doom, so she could meet Nerull in the afterlife. This ring would be the only thing that could preserve her soul, for us to follow would only trap us here and our deaths would be needless.

We gave her the Ring of Cannon. I hope it is worth the lives it cost. We left the queen while she was adorning her armor for battle.

The worst news I have heard hit me like a ton of bricks. We could not bring Thurik back. The urge to scream and shout was so strong, I felt my limbs quake, but my mind suppressed the effort to move them. I was just too tired.

The next day, we were given our ‘rewards’. I also received a wealthy amount of ritual components to help us on our journey.

On our way to back our rooms, I saw the old man whose wife I promised to check on. He did not understand, he just didn’t understand. If I could have…but we would have died, surely he could understand. But he didn’t. I don’t know why but something told me I’d regret not going into that house with the flowers on the window sill for the rest of my life. The regret and pain in his eyes still haunt me.

“Sophia….Sophia…you must get up…its time” a soft whisper barely audible woke me from a deep sleep.

I blinked the sleep from my eyes and saw of what I can explain, a shade of Drina. Tears flooded my eyes at the site. “I’m so sorry for what happened! I didn’t mean for you to die”

“I am trapped here forever. My soul shall remain and I cannot go back”

“I’m just so sorry” I sobbed.

“Do not worry for me Sophia, you must go and go now. The mists are here but only for a small amount of time. You must wake the others and leave or you may never return.” Her voice echoed.

“Where? Where are they, Drina?” I uncovered my self and began changing.

“They are over the lake” and then she faded and was gone.

I jumped up and gathered my things. I woke Moe and Thalia and told them we must go now. IT was the dead of night, yet the battle with Nerull raged on on the east and west sides of the city threatening to breech the walls.

Thalia and Moe gathered what they could, Moe insisted on getting Toe the camel and left. We met on the docks of the lake. The mists visible and heavy over the water. I nearly got us in trouble trying to procure a boat. Moe, thinking quickly caused a commotion by smacking Toe on the bac, which caused the creature to jump and run down a dock. It gave us the distraction we needed to ‘borrow’ a boat of average size for what we need. Throwing in our supplies, Moe took the helm and guided us into the mists.

I took the sand from Thalia and tried to focus my mind on the Amber Wastes. Willing us to go there, but not knowing if I was doing it right.

It seemed like days had passed in stillness. The quiet surrounding us screamed in our ears. Though we spoke in hushed tones, our voices seemed much louder than ever. Then the boat hit gound. Looking at eachother in surprise, we looked over the edge and realized the lake was gone.

Gathering our supplies, water being the most precious, we abandoned the watercraft and began on foot. All the while my mind stayed focused on the sand in the pouch that we got from Drina.

It began to get hot. Real hot. We changed into our desert gear and tried to limit our water intake. Then the hard-packed gravel we were walking on became looser and softer until we found ourselves walking on sand.

I think we made it. The mists began to clear and we found ourselves surrounded my desert, sun and wind. The heat was a daily battle for me. We had to rest frequently. Our minds were deep in thought. Thinking of Thurik, thinking of where we were going. We stopped for a rest under a rock, once again I had to rest and it wasn’t even midday. I thought I heard a familiar voice. I shook my head ridding myself of the notion. It couldn’t be Thurik. Then we all heard the footsteps.

The mists barely a whisper behind us a figure, short and squat was walking towards us. Alarmed we all stood up. The gait was all to familiar…

Could it be? Thurik!! It couldn’t be! “Your dead!” I shouted.

“Eeek!” Moe squeaked. “Bad juju!”

“Its me! By Ezra I swear it!” That drawl to his voice eerily familiar.

“If you are Thurik, then who sent us on this quest?” I shouted. Still unbeeiliving, yet hopeful. At this point I couldn’t be surprised at much.

“Why, that’d be the Great Lord Ravenshaw himself!” He shouted back, still walking towards us.

Thalia opened her backpack that contained his hand. It was gone. Wait, it was gone! Oh my it is!! It was him! We all embraced the feisty dwarf beard and all. Thalia and I cried tears of relief, but they dried up before they could fall.

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The Treacherous Tale of Doresain

We pushed through the remains of the town yet again seeking the home of Doresain. Our clothes heavy with blood, our throats raw from the smoke and our heads weary with despair.

Only to find ourselves in a hell that not only assailed the senses with horror, but took hold of our minds as we know it…

This house…this encasement of malevolence… must be somewhere in the 9th circle of hell. Upon approach, the home, though ravaged was not as undone as the others in town, but more like someone who lived within it, went mad, and yet remained still. We came closer, ever so cautiously. Moe in front peeking though the smudged windows and cracked doors. I mentally asked him what he saw, he looked back at me with eyes wide…

“Sophie, there’s writin ’ on the walls. Writing tha’s real bad, Sophie. Talkin’ bout death, blood and dying”.

I looked down and closed my eyes, steeling my nerves for what may come. Did I really expect anything different? A shudder ran down my spine as I began to feel the energy that radiated from this…house. I keep praying for something to numb my senses to all this so that I may get through alive. But no relief ever comes. I constantly feel everything. The smoke stinging my eyes, every scream, every howl, every cut and every drop of blood that drains from my body, keeps replaying over and over. This nightmare has to end soon! For even if I don’t die, I fear I will succumb my mind to the raw unconsciousness around me and lose myself completely.

I have come a long way from Mordentshire. I’m beginning to wonder if it really ever existed…

Ever our wise leader, Thurik, motioned for us to find another entrance other than the front. We came around the side of the house hunched low under the windows and found another door. Moe pried it open, there seemed to be some obstruction on the other side, but we managed to push through in silence; miraculously, considering the squeaking of Thalia’s armor. As soon as I stepped in, being the last in line, a heavy blanket of dread seemed to envelope me. Looking around, the others must have felt it too. The whites of their eyes revealing their fearfulness.

The room; it could have once been a library or study of some sort with books scattered about, pages torn and soiled. Upturned desks and broken chairs. I looked closer at a broken desk and saw what Moe spoke about when he first looked in. The glow from Thurik’s hammer allowing me to see the scratched writing in the wood in an almost manic and nonsensical manner. The writing I have chosen to block out for sanity’s sake.
SLAM!

The door behind me shut with such force I nearly jumped out of my skin. I began to shake, terror taking over.

“Hee hee hee!” The clear laughter of some woman, gleefully welcoming us seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. “Hee he ha!”

Thurik turned his hammer on to full brightness and the room lit up. The depraved writing almost glowing in the light. Anxiously, we strained our eyes to find something. Thurik and Thalia went through to the other room. As soon as Moe and I tried to follow, my head started to swim with images, the walls seemed to bow inwards, outwards and back again. I caught flashes of what I recognized as this house as it once was.

When they passed, I opened my eyes and suddenly Moe looked so…so mouth-watering. Without thought I attacked him- though I swear, my mind was not my own. As soon as I did the feeling passed. I shook my head and tried to focus.

The yells of Thurik and Thalia fighting came from the other room. We had to seal this house from evil, some evil magic ensconced it making the house itself attack our minds. Thalia, Thurik and myself all started saying magical rites to break the spell. Finally, after some time had passed I felt the blanket of dread lift and my mind left alone. I took a deep breath as the weight was lifted from my chest.

All of us saw the images. We pieced together The Treacherous Tale of Doresain:

The woman who attacked us was Elisa, Doresain’s younger sister. She was not herself, but only the evil twisted remains of what she once was. She lost her life caring for her brother, Doresain, of whom death was overtaking…

As we already know, Queen Nera had Doresain, a cleric of St. Lucian and trusted friend, search for the magical Ring of Canon. This ring is so powerful, that it will preserve the soul of the one who wears it, into the after-life.

Unbeknownst to Queen Nera, Doresain found the ring. He carried it about a chain across his breast. Wearing it proudly, flaunting a wealth he did not possess. Doresain decided to keep it for himself.

After this realization, Nerull visited him in the courtyard of town. Doresain felt the dark oppression of his presence before he saw Nerull himself. He turned to face him, his jaw dropped in alarm and shock. Shrouded in the beautiful moonlight Nerull asked Doresain what he wanted in return, if he swore to never give the ring to the queen. “Eternal life” said Doresain, his voice unwavering. With a nod, Nerull dissipated.

Nerull did bestow Doresain with eternal life, but cursed eternal life. As Nerull’s curse overtook Doresain’s body, he suddenly realized what he was turning into, though he had no word for it. The imagery whenever he closed his eyes, weakened his resolve and sanity further and further. Nerull betrayed him. Though he tried to fight it, there was no stopping it. A frequent visitor to his bedside, was Doresain’s friend and trusted priest, Breyllic who helped to encourage him to fight it. But it overtook Doresain, he saw only red, and slaked his bloodlust on those around him. Tearing through flesh, devouring body parts whole. Doresain became one of them. He became the first.

He turned on those he loved, such as Elisa. Others in this house as well, thereby creating a ripple effect until there were thousands of ghouls. And he controlled them all. Breyllic’s mind was overrun and controlled by Doresain, so the priest was not himself either. It was not him who tied those people down against their will and had them eaten alive. It was Doresain.

However as horrible as he has been, I cannot help but feel, even Doresain was merely a pawn in this carousel of hell. This was a world and place where mortals defied gods and gods bargained with mortals. We didn’t even belong here… Even so, the instinct of self-preservation I found to still be as strong as ever. I did not want to give up just yet.

We looked at each other, we all felt it. Doresain knew we were here, and he was coming for us. We quickly left the house, knowing we had only moments. Not wishing to explore it any further, though Moe found some sort of flayed skin cloak, blood still dripping. He screamed and ran out of the house as if there were fresh biscuits waiting for him outside.

After all we’ve been through, we cannot give up now. This new-found knowledge empowered me to bring him to justice. I closed my eyes, tears mixed with sweat down my cheeks. He killed Jonathan. He killed Drina. He killed thousands of others. He ate human flesh. He will be crying for someone to save him before he is dead…

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