(OOC: Setting the stage for what physical item this is.)
In her personal belongings, Ash keeps non-magical scrolls upon which are written secrets, which she ritually burns on an annual basis. Some years the scrolls are scarce, with little detail worth sharing; some are plentiful, and the scrolls become large enough that they are difficult to hide.
Knowing that she will eventually part with the secrets, delegating them again to only her memory and that of the gods', Ash has no need to be secretive here.
As I write now, I sit in The White Deer, surrounded by the quiet and the smell of lovingly oiled and polished wood. The bed is clean and dry, an extra head longer than I stand tall, and even has a quilt laid on it in case of the winter cold. After this, I will sleep for a while, I think. I feel as though I haven’t in days.
Come Wealday, at the Fang, I was on-duty for Mam as usual. Wealday never was our busiest night, but sailors hold no regular schedule in the ways of the landbound, and there were plenty of drunkards to watch as the night wore on. I was dressed no differently than usual, in heavy pants, a winter shirt to ward off the autumn weather, and the undyed leather cuirass Mam agreed to let me wear while working. It is not as threatening an image as she likes her peacekeepers to create but I have never been especially comfortable in heavier armor. I consider myself more effectively intimidating by the visual implication that I do not require it.
When I work for Mam in the front, instead of the little room I have designated as my clinic, I try to move as much as possible. It never freezes off the Dockway. Even winter cannot still the dance of the ocean, after all; but frigid winds come early and linger well into spring. By the door, I am forced to endure the chill. I try to make it evident to all of Mam’s customers that I will make them miserable if they, by dint of poor conduct, make it necessary for me to stand near or pass through the doors. Generally, this is quite effective.
There was a moderate ruckus in effect by the time anything unusual happened that night; I had been keeping my eye on a cutpurse I know Mam has let slide once or twice that frequently steals from fellow customers in plain sight. I was determined to catch her in the act that night, and possibly to get Mam’s ban on her and her sticky fingers. I had become so focused on the cutpurse’s movements that I didn’t notice the uproar until I caught the sound of a loud drunk raving that the rest of his companions were cheats. He wavered where he stood, looming over a table where they’d been playing twenty bones. As his hands crept for a knife, I approached the table, kicking his knees out from under him to stop him from injuring his peers.
“Cheats!” he raved. “You’re all filthy cheaters!” Though he was highly intent on delivering some kind of violence, he did eventually notice me. I attribute this to the additional show of force implicit in locking someone’s head with your arm, which I had done to stifle his flailing. “What do you think you’re doing? Let me go! They’re cheats!”
I told him plainly, “That’s no reason to break policy. Now, you all know the rules; no weapons, and any that show get stowed behind the bar.”
He struggled, and I tightened my grip to cut off some of his air. “They’re using loaded dice! Cheats!”
“I’ll look into it,” I promised. I am generally reliable when it comes to keeping my word, and did intend to investigate his claim. Still, safety of Mam’s customers takes priority. Before releasing him, I warned him to stay put. “Even if they are, that’s no reason to kill anyone.” Stepping around the table to investigate the dice, I noted that his three tablemates were quaking. They assured me strenuously that they had done the drunkard no wrong, and I gathered the dice to test them..
I am remiss, for I cannot now say whether the dice were loaded or not. There was no time to test the assumed bias: the man lunged for his nearest companion with dagger unsheathed, and I had to abandon my investigation of his claims. Throwing down the unarmed man, I lifted one hand to deflect the dagger, and punched the drunkard in the solar plexis to subdue him.
So saying, there was little else eventful that night. I stowed his dagger behind the bar and carried him to the kitchen, laying him near the entrance and safely out of harm’s way. He was gone by morning.
With the exception of reporting another frustrating failure to catch the cutpurse before she’d hit her mark, I had little else to do until the sun rose.
I returned to my room to sleep.
It was not enough hours later for my taste when I was awakened by a loud knocking at my door. I woke cramped and cold, and rolled over into a sitting position in automatic response, preparing to get up lest it might be a patient. I had fallen asleep still dressed for duty in the Fang, and drowsily began pulling on my shoes before I answered the knock.
There came another excited pounding of two fists, this time, and I deduced that my visitor was unmistakably Terry. Not a medical call, then; Terry was one of Mam’s hands around the place who did errands and retrieved packages and the like for her. He was barely sixteen and excited about every damn thing, including knocking on doors and agitating his elders. I made a noise that was not recognizably a word as I laced up my boots, my eyes still closed, my mood becoming sour.
He called through the door in excitement when he heard proof of my presence within, demanding that I let him in. Groggy as I was, I lacked the wit to stubbornly wait through the next wave of his knocking until he gave up and left me to my sleep. I generally didn’t have the patience for such things. Once fully dressed, I stood and answered the door to silence his pounding on it.
“What the hell do you need, Terry?” I imagined he was overexcited about a new ship in at one of the piers, since it was a common theme with him. It could be from anywhere, though he usually came calling when it was ships from Taldor or Anderan and sailors with a knack for telling stories. Terry’s tiresome taste for adventure was no secret among our regulars, and more often than not a source of irritation for Mam. This meant he visited me frequently.
I opened the door once I felt half decent, and waited.
“Someone’s here looking for you, Ash!” He lingered in the door when I’d opened it, anxiety and excitement setting his brows high as his hairline. Stifling a yawn, I waited for the rest to spill out. Perhaps it would be a medical call after all, I thought to myself. “Shoanti mercs! They said they’re working for Rassimeri Jaijarko.”
I ceased to be even fractionally asleep. “Jaijarko?”
Rassimeri Jaijarko is well-known in the Dockway and probably even mentioned occasionally in the Shadow for his various trades. Primarily, he is a profiteering property owner, who leases bad housing to poor families. Secondarily, he trades in drugs and stolen goods and possibly slaves, though the slave trade is less common here in the north than Nidal or Cheliax, so does not seem a reliable business even for the unsavory. What’s most important to know about Jaijarko is his unpredictability. The man is calculating, mercurial, and famous for his extremely short temper. I couldn’t imagine what I’d done to merit his attention, short of possibly treating one of his enemies who’d come in to get bandaged at my forgettable little clinic.
“What the hell does he want this side of Rag’s End?” I stepped out of my room, closing and locking the door behind myself habitually. Terry backed out of my way.
“I don’t know, but they said they wanted to talk with you.” Terry winced at the thought, and then grew excited again. “What do you think they want to talk about?”
When I gestured to indicate that he was blocking my path, Terry made room for me to head downstairs, following close behind. I didn’t answer, pausing at the foot of the stairs and catching him with a hand on his chest, lightly holding him back.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” I gave him my best stern look, which was a pale imitation for anyone who’s ever had to endure Mam Grottle’s. He rolled his eyes at me.”
“But--” I could already pick out the mercenaries that he had mentioned, and shook my head. “You stay out of this, Terry.”
Shoanti are notable most often because of their tattoos, which are more complex and of greater cultural significance than those worn by many sailors. They were not at home amidst the relatively sparse noontime crowd, taller than many and decorated with weapons and armor in addition to their tattoos, but stood just inside the door. As I approached, they turned to meet me with forbidding expressions.
I introduced myself. “I hear you’re looking for me?”
One was taller than the other, and looked a bit older. He sized up the danger I presented with a cursory glance, and nodded, unfazed by what he saw. “You are the bouncer here?”
“I was yesterday. What do you want?”
They traded a surreptitious glance and looked back at me with murderous intent. The younger folded his arms across his chest, smirking slightly; the elder gestured expansively as he answered me. “Rassimeri Jaijarko wishes to speak with you, bouncer.”
Unsatisfied with this answer-- I had already gathered as much-- I mimicked the younger mercenary, crossing my arms over my chest as well and scowling. “About what?”
“About the humiliation that his younger brother suffered here last night at your hands.”
I was tired, and have never been especially controlled where it comes to my temper. Though I knew well enough that I was in trouble, how significant it was remained to be seen. Undeterred, I snapped back at him in open hostility. “I take it you mean the idiot drunk who nearly killed his friends over twenty-bones, then?”
At the solemn nod of the elder, I scoffed. It crossed my mind that I might be killed if I did not relent in my belligerent attitude, but I also was insulted by the implication. Further, I could see no reason for me to speak with a slumlord short of offering him medical care. No one had actually been injured.
“I did him a favor, and stopped him from getting tangled with the guard for murder.” I pointed at the bar, not breaking eye-contact with the elder mercenary. “If you want to return his weapon, it’s been stowed there until he retrieves it; but I have nothing to say to Rassimeri Jaijarko.”
I am not so impetuous as to turn my back on a mercenary of any sort, so I waited for their response. They were angry, I could easily see as much, but as they glanced around the common room and counted the number of people present even in the calm of midday, they seemed to decide better of whatever violence they’d planned. We did not speak words in parting; they left, and I stormed back upstairs to take my rest. When, not thirty minutes later, Terry pounded on my door again to ask what had been said and what had happened between myself and Jaijarko, I told him to wait until sundown and ignored him until he left.
When sundown arrived, Terry was nowhere to be found.
I traveled downstairs to look for him; it was my first night off of the week, and Mam waved hello as I came over to ask her where Terry had gotten off to. She seemed trouble by the question, and told me that she’d sent him to pick up a shipment from our butcher, Lawny, a little over an hour before. Taking some hope from that information, I told her I go check on them both myself and ventured out into the chilly night.
For years, I have lived in Magnimar; before that, I traveled many of these chill northern lands and spent many nights freezing. There are many good things about the Northern lands, and many interesting things, but the cold is not one of them. I shivered my way down the street, heading through the evening crowd of incoming sailors and outgoing messengers with deliveries to the wealthy merchants perched higher up on the Summit. Lawny’s shop was a brisk walk away from the Fang, and usually lit up with a mage-charm that made the windows sparkle well into the evening. He was known for his moderately effeminate appearance, long nose, and his fondness for magical trinkets. That he was a master at curing meat certainly didn’t hurt.
The shop was dark when I found it. I knocked; there was no answer but silence.
Not willing to let myself believe what seemed more and more likely as I thought about it, I circled around to the back of the shop, planning to come in through the loading door. Lawny had gotten carried away with a special order before on multiple occasions, locked away in his kitchen preparing the meat to be seasoned with fine spices and wines; I deluded myself into thinking that this must be what he was doing, now.
At the loading entrance, a dog (perhaps Lawny’s, perhaps not; I am not sure) had been tied up and was shaking as I approached, a nervous whine high in the back of its throat. It began barking as soon as it became clear that I was entering its private sphere of territory, and only calmed after I’d clicked my tongue at it, and let it thoroughly investigate my hands for the smell of danger. Finding me clean, it ventured to lick my fingers once. I could still see the whites of its worried eyes, and when I untied it, it stayed close to me, whining as I opened up the butcher shop’s back door.
We were immediately struck by the smell of bloody meat. Beneath, there was some faint cloying stench beyond that, something else that I felt all too familiar. Lawny had always been meticulous, and I saw his stock, salted, hung, some still raw and ready for preparation. These were the source of the thick scent of blood, and the dog began to lick one excitedly, catching the taste of beef, perhaps. At the back of the room, barely visible in the cramped little storage area, was the unmistakable outline of a human body.
I cursed; I had no better words for him. Already, Terry’s body was starting to swell up in that grotesque way of the freshly dead. I left before I could somehow make things worse, and sought out the first guard I could. When I reported what I had found, he gave me a strange look, and inquired where I was staying. At my answer, he went on to suggest I must remain in town for the next few weeks, as I might be under investigation, and again, I lost my temper.
“Is there not an obvious logical flaw in reporting a crime that I knowingly committed?” It was as it had been all those years ago in that damned bunker; I wished he would insult me again, just to give me an excuse to start a fight. Luckily, he did not, and after a moment I remembered that I was in Dockway. The law matters very little, there. The chances that he would do anything except possibly clean out the corpse-- or corpses?-- in Lawny’s building were very slight.
I dared him to prosecute me if he truly thought I had committed such a crime, and left. When I was not followed, I figured he had not taken me seriously, or had not cared. In the heat of that moment, I felt certain that there could be no other source of this violence than the Shoanti mercenaries I had insulted earlier in the day. I couldn’t risk that their bloodthirst-- or Jaijarko’s-- had been satisfied until I accepted the invitation I had rejected earlier in the day. Bad enough already that my pride had cost Terry his life.
Mam waylaid me at the Fang. I think she saw something dangerous in my eye, because she stopped me from simply leaving as soon as I’d delivered my terrible news, and poured me a lager to keep me at the bar, for a while. It was busier than it had been the day before, but not so much that she couldn’t spend an hour sitting with me. We sat in silence, mostly.
I asked if Terry had had parents, or other relatives we ought to let know the sad news. Mam’s answer came as she rested her elbows on the edge of the bar, a grim frown on her face. “He was orphaned at six. I took him in for their sake; good sailors, both of ‘em, and he had such a talent for fixing things.”
With a gulp, I downed the last of my glass. It was refilled before I could ask. “He was a good kid, Mam.”
Mam only nodded. “He was so proud of what he’d made of himself.”
A customer came to the bar and Mam took care of her for awhile, leaving me to nurse my lager and my guilt until that spark of anger returned at the thought of the probable cause. When she came back my way again, I was in the middle of deciding whether I was planning to die that night or not. When I’d been younger, I’d had so little trouble summing up the urge to make suicidal runs in the names of my fallen brethren on the battlefield; now it never seems as though it would prove anything. Even still, I wanted to protect anyone else who might be associated with me from interference on part of the Jaijarkos in the future, and that seemed worthy enough to risk my life.
“What’s that look on your face, Ash? I don’t like it.”
“The people that killed Terry-- Lawny, probably, too, though I suppose they might’ve just chased him out of the shop--were probably Rassimeri Jaijarko’s men.” I told her, setting down my half-finished lager. “Unless Terry just got murdered completely unrelated to me, those Shoanti mercs who were in here earlier today wanted me to go and pay him a visit. I told ‘em to shove off, but Terry was the one who came to my door. They would’ve seen us talking.”
Lips thinning, Mam shifted a couple of the weapons she keeps stored behind the bar to make them easier to grab, eyes on her hands instead of my face. “You think Lawny made it, or am I gonna need a new butcher, too?”
“Might probably.” For some reason, that reminded me about the dog. I hadn’t been thinking especially clearly at the time, but if the dog were to get hungry enough, it might well start in on Terry’s body (and any others lying around) before the guards decided to do anything about it. I winced at the thought. “I probably shouldn’t have left that dog in there, either. Did Lawny have a dog?”
“Ash,” Mam cut in, “What’s this about Jaijarko? What does he want with you?”
“That drunk last night was apparently his brother,” I clarified, sourly.
With a sigh, Mam took another gulp from her own glass. “If that’s the case, Ash, don’t you think you ought to considering heading out of town for a while?”
I didn’t like the idea, but I didn’t interrupt. Mam has always been practical, and she’s got a good head in a crisis situation. She took my silence as invitation to go on, and detailed her plan.
“I’ve got friends manning a ship that’s headed south of here to Sandpoint midmorning tomorrow. You can sleep on the way over, stay down there for a while with the sight-seers. They’ve got this thing called the Swallowtail Festival there, I hear that’s set for this coming Sunday. What do you think?”
It didn’t sit well with me, for several reasons. The most important one, I gave voice to: “Wouldn’t I be leaving trouble for you?”
“Ash,” Mam chided, “I can handle myself. It’s not wise to trifle with someone like Rassimeri, trust me; I’ll pay your way on the ship and get you out of town. Okay? I don’t want to lose you, too.”
I weighed the whole thing out before I finally polished off the rest of my glass, and set the empty mug aside. “I’ll take you up on that,” I promised, “but I need to settle my debt, first. I can’t trust them to forget about it and leave me alone if I don’t take that ‘invitation’, late or not.”
We know each other well, Mam and I. She didn’t press the issue, beyond confirming. “Ash, are you sure?”
“The ship sets sail when?”
With a tired sigh, Mam told me. “Midmorning, probably ninth hour. They’re at pier seventeen, Ash. I’d be there early, if you can.”
I nodded, checked my pockets to be sure I had a little coin on me, and waved my goodbye. “I’ll be there.”
Rag’s End is not far from the Dockway, but they are as different as night and day. We are laid up along the edge of the Shadow; they are out in the open, as often sunbaked as they are washed in the harsh salty winds that come in off the sea. Buildings sprout cracks and start sinking into the mud almost as soon as they are erected in Rag’s End, and a large amount of Magnimar’s lower class are residents there. All in all, it is not a bad place, but there are people there who try to make it bad. Jaijarko is only the most famous, though rumor has it he is the most dangerous, too.
I found my way through the night-dark streets without too much trouble, most of the way. Magnimar is bustling at all hours, crowded almost to bursting with people, so I followed the signs that were lit by the occasional lantern or torch on the street corners. Only once I was in the thick of the slums did I realize that I had no idea where, exactly, I should be looking for Jaijarko.
I had prepared for this, though I worried I did not have enough money. One generally should not carry much when traveling through a place such as this, but I only carried a single silver coin. Hoping for the best, I approached a woman who was sitting at the edge of the street, weaving trinkets with her fingers out of colored string, and asked her,
“Do you know where I could find Rassimeri Jaijarko, by any chance?”
She looked at me as if I were mad and, in a very puzzled voice, suggested it would depend on why I wanted to see the man, and how much I could pay. When I told her that his thugs had already sought me out, and killed a friend of mine, her expression shifted to one of startled fear. She pointed out the way, telling me the street names (I have forgotten, already) and promising it was the largest building I would see in the area.
Thanking her, I gave her my silver coin and followed her directions to the letter. They did not disappoint.
Jaijarko's 'castle', as he was known to call it, was larger than almost any I’ve ever seen in Rag’s End. It stood three stories tall, aping the Osirion design of sixty years ago with high windows and molding on the eaves. The molding was cracked and broken now, detail lost, and the doors were mismatched. One was fine, worked in bright strips of brass and highly polished wood. The other barely looked the same design. The brass was stripped from its carvings, and the wood seemed gray and rotted. I knocked on the latter.
Almost immediately, I was answered by a woman whose face had been painted in strange black symbols. She was wearing black angel wings as a costume, and little else.
I raised an eyebrow in surprise at the costume, and the woman asked belligerently what I wanted. “I was sent for,” I told her flatly, “by two Shoanti thugs working for Rassimeri Jaijarko.”
The woman responded incredulously, "And you actually came here?"
"Says the woman wearing black wings and face paint."
"Eh," the woman sighed, opening the door further and letting me enter. "It's a living. All right, fine, come in. I'll go get him."
The inside of Rassimeri's castle was much finer than the outside, and seemed larger, too, though I doubt it had been magically enhanced. No cracks showed in the paint, and his interest in art was immediately apparent. The pieces within were each of high quality and obvious value, but none matched the others. It was strange; a mismatched kingdom of baubles, a magpie's nest.
In the third room we entered, which was filled with various kinds of increasingly opulent chairs and had a vaulted ceiling, the winged woman gestured for me to sit down, telling me to take a seat anywhere. While she went to fetch her employer, I looked for the least comfortable chair and sat upon it to wait.
Eventually, Jaijarko appeared, flanked by the two Shoanti mercenaries that had come for me before. He was a big man, with long hair bound in braids and a shaggy beard that more than covered some of the scars I’d heard rumor were branded on his cheeks and chin. His broad shoulders and unkempt hair reminded me of a fighting dog. He dressed in much the same manner he decorated, and had a strange lilt to his gait that made me wary.
I rose to meet them.
“Who is this?” Jaijarko demanded, of no one in particular. He whirled on the taller Shoanti mercenary, snarling. “Who is this?”
“You sent for me,” I answered, before the mercenaries could. “I work at the Fang.”
"Ah, so you-- you are the one," he panted, excitable and rabid, "who humiliated my dear, fine brother in the bar. The bouncer!" He squinted at me. "And you came here?"
I gestured to the two Shoanti mercenaries. "I had little choice. Your mercenaries killed my friend."
As he turned to them for explanation, he demanded in an ever-more strident shout, “Who? Who did you kill? Why-- who asked you to kill anyone!”
As before, the taller one answered for them both, smirking over at me before he returned his attention to his employer. “There was a boy that worked with her. He tried to follow us, so we took him to the butcher to make sure he didn’t try it again.” His smirk turned uglier, which I had not thought possible, and he mimicked the gesture of slitting his own throat. “The butcher protested, though, so we had to talk with him, as well.”
I waited in silence, still as stone.
Rassimeri huffed, seeming to debate whether he wanted to be angry with them for acting out of turn, or pleased that it had had a desirable effect. Slowly, he turned back to me. "Very well. What’s done is done. Now.” His lip twitched in distaste. “What did you think you were doing, hmm? When you humiliated my brother?"
"I did him a favor," I countered, just as I had before. Rassimeri’s eyes were bright; I stared straight at him to make it clear that I was not lying. "I stopped him from killing someone and getting tied up with the law. He said his companions were cheating at dice, so I investigated his claim. He interrupted and tried to kill them again, so I was forced to subdue him. That’s all."
Rassimeri laughed an ugly laugh. "Did you ever think that maybe he was right, and they were cheating? You should have thrown them out in the street! But instead, you attacked my brother..."
Knowing what I did about him, and about the world in general, I knew there was no point in repeating myself. I did anyway. "I did. I was trying to determine whether they were cheating or not when he interrupted."
"Jaijarkos do not lie!" he snapped. "They were cheating!"
I set my shoulders and bit back the urge to argue. I hadn’t come to Jaijarko to die, preferably. Just to protect the people around me. "Then what would you propose I do?"
He began to pace, in a tight little circle, hands gesturing wildly and head shaking, as if he just could not believe that he had to explain his logic to someone else. Most likely, he doesn’t, in other situations. "Maybe,” he panted, spittle flying from his lips in his excitement. “You should turn around and look the other way, like good people do. A Jaijarko is never wrong!"
I chose not to answer, having nothing useful to say, and he threw up his hands in disgust.
"Make an example of this one. But no more," he bared his teeth at the Shoanti, grimacing in disgust. "No more killing. What a waste, what a mess! Just..." he sighed, seeming to grow tired. "Just beat her senseless. I can't watch; I have a fragile constitution."
He left, before they could agree aloud or I could change my mind, and I now stood waiting grimly for the Shoanti mercenaries to do as they’d been told. It was no worse than I’d expected, but that wasn’t exactly comforting. I glared evenly at them. I was unafraid; I knew it would hurt and I was not happy about it, but the idea of being hurt did not frighten me.
The taller of the warriors nodded to me, saying, "In our home tribe...what you have done would be considered very honorable." I suppose he wished to pay me some respect, perhaps forge some kind of apology, but it was too late. It had been too late as soon as they decided to kill over something so petty.
I stared at them both as unblinkingly as possible.
"I am going to memorize your faces.”
They began to look uncomfortable, and I lifted my chin, waiting for them to continue.
“I’m going to remember them, and that you killed an innocent boy today, until you are brought to justice."
So saying, I put up no fight. I did as I had said I would, and I did not yield anymore than they held back their blows. It hurt, as I’m sure it was meant to. In less than half an hour, I was unconscious.
When I awoke, the sun was beginning to rise and the clouds were rimmed with gold from its insistent pressure behind them. They had disposed of me in the midden heap, but as I had carried no money (other than the silver piece I had fortuitously spent) and no weaponry I had had nothing of value to steal or soil.
I found it difficult to breathe, between the stench and my broken nose, but did not set my nose right away, concerned about the blood I could feel pooling in the cartilage from the break. Luckily only one of my eyes was swollen shut, which let me survey my situation with the other handily enough. Beyond my nose and my arm, I sported the deep bruises I had expected, nothing more. They had mercifully not cut me with their blades, I suppose because they did not know enough about the body to safely cut without risking my death. My right forearm, as my nose, was broken clean through, and in the generally unpleasant symphony of pain that had been made of me it seemed to be the lead instrument, strident and trumpeting with an urgent persistence.
With my uninjured arm I dug up under my cuirass, seeking out the six connected veils I had stuffed beneath it for my protection. When my dirty fingers reached it, I called upon the cleaning magics I so often use on my unconscious patients, purifying the excrement and liquids that had soaked into my clothing and still dripped on my hair and skin. It was surprisingly pleasant to feel the grime roll away, though I still remained wet and cold.
Since my knee had been sprained, my retreat was necessarily cautious and slow. I found my way safely from Rag's End to the seventeenth pier that Mam had mentioned, and sought out the ship headed to Sandpoint.
There was a young gentleman helping to load, calling to various passers-by to come and join the ship, to ride to Sandpoint and view the Swallowtail Festival. I asked to board, and when the ship would set sail; the young man, doubtless leery of my appearance, suggested there would be a price (natural, of course. I must have taken heavier blows to the head than I had thought, for I was not thinking wholly clearly.) and that the ship might set sail before I could safely hobble off to fetch my coin and return. He estimated it to be two hours before they would be off, and I thought myself capable of making the journey to the Fang and back. I promised I would return, and headed back to the Dockway, entering through the kitchen in an attempt to avoid Mam Grottle's notice. By then, at least, I was finally dried off; it didn’t stop me from shivering a bit as I finally got indoors and out of the early morning chill.
Ulric noticed my presence right away and started for the front room, setting aside the stew he’d been preparing without so much as a second thought.
"Wait," I asked, still not especially clear of mind. "Don't tell her."
He hesitated. I must have looked as bad as I felt, because he was wincing. I had not been afraid to take the beating, but I regretted it now; worst of all, it was embarrassing to know I would need help. Ulric chewed on his lower lip, debating. "Mam told us to come let her know once you got back, Ash."
I considered fighting him on it, but the pain was bad enough and my guilt no better, so I conceded with a sigh, and agreed. While Ulric went to fetch Mam, I retreated upstairs to my room, collecting my things, my coin pouch, and my cloak. While I was still attempting to fasten the clasp about my neck with my one functioning hand, Mam knocked on the door, asking to come in. I acceded.
"You look awful." She walked in, arms folded across her chest, and rested her weight against the doorframe. "Will you at least go to Sandpoint now?"
"I tried." I finally closed the clasp and looked her way, patting my coin pouch expressively. "I didn't have the money on hand, I'm on my way back now."
She made an exasperated sound. "Did you say I'd sent you?" When I admitted, sheepishly, that I had not, she shook her head and stepped a bit further into my room. "What did they do to you, Ash?"
"Nothing much," I said, honestly. "But they did break my arm. Could you help me set it?"
"Sure thing. What do you need?"
"A thin plank to brace it against, and something to tie it in place so it doesn't shift around, I think." When Mam left the room to fetch the needed materials, I sat down on my bed and wrenched the broken bones back into place. The experience was as unpleasant as the rest had been thus far, and left me so dizzy I couldn't move even after Mam had returned. I guided her through the process of binding my broken arm to the board she'd supplied for me, and she followed each step with easy patience. It was not the most complicated thing we'd ever done together in terms of medical assistance, but I had rarely been my own patient.
Once my arm was snugly bound, I could hide it easily enough in the folds of my winter cloak. I braced myself and stood, letting Mam support me as I found my way back out of my room and down the stairs.
"Is Mirzam in the stable?" She asked, and I avowed that Mirzam was. "You stay put here, then. I'll have someone go get her for you." So saying, Mam pushed me into the corner by the front door of the Fang's common room, and scowled at me. "Remember, tell them I sent you! They'll know what's what. You get some rest, lay low for a few weeks, all right?"
I felt out of sorts, but agreed with a vague smile and a promise of, "I will, Mam." There I waited until one of the wait staff gently touched my shoulder and let me know that Mirzam had been brought up just outside by one of the runners getting off of the day-shift. I thanked him, and stumbled out of doors to find Mirzam waiting impatiently in the street.
Mirzam is, as always, a beautiful horse. She has begun to gray a bit, but her coat is still a lustrous black, and the lighter gray that dapples her looks like a pattern of shadow within shadow, noticeable only in the greying roots of her mane and tail. Someone had kindly outfitted her with her saddle, and when I touched her nose with my uninjured hand, she nodded as if she had understood my need to travel implicitly, and shifted her weight, ears flicking.
I crawled astride her as best my body would allow, bracing my weight on her neck with my left hand and cradling the right to my chest. Once I was in the saddle, I could guide her with my knees back to the seventeenth pier, and did, letting the cacophony of Dockway blur around me into a forgettable mess of whispers. The ship yet bobbed in the waters, though they were clearly about to cast off. Rather than the young man from before, I found a woman who looked me up and down and squinted at me.
“You’re heading to Sandpoint?” I asked, though I knew the answer was yes. “I’d like to board.”
At first, she rebuffed me. “The ship’s full up; no room.”
I remembered, fuzzily, to add the rest. Having to do so made me considerably more cross. “Mam sent me; I have coin if you need it.”
Whatever business she does beyond the running of the Fang, Mam is not to be trifled with. There are not many who would respond to her name with disrespect, and I think none of those that would are sailors; thus, the woman looked mildly surprised, and answered thoughtfully, “There is a room reserved under her name, matter of fact. It’s already been paid for, though. Hold up.”
She turned over her shoulder, cupping her hands to her mouth and shouting, “Lower the plank! Last passenger!”
Without much fuss at all, I dismounted Mirzam as the crew lowered the plank to let us cross and board, and yielded her reins to one of the sailors, letting the woman lead me to the cabins below deck. It was a small space, boasting a cot and a chest to store my belongings, and nothing much else: perfect for travel. Thanking the woman, I collapsed into the cot after I’d closed the door behind her. Safe from prying eyes, I touched my fingers upon my veils once more, this time calling the time-altering charm so many call a healing magic. A broken bone can in this way be healed quickly, but I left it bound to protect the newly healed bone and skin, and give it time to fully mend.
Satisfied, I slept as much as I could between the cramped space, the pitching and wheeling of the ship once it had cast off, and the persistent ache of my injuries. The trip was so short, I did not have time to acclimatize to the rocking before a knock came at my tiny cabin’s door. When I asked what was happening, the source of the knock only clarified by saying that we had made our destination and were pulling into port.
I yielded to common sense, and dragged myself back out of bed to disembark, collecting my things and Mirzam before I was on my way.
Sandpoint was sprawling, and more than a little confusing to my senses as a stranger who really just needed a meal and bed as soon as possible. I had donned my winter cloak and hid my right arm in the folds of it, keeping my left hand on Mirzam’s reins to help her along. She was calm, considering the trip, but had never been especially skittish around water, or boats, for which I count myself lucky. I questioned a fisherman as I was leading Mirzam along the pier to land, and he made a few recommendations at my request, with regards to lodging and sustenance.
In the way of people who have lived in the same town all their lives, he seemed fancifully excited by the possibility of adventure and excitement. His enthusiasm reminded me of Terry and ached in my bones; I only wanted as little excitement as possible for the next few days.
There were evidently only two inns in the entire town. Rinnal, the fisherman, recommended the Rusty Dragon for spicy food and adventurous atmosphere. Its location appeared to near the water, which to me suggested vermin would be more common within it. By contrast, the White Deer was at the opposite end of town and presumably much quieter. I asked after the upcoming festival, since Mam had mentioned it and he seemed to expect that I had come to celebrate it. Rinnal filled me in on where to find the festival once it was set up, as well as a few alternative places to find food if I didn’t want to try the fare at whatever inn I decided to stay at.
Tired of recommendations-- and tired in general-- I thanked him for his help and ended up circling town before I found the one thing I should have asked about: the stable.
The Goblin Squash Stables are run by a somewhat eccentric man, and decorated with the gruesome trophies of a goblin hunter. Ears, arms, faces-- each piece was carved with a name, which I gathered to be of significance but didn’t think it wise to ask about in detail. Instead, I greeted him:
“You seem to be a man who hates goblins.”
“That I am,” he laughed a little cruelly, though fortunately, his eyes were on Mirzam, and not his grisly trophies.
“Which means you must love horses, yes?”
“Indeed, it does!” He laughed again, this time without any shred of violence, and we discussed how he ran the stable, what treatment I could expect for Mirzam, and the cost (which I have since forgotten; I was still not feeling well). I agreed to leave her with him, and asked for his opinion on the inns, just to confirm what I’d suspected. He praised the Rusty Dragon, as had Rinnal, but noted that the White Deer was competitively priced and much, much quieter.
Thus lured, I bid him farewell after we traded names. He is a ranger, the stablemaster, named Daviren Hosk.
By the time I reached the White Deer, I had begun to like Sandpoint. It is quiet, but the air is fresh in a way that it cannot be in cities like Magnimar. The streets were a bit busier than I liked, though, and I was grateful for the instantaneous change in volume when I entered the White Deer. In a strange counterpoint to Jaijarko’s castle, the White Deer was stunningly new, and three stories tall. The paint was still fresh, and I couldn’t help wondering why it was so much newer than the other buildings in town. Inside, the scene was quiet; there sat one young couple, quietly talking amongst themselves and eating together in the common room. There was also an elderly gentleman, well-dressed, sitting and reading in a window. Behind the bar stood a Shoanti man, polishing glasses and looking ridiculously dour.
I liked him at once.
Approaching him, I inquired after a potential vacancy. He looked up and assured me that there were plenty of vacancies on varying floors of the building, and that the rooms were much larger than those of the Rusty Dragon. Further, he went on, the rooms were quieter and nicer, and the food served at the White Deer was better.
Amused, I inquired after the price per night for the room. His price did, indeed, match the price I’d been told for the Rusty Dragon, which seemed plenty fair. So, I agreed to stay.
Noting that I am not from Sandpoint, he wondered if I had come for the festival; I told him I had, but turned the question back on him. I have not known many Shoanti to settle as shop-owners, and was very curious. He explained, somewhat reluctantly, that those Shoanti who do settle still practice the old ways in their own manner. When I did not show distaste for the idea, he introduced himself as Garridan Viskalai. I reciprocated, and gave him permission to call me Achernar, if he preferred; we are both outsiders, after all.
In no time at all, we had made arrangements for my room and meal. Thus, I find myself in the White Deer in Sandpoint, remembering the faces of men I must someday bring to justice.
I was doing my best to stay far, far away from excitement, but it has not turned out as planned. To that end, it is important to explain what ended up happening at the annual festival Sandpoint's townsfolk looked on with such hope and wonder.
Come the day of the festival, there were games, food, and frivolity. Street performances were plenty. There were those who sang bawdy love songs, rollicking sagas of heroism and the wily worry-rhymes that are most commonly favored by children and the elderly; puzzles within songs. Dancers traipsed about in flashes of brightly colored clothes and brilliant smiles, and the air was filled with laughter, music, and the entirely wholesome smell of festival foods.
I, for my part, was making busy trying out each stand's staple food to determine my favorite. Children played at games of chase, while adults did games of strength, or cunning. Speeches were made by ponderous people that hold importance for the people of Sandpoint, more than those of us that had come to it.
They had decorated the square of town where the road diverged to the newly-rebuilt White Deer, the large temple, and a few of the smaller shops. Everything on this end of town is newer than the rest, which is owed to a terrible fire that ravaged the town some years before. None of the buildings, old or new, rivaled the simple beauty of the Swallowtails when they were released at the height of the sun's journey, that day. They are beautiful creatures, if a bit more easily distracted than birds, and for some moments the sky was blanketed with them.
It was sunset that was noteworthy. At that time I was enjoying dinner, a leisurely meal of the peppercorn venison peddled by the White Deer. There was a crack, as of thunder, and when we all fell to silence, the man who had intended to speak was overrun by the wretched voices of goblins. Goblins! They swarmed the square, killing children and chasing frightened civilians up and down the streets. They were armed and chanting, ready to cut down our dogs and horses, given the choice. I, having come to the festival in good faith, was not. And more to the point, I was almost immediately surrounded by three of the vicious things.
I made an attempt to overturn the cart on them, but it was heavier than I was strong; between a stray knife laying on the (now abandoned) cart and the much-appreciated assistance of two warriors that emerged from the crowd, I was able to escape with my life.
There were six of us, in total, that fought the goblins; a mermaid, a Varisian dancer, a weaponsmaster with the accent of a foreigner, a pale young man wielding a spear, a dark elf wielding a bow, and me. Of them all, I could say no ill word. They fought well and bravely, some as unarmed or unarmored as the civilians around us, and together we triumphed over the attack, pursuing a second wave when a scream drew us further out of the town square and up the side streets towards the White Deer and the lighthouse.
The local guards drove the remaining goblins from the town, many of whom dove off of the cliffs at town's edge in a suicidal bid for freedom.
The pale spearman and I returned quickly to the town square to work healing upon the injured, and the dancer accompanied us. She had sure, steady hands and worked magics on par with those the spearman possessed. With our help, the priesthood was able to save some that might not have otherwise made it-- but this is little comfort, knowing that so many still died.
In the fight, we learned, someone had raided the tomb of the town's last great priest. Despite our differences, we agreed to investigate, creeping down into the tomb to look for clues. The only thing to be found were further questions; two skeletons, handily dispatched, and a used, magical robe of the sort that conjures such undead horrors. The bones of the priest were long gone.
I have yet to discover the secrets behind these mysteries, but I intend to study them. Why would a goblin horde attack humans in broad daylight? How did they know so many would be unaware, unarmed?
And what use have they for the bones of a cleric who has been dead for nearly five years?
Damn the pretentious artists and the cocky warriors and the empty-headed young lovers that fancifully dream of dragons! Damn the carvers that leave them in the wood of tavern walls! Damn the bronzesmith that shapes them into statues! They are uncanny, sickly, irksome, eerie things-- terrifying! Unsettling! Dangerous, wicked things. Dragons! I have tried to conceal my concern about them often enough before, but even the sight of them-- even the sight of images of them!--is so repulsive as to make the skin crawl.
More to the point, there was a letter from a foppish noble whom we incidentally had rescued during the goblin attack on Festival day. Foxglove was his surname, a young lord still full of bluster and as well-traveled as any of the townsfolk of Sandpoint. In predictably short-sighted fashion he asked us to accompany him on a boar hunt, never accounting for the possibility that we might in fact encounter a boar. He asked us to meet him at the Rusty Dragon. I sent a return letter to decline, stating that I would meet him in the stables or not at all, and went to check on Mirzam in the interim. I spoke very briefly with Daviren Hosk, the stablemaster, who told me with possibly unhealthy interest that, having gone to the slain corpses of the goblins we'd felled, he had discovered them earless. While I certainly had had no use for them, nor bothered to harvest any, he begged me relay the message to my fellows that he would pay five gold coins per pair of ears. I assured him that I would, and pretended to become interested in the fine horses stabled there that he had posted for sale.
Eventually, our number-- minus the dancing girl-- arrived at the stables with noble and entourage in tow. By good fortune, he had decided to purchase each of us a riding horse to use in our trek to the nearby Tickwoods. The breeding stock could not compare with Mirzam's sire and dam, to be sure, but the horses were all fine young animals, already broken to the saddle, so I agreed to take one on. There was a fine chesnut gelding amidst the lot, and in a pinch he can act as a pack animal when I return to Magnimar. Perhaps it is not Mam's intention, but at least until she takes on another hand, it seems fair that I should assume some of Terry's duties, to ease the burden on the Fang. I named the gelding Altair, and he seemed to take to it quickly. Since Hosk had his hands full finding an alternative saddle to help accommodate our mermaid companion's unique condition, I saddled Altair myself, once the accompanying tack had been pointed out to us.
I reminded myself of the names of the lot, not wanting to offend those that I had fought beside. Force of habit, but I do find it easy to fall back into the line of duty, even when I don't intend it. There is Coral, the mermaid. Every part of her shimmers and sparkles in the light; her skin, her scales, even her hair has an otherworldly sheen to it. She has, for better or worse, drawn the attraction of Foxglove, who was repugnantly forward at her for the duration of the trip.
Then there is Morvius, one of the two warriors who helped pry away the goblins from me on that festival night. He hails from the shadowed country south of here, and often seems homesick. I would not have thought it possible to miss such a place; if the stories are true, it is a place constructed singularly of torture and violence, and no sane person should ever wish to return to it.
The other warrior, the spearman, is Vehran. He is curiously quiet, much of the time, and seems to guard a plethora of secrets. His youth and beauty likely cause him trouble, from time to time, but it doesn't seem to faze him in the slightest. He had been the one to harvest the ears of the goblins, prudently expecting a local interest in collecting them. I drew him aside as we were still preparing to mount our horses and head for the woods, and shared with him what Daviren had told me.
Then there is Xenvia; she is often silent, watching, listening. Her confidence errs on the side of youthful pride, but it seems well-earned. She is fierce in combat, silent and deadly. I only worry that combat is the extent of the life she has known.
Some minutes of searching and adjusting passed, as well as several uninspiring professions of love and intent to marry on part of Foxglove. Once Coral was astride her mount at last, we rode out to meet the hunt.
It was a long trip, broken mostly by the inane, nearly insufferable rambling of Lord Foxglove. To my dismay, whenever I interrupted I was expected to tell stories about myself. Children! I'm sure they thought there was something interesting to hear. Perhaps I have the look of an old adventurer.
We discussed whence we'd come, and how we would handle the boar. Based on his contributions, I determined that Foxglove, likely out of love on part of his parents, had never been permitted to go boar hunting before and had no idea what to expect. Boars are vicious, deadly animals and they will charge relentlessly at any attacker they can perceive. We agreed, after vetoing some suicidal suggestions on part of the young lord, to surround the boar, scare it, and attack while it was charging whoever ended up the decoy.
Because of her tail, I worried about Coral's safety, walking the ground with us (or, in her case, crawling along it). I lifted her into a tree to wait the hunt out, once we had spotted a boar, and ended up serving the part of decoy as a result. All was well, ultimately; Morvius, Xenvia and Vehran were more than enough to slay the beast well before it reached me. Xenvia sought to shield me from the attack, and Morvius struck the killing blow. This is a fact that seemed to delight him for hours afterward, so I must assume that the slaughter of food animals is actually a favored profession of his. After all, he's very good at it.
During the ride back, Foxglove's uncultured racism and, worse, undeserved boasting began again, so I struck him to silence him and warned him against his lies. He had intention to bring the boar to the Rusty Dragon to serve with the aid of the proprietor, a woman named Ameiko that I had seen on the night of the Festival, fighting alongside the guards. I declined to go along, and my companions seemed to infer the reason why, much to my chagrin.
Once we returned to town, I stabled Altair and then went my separate way to seek out a place to eat instead. I was so frustrated by the reminder of the gaping, horrific visage of the bronze dragon statue standing outside of that damned inn that I decided to go to the worst place in town.
Sandpoint is too small, generally, for much trouble. There are several stores I had passed by at this point, but none had looked quite as run-down as the Fatman's Feedbag. Its mascot is some squat, stylized drawing aping a human man with a leg of cooked meat as tall as he is clutched in both meaty hands as he takes his first bite. Inside, the place was rancid with spilled liquor and dried blood. There is no bouncer there, and I was appalled by the condition of the tables, barstools, and mugs within.
After settling a bet between two sailors, I took a stool at the bar and ordered a lager. I sipped at my drink, observed the senseless violence around me, and considered the questionably food-related items available on the menu. I'd been through two lagers and still not found sign of anything appetizing enough to merit the risk of purchase when, unexpectedly, Morvius entered the bar as well and joined me.
He explained that he had come to get me, but after leaving realized that more likely than not, the situation he'd thought to request my assistance in would have already been resolved by the time we returned to his place of origin. That said, he bought a drink as well and settled in to finish it before heading back.
We talked little, though Morvius made it clear that my admittedly irrational unease where draconic iconography is concerned was, to the outside eye, patently ridiculous. I didn't especially appreciate the sentiment, but was willing to consider possibly entering the Rusty Dragon if blindfolded to avoid the gaze of the hideous statue.
I was in luck, or so I thought, for we were accosted by a woman in shock, clutching her wounded son and a baby daughter. A goblin that had escaped during the raid had taken up residence in her house, and her husband had gone to try to kill it.
We followed her to her house, and then Morvius thought to retrieve the others from the inn. I agreed that he should fetch them, but rushed inside the house myself, hoping to find the woman's husband before grisly combat could lead to his death.
I found him twitching on the floor. He was dead already, and the goblin-- hiding within the floor-- was eating him, which made the body jerk and writhe. It was not yet cold, and I tried to pry it free, challenging the goblin with my sickle.
Had the others not arrived when they did, I would have joined the dead. It should be offensive to even think it-- my pride should be injured-- but I have not fought monsters for such a long time, and never had done so alone. With the help of Vehran and Xenvia, the goblin was slain and I was, eventually, healed.
Things became somewhat more hectic when all was said and done. The sheriff came to help collect the body of the woman's husband and carry him to the temple. She accompanied him, as did the rest of us, to the temple. He asked to see us all at the town hall come morning, so we went our separate ways for the night, regrouping as promised then.
When we met with him, the sheriff introduced an elf woman that Xenvia seems to have met before. They made a formal request of us to guard the townsfolk while the sheriff is out of town requesting reinforcements in Magnimar; I suppose we agreed, though we had mixed feelings amongst ourselves about it. This left us with the dilemma of whether to keep our word and stay within town as we'd suggested, or go out in search of the goblin tribes that, for whatever reason, have been banding together out in this region, lately.
We had nearly made up our minds to pursue the goblins when news came to us of the disappearance of the proprietor of the Rusty Dragon. With the news came a suspicious note about some clandestine meeting arranged by her brother.
As it turned out, this was all related to Morvius's unexpected appearance in the Fatman's Feedbag the night before. Ameiko's father had entered the Rusty Dragon the night before, evidently speaking incomprehensibly and angrily with her before, in broken common, disowning her. The note, apparently from her brother, was simperingly supportive of protecting her from her father's unfair decision to drag her back to Magnimar (evidently against her wishes). I suspect her brother is the culprit of her disappearance, not her father.
We decided we must investigate the glassworks, where Ameiko had most likely disappeared. As I write, we are now preparing. I will elaborate on our findings when we return.
By happenstance, we crossed paths with the dancer, Zeldana, on our way to investigate the glassworks. Morvius and myself botched up the relatively simple job of explaining where we were heading and why, but fortunately the others were able to set her straight soon enough. It was midday when we entered. There should have been signs of life, shouting, cheerful whistling-- the sounds of people at the unenviable task of shaping molten glass-- but it seemed a little still, outside the glassworks, and there was no sign of people going out or in.
The furnace still roared as we approached the building, but even before we entered the workers had been slain to a man. We entered cautiously and found the place overrun with goblins; the bodies of the fallen workers lay strewn all over the central workbenches and floor, giving the impression that the goblins had come upon them in the middle of their work. Not a one among us has any love for the goblins, mind you, so we did not hesitate in pressing the attack.
One of the people controlling the repugnant little things arrived at the battle shortly after I had leapt atop one of the work tables there. He was the brother I'd deemed responsible for the lady Ameiko's disappearance, evidently, and opened his attack by lodging an arrow in my chest. The rest is something of a blur; I got the arrow free without tearing too much of the skin and stubbornly fought on, which accomplished little more than bringing me a second attack at the archer's whim. I awoke choking on the memory of my own blood, to a touch of healing magic from Zeldana that sealed the wounds and cleared my lungs. Grateful, I watched in weary silence as Xenvia bound the half-elf man that had been attacking us, then slapped him awake.
They had not begun to question him before relieving him of his unneeded possessions, of course, and among them lay a badly-bound journal. I took it to study, and was naturally repulsed by the self-centered drivel I found within. The boy-- if he can even be called as much-- evidently had fallen in with the missing daughter of the priest whose bones had been stolen the night of the festival. Per his journal, it was she and a quasit that had cowed the goblins and sent them upon Sandpoint; she who intended to burn Sandpoint to the ground as a sacrifice unto Lamashtu; and she who had sought the bones, presumably to sever her tie to her father's faith and embrace some kind of demonic transformation.
There was no explanation of where Ameiko had been taken, or why. We tried to learn more from the boy, but aside from being an idiot, he is also delusional, and began attempting to urge us to kill him. He seemed confident that the woman he so lustily pursued would be willing to resurrect him. I have my doubts.
In any case, I could not bring myself to kill him anymore than I would in any other situation. Xenvia's investigation of the room from which he'd first arrived provided better results, for we found Ameiko there, injured but alive, bound and gagged where he'd left her. I healed some of her injuries to awaken her, and removed both blindfold and gag, transferring them to her distressingly stupid brother.
Shortly thereafter I had to excuse myself from the room, and instead paced the work hall while Ameiko and the others discussed where to go on from here. We made a stop to deliver the idiot to prison, and I and Coral (who we have been carting around in a wheelbarrow for the time being) made visit to the general store.
A most peculiar thing happened, then; the owner, a gruesome sort of man with big, uneven teeth, went into a rage at the sight of us, demanding to know where Vehran was. For whatever reason, Coral willingly told him, endangering Vehran and forcing us both to wait for the shopkeep to return. Thus left to our own devices, I stood and Coral reclined upon the wheelbarrow in silence, examining the interior of the shop and its novelties.
I think it fortunate that, when the shopkeep did at last return, he was disappointed and empty-handed.
While there, I purchased all the oil I could from the store. We had discovered tunnels, long bricked-over and recently re-opened, beneath the glassworks. They seemed lead out of town, though where exactly was a mystery. According to the idiot's journal, the woman had at least some plan to send an invading force through these catacombs, and it seemed likely she might be hiding down there, too. It was my thought that we should lay down traps to prevent them from coming through, and help protect the town. After all, their sherriff had asked us to take care of things while he was away.
Thus armed, Coral and I returned to the glassworks, meeting the others and continuing down. Here, we left the wheelbarrow and oil aside for later, and all six of us squeezed into the strange, dark tunnels to begin exploring the way. It was dank and smelled of old, stale stone; in the darkness, I could not tell if the walls around us had been carved of slate or marble. They seemed impossibly ancient, and only grew less familiar the further we walked.
The tunnels do not seem to lead out to any place where goblins normally haunt the forests or caves; instead, they took us into rooms full of ancient Thessalian ruins. Statues stood looking on, guarding ancient tombs. The image of the seven-pointed star was emblazoned in many places, including the coffin-like closets where three disfigured skeletons lay at rest. Horrors leapt out of the dark and attacked us more than once, and in one ancient prison long empty of guard or prisoner, I was brought down by the concerted attack of two such monsters who rent my torso open and laid my innards out like a fortune teller's sacrifice on the floor.
I was partially aware of it when Zeldana and Vehran worked together to shoved said inside parts back into my body and healed them in place; but I found it diffilcult to stay standing after that, and trailed behind the rest, feeling as though I might yet be brought down again. Having been twice close to death that day, I felt only a tenuous connection with life, at that moment.
When we found something else still-living, I wished profoundly that we had not. A three-armed goblin came upon us in a strange, large room, and began to spew viscous fluid on Morvius and Vehran, its three arms twitching excitedly. I slipped around the room and far to the back, striking from range to avoid its direct attention; more than I, Xenvia kept the fiend at bay, as did Zeldana, who wove in and out of its range, luring it away from the others.
It appears that Coral has some magic of the mind, for she was able to waylay it, casting some silent, shrieking spell that left the monster staggering. In the end, it was Coral that killed the beast, though every one of us had a happy chance to carve a piece from its flesh before it finally fell; it brought Vehran down with it.
Whatever his personal business, I know for a fact that Vehran does not benefit from healing magics as normal people do. There is a shade upon him, usually visible only when he is casting spells; I suspect its curse may be what stifles the ability of healing magics to ease his pain. We conferred amongst ourselves and decided, without much difficulty, to return to the town before pressing on. I laid Vehran to rest in my bed (being unwilling to visit the Rusty Dragon), and napped in the corner of the room, needing the chance to recover as much as he did.
Those tunnels may have little to do with the goblins on the whole, but I have no doubt that the quasit mentioned in that idiot's journal is likely to be down there. Too, the girl who once was related to the deceased Father. If we can return there soon, before they notice what's happened, then perhaps we can catch them before they launch their next attack.
Further investigation of the tunnels beneath the glassworks led to the discovery and subsequent death of a quasit, one of those pocket-sized demons usually used by the sorcerors of Geb to amplify their sick and unholy magicks. Surprisingly, the thing was some kind of sorceror itself, which made it considerably more difficult to banish from this plane than otherwise. Eventually, we got it between our hands and ripped the thing apart. Messy, but effective.
There were other oddities down there, including a book filled with ramblings and drawings of various types of demons. I thought to use it as a weapon, to learn more about the enemy we may be up against, but...the images are repulsive at best, the text in one of the demon tongues, and I am not entirely certain these are the kinds of secrets one can easily brave without internalizing them. We sold what we could of the relics we found, thinking at least to give ourselves the benefit of stronger armaments. I did not purchase any for myself, though I did trade the shortspear I had carried for a polearm better capable of extending my reach. Since that unfortunate other day, I have not felt entirely comfortable in close combat with our foes. It is not that I am not quick on my feet, or able, but to be cut down is to be reminded strongly of one's own mortality.
I still have no desire to pass from this realm to the next. Not yet.
There were no goblins to be found in those tunnels, so we at last decided to investigate the Thistletop stronghold we had read of in that idiot half-elf's journal; while we bartered our finds and prepared for the journey, we confirmed where to go with the elf ranger that has so fascinated Xenvia.
We are surprisingly capable of silence when needed, even despite Coral's natural difficulties when traveling land. There is a bramble surrounding the entrance to thistletop, too small for most to fit inside without crawling along on one's belly; we passed it without much incident, and found ourselves before the Thistletop hideout mentioned before. It could be reached by crossing a weak rope bridge, but one of the ropes had already been pre-emptively untied, perhaps to make it easier to sever in case of ambush.
Amongst us all, Morvius is the most nimble and slender, so we sent him across the bridge first, considering him safest in case of the bridge protesting our weight. He secured the unbound rope, and the rest of us crossed one at a time. A goblin patrol began to approach before Coral and I could join the others across the way, but fortuitously, they were able to conceal themselves until the watch had passed.
We entered the lair without ruckus, and were able to silence the goblin hounds guarding an interior room. It seemed that they had dragged a warhorse into some kind of holding cell, though for what purpose I cannot entirely gather. Perhaps it is a druid, transformed? Else, I think, the goblins might be planning to murder the animal as a sacrifice, for their hatred of horses is well-known enough. We all of us wanted to save it, but didn't have time to do so before we continued our search.
There was plenty to discover along the way, including a hidden room with a chest of treasure behind a filthy room I can only assume served as a latrine for the goblins. Beyond that, there were stairs down into the depths of the fortress. We have not yet checked the other half of the surface floor, but our focus was quick and silent infiltration, and we did not linger to risk discovery by any guards more alert than the ones we had already disabled permanently.
Below, we found a woman evidently infatuated with the half-elf moron we'd jailed before. She was somewhat difficult to subdue, but again, Morvius's unique talents were useful here. I made it clear I would not tolerate the murder of the girl; she had been researching, and based on her attacks upon us, her focus of study was some dark magic. Still, she was harmless as soon as we'd taken her spellbook, and I gauged her likely to be unconscious for an hour or more. Plenty of time for us to have completed our work, and fled, before she might have the chance to raise the alarm.
In the end, that concern proved pointless anyway. Yeth hounds, Vehran called them, before he panicked and (if possible) turned more pale than he already had been, fleeing their horrible baying cries. They were fearsome, ethereal creatures, demonic dogs that filled the very air with a sense of creeping fear. I suppose we must each of us be mad in some way, because we fought them-- we fought them! -- though it was foolishness and insanity to try.
Morvius was struck down by the bite of one, while the other toyed with Xenvia and Zeldana; Coral, too, struggled with the bone deep fear that had overtaken Vehran. So I prepared to flee, gathering Morvius's (surprisingly light) body into my arms to carry him off to safety, to drag all of them away from the menacing hounds before we could be eradicated by them.
I needn't have worried. Once Vehran recovered, he rejoined the battle, fighting alongside Xenvia and Zeldana and bringing down one of the two beasts. I tried to rouse Morvius with a breath of the healing magics I have been working not to overuse, and he recklessly attacked the beasts again.
The second time we got him back to his feet, I saw the remaining beast preparing to strike him again, almost calculating, as if its flaming eyes sought to bring misery to the creature that dared keep rising up after it had been struck down. I called it on myself, slinging a handful of pebbles (though I had not slipped any magic in them) at its head and shouting to it, beckoning.
I can say this: it worked, and the beast brought me to my knees, coughing up blood, instead of Morvius.
I would have told them to flee if I had not seen their strength combined take out the first of the hounds. Instead, I faced unconsciousness secure in the knowledge that my companions would be able to handle the remaining monster.
There is noise coming from up the hall; the baying of the hounds has surely alerted the rest of this gruesome place that there are intruders. I have rested now, I can walk again, fight again. The only question is whether we will be able to handle the asimmar, Nualia.
The sooner I am back in Magnimar, the better. I seem to have developed a dangerous case of altruism, and historically this has never ended well for me.
When we ventured out into the halls again, there was no sign of activity. Evidently, the goblins had gone elsewhere to fortify in response to our invasion of their fortress. We found some of the goblin women, who were content to leave us be so long as we left them. They said they did not want us to harm the bugbear Xenvia had been planning to kill, and agreed to stay where they were; again and again, I struggled with whether we should be kinder to the goblin hordes or slaughter them all. They look and smell and act like the monsters summoned into the magic waste between Nex and Geb. And yet, these women were almost human in their simple desires.
It did not help that we found evidence of-- Zeldana explained-- the empty, filthy cages in which goblinkind apparently raises their young.
We investigated the basement to which we'd descended completely, discovering a man named Orik along the way. Rather than fight him, we hired him to join us in vanquishing Nualia, once his lack of loyalty to her became apparent. He is infatuated with the mage girl we'd left unconscious in her study, but otherwise only wishes to go conclude his business in Riddleport. Thus far he has been a worthy addition to our ranks. The mage girl-- who he insisted join us-- not so much.
Deadly things lurk here. Some abomination was lurking in one cavern, and poisoned Zeldana before we could finish it off. That she has survived today has been miraculous; first there was the poison, and then later when she fought Nualia at our side, she was mauled to death. Had Nualia not carried with her a scroll to raise the fallen from death, I suspect we would have had to bring her back to the priest in Sandpoint, and beg him to provide her with care we are otherwise unable to render.
Nualia has fallen, as has the bugbear. He had tracked us through the first basement level to the dungeonlike pit we now seek rest from, evidently by the smell of Xenvia's heritage.
Now all that remains is to find a safe exit. We are not at our best; I think it might be wisest to sneak out, if we can. I think I may be able to disguise myself convincingly as Nualia to fool the goblins. If not, it is possible we can intimidate them by providing evidence of her recent demise. Anything seems wiser than to risk another death if it is at all possible to avoid, and yet--
There is something terrifying down here, some monster we have heard is called the 'whispering beast'. I don't know if it is wise to confront it, but it may be even less so to leave the creature free to roam.
The decision will have to wait until tomorrow. When we have had the chance to sleep, we may be better able to gauge our own strength before going ahead.
It has been so many years since I had this dream that I consider it important to lay to memory.
As we slept in that crypt, some of our number wounded almost unto death and none of us comfortable, I must have been reminded of Alkenstar. It was as if I was there again; I could smell the rotting blood of the wounded and dying housed in the outpost's rectory, and I felt as I had all those years ago that I must help free them. Mazel and Salih went ahead, as they had done, and as is sometimes the case in the dream, they bade me come with them, looked at me with fear in their eyes, as if they knew they would die without me. It is vain and foolish to think I could have saved them, instead of dying by their side, but memory is generally thus.
I did not go with them. I stayed in the rectory, and broke apart the chains that bound those still alive, and I did mercy to those that would soon have been raised as undead. Just as it was in real life, the decision cost their lives. When I finally woke, I was preoccupied with the dream, and spent more time in prayer than I generally require, come the morning.
Morvius drew me from that fugue, wanting to know where we should go, and why. We are, individually, very different people, so it turned out that each of us thought to go another direction. As we had prepared to sleep the night before I had thought only that we should leave to protect Zeldana from further harm; she and the others all seem too young to die. Rested, I remembered that Orik and Lyrii had mentioned shadowed monsters that resided within the room across the way from us. Pressed to make a decision about how we should proceed, I found that I could not in good conscience leave those creatures to harry anyone else. Morvius and I went together in the lead to strike them down, and encouraged Vehran and Zeldana to keep their distance. I am not certain of Vehran's nature, precisely, but I do not wish him harm.
The creatures there were shadows made solid, though they were bound within that room and easily dispatched with help from Vehran's magics and certain weapons among our number that possess a magic strength. Beyond that room were some tunnels, though they led only to ruined flights of stairs that led down into a shattered room. Here, the abandoned temple (for no goblins could have built this structure we found below their wooden fort) let out into the ocean.
We discovered first that we were beneath sea level here, and second that we were not alone. A hermit crab as big as a human attacked, wearing a golden helmet sized for a giant. Once the surprise had worn off, we fought it, Xenvia wisely returning up the stairs and taking a second passage down to strike from behind while Morvius, Orik and Vehran attacked from the front. We agreed amongst ourselves to salvage the helm and sell it, once we had cleared the place of goblins and unholy creatures alike, though it might require us to return. This raised the difficult question of whether we should leave then, swimming out into the ocean to return, or persist.
Remembering that some of us had ridden in on horseback, I explained that I could not leave my own and would have to return whence we'd come. Luckily for my own health, most of the others agreed, and we resolved to be exceedingly cautious with regard to Zeldana's health, to ensure that she survived the journey intact.
Thus resolved, we decided to make our examination thorough, starting with the relief of the cursed pillar of gold. The carvings of the coins were etched with strange runes, but between them Coral spotted slots shaped as if gold coins might be deposited within, and did so.
The magician, Lyrii, seemed baffled that Coral had thought to do so, let alone been willing to part with her money, but the results were instantaneous and piqued our collective interest: the relief, evidently a pillar of stone, sank with a soft grinding of stone into the floor, baring a hallway with three rooms. Here, we found what I suspect was the source of the whispering Nualia had been investigating.
Within the first of the rooms, we discovered surgical tools and a seal, evidently meant to fit in the lock of the third. Before investigating, we checked the second-- which we had avoided at first, hearing through its door low murmuring as of a clandestine conversation. Inside, we discovered only an illusion of some man of the ancient ruins. Like everything else, I presume he was Thassilonian; Vehran and I were able to make out what he said, only to find that it was essentially nonsense, out of context. He seemed to condemn his workers to death (perhaps as final task once they'd completed their work on this temple), and made scathing reference to the Runelord we had discovered in the tunnels beneath Ameiko's Glassworks. Thereafter, he repeated the same partial message indefinitely.
Driven by curiosity and no small part of recklessness, we did then press the signet we had found into the lock, releasing the third door so that we could investigate. In there, we found some kind of room of worship, with an altar of fire and ever-burning candles magically lit. For our trouble, we discovered a ring and, more distressingly, a monster that stood like a wolf, but wore the head of a man. The latter convinced us to leave. Quickly.
From there, we traveled back to the rooms we had been before, unlocking the chest of treasure that Morvius had discovered on our way down and freeing the Warsteed whose drag marks we had unwittingly followed into the fortress. Between Morvius and Xenvia's gentle words and offerings of oats, the beast warmed up to us immediately. Xenvia has no need of a warsteed, but apparently this is what Morvius was trained to do, for he took to the saddle immediately and for the first time since I've known him, seemed completely at home.
The steed's name, according to its tack, is Shadowmist, and it is a fierce and beautiful creature. Thus armed, we returned to the only rooms we had yet to enter, and here challenged the Goblin king, with Morvius to lead our charge.
In short order, we defeated those that had worked with the Goblin King, leaving only him alive. I would have insisted we kill him as well, but alarmingly, he surrendered and seemed confident that, provided we let him live, he would survive. Regardless of his intent, the words he spoke were of contrition, and I think it would do the civilians of Sandpoint good to see some of the justice we wrought for them done publicly. Even so, I don't think it would do to allow the goblin--however evil or hateful the creature may be-- to come into the custody of Daviren Hosk. Better that he die quickly than be tortured to death. The ranger would not let him live either way.
Whatever else may be true, we did kill the rest of the goblin soldiers that remained while they were unaware or asleep before leaving the fortress the way we'd come. I am relieved to say that we did make it back to the town safely, and will likely be able to charter a boat to come back for that gold helmet, rather than do anything suicidal as we'd originally thought to do.
Before we entered the town, however, we did have the business of Lyrii's spellbook and pouches to resolve. Xenvia made it clear that should Lyrii come into Sandpoint's city limits, she would be hunted down and killed; Vehran and Morvius, moreover, were reluctant to return her book and ingredients to her, and it was agreed that, should she come after us, they would be permitted to kill her. Even Orik-- who, poor man, seems to love her-- agreed to that necessity. Still, I am happy to say that she was permitted back her things. Coral and I each gave her some money to help speed her escape; I couldn't help thinking I have been in very similar straits, and it was not so long ago.
We did turn over the Goblin King to the jailors, though they seemed unsure what to do with him. While there, Xenvia and Vehran requested to be notified when Tsuto is extradited to Magnimar so that we may accompany whoever is in charge of the effort. I believe this may be due to a desire to have an opportunity to kill Lyrii, since it is highly likely she will try to free him once he is no longer held in Sandpoint.
I do not personally consider the matter worth our attention, but I will be returning to Magnimar anyway, so I suppose I am not necessarily opposed to the effort.
As the sheriff of Sandpoint has returned from his trip there, I suspect I will be leaving fairly soon. There is justice that needs to be done in Magnimar.
In the meantime, we have come into a surprising amount of wealth for our efforts. I don't know if I have use for all of it, but I am hoping to purchase superior armor to the worn and ragged leathers I was wearing when I arrived in town. I have heard there is a shirt of mithril chain being sold at The Feathered Serpent.
Though I confess to feeling some anxiety that it may be difficult for me to enter the store, considering its moniker...
Garridan Viskalai spoke with me this morning, and made a request that I look out for his younger brother, Belor. It is maybe somewhat less than surprising that the town sheriff and the head of the White Deer, being the only two Shoanti men in town, happen to be related; but this is the kind of attitude turned towards outlanders by citizens who never travel beyond the borders of their homeland. I have been too long outside of Nex and Osirion to assume anything. The news was more surprising to me than the request that accompanied it. I told him, naturally, that I would do my best to honor his intent, and asked a little more about his brother, about why he had turned his back on the Shoanti traditions of his home and changed the language in which he said his name.
I have done what I can to help, I think. I do not know how much longer we will be in Sandpoint, but Garridan has been a good host, never too curious about my business beyond what he can provide to help make my stay more comfortable. Whether it is my duty or not, I wanted to do him a kindness in return, if I were able.
It seems the Goblin King was slain after we had transported him to town; I regret not knowing more about why he turned himself over so willingly, but it seems a natural conclusion to the entire affair. Tsuto, the half-elf man who slew his father and tried to murder the proprietress of the Rusty Dragon (his sister), will be put on trial come the morning. A magistrate from Magnimar has been sent to oversee the proceedings, and it seems that Tsuto is attempting to plea insanity to escape the death sentence he earned. We will each be testifying in the case, per the request of the sheriff.
Distressingly, the mercenary Orik revealed that he sought our assistance in Riddleport resolving a tasteless matter of his own. In an attempt to take possession of someone else (via the use of a love potion), he flew into a rage and murdered the potion-maker. We were unable to explain to him successfully why his actions were wrong; he is not a thinker by nature, and so we turned him away instead. If we do encounter him again, I sincerely doubt we will do so as friends. Perhaps we would do better to take Vehran's advice and kill more of the enemies we meet, but I find it difficult to take a life.
Zeldana's presence and brash determination to save lives and do justice through pacifism is inspiring. I am glad that she is with us; were she not to speak up in those times when we are making decisions on such matters, I think I might sometimes be more easily swayed. She is too optimistic to be realistic at times, but that is her strength. We must hope sometimes for things that even seem impossible, after all.
There are some interesting developments since we returned to the town last week. I was, ultimately, unable to make myself visit the curio shop before the mithril shirt had been purchased by Zeldana (a good fit, I find, and useful too to protect her). I have always preferred leather in any case, as it is generally less conspicuous, so had mine repaired instead. Coral, meanwhile, has crafted some kind of magical shawl that permits her to walk as a human for some hours each day. She seems capable of great ingenuity, when she is focused and not busy being awed by everything the surface world has to offer.
This particular night, we permitted ourselves to be hired like some sort of mercenary company by the local jeweler and spouse, who asked us to rid their attic of a ghostly creature. We did so, though not without injury to Vehran, who had to stand close as I called forth divine energy to strike the creature and seemed pained by it, as well.
Tomorrow is the trial, so I must sleep, and make ready. I only hope that all goes well.
I should not have spoken your name. I know this. I know. I am sorry; it felt as though I stood trial in Osirion again, and even though I was under no magical duress it seemed important to tell the truth in that moment. I should have spoken the name of the sun-god, or of Nex himself. I am sorry.
Tsuto is dead, rightly, as is Lyrii. I can't say I am entirely happy with this turn of events, but we were left little choice. The trial was a farce at best, a plot by the defending speaker of law and said departed persons to attempt to free Tsuto from custody without exacting penance upon him. They very nearly murdered Hemlock and Morvius alike before we had put an end to them. We had been fashioned executioners by the magistrate, a bored bureaucrat from Magnimar, so in terms of the law, we did what was right. Even in their last moments, Lyrii remained obsessed with Tsuto, and him with Nualia, with trying to revive her. It was troublingly pathetic. Maybe he was insane.
Vehran has revealed that by nature, he numbers among the Szarihgambah. I had suspected there must be more than we knew of him, but I had not considered the possibility, and Vehran uses another word for it.
I must not let myself act irrationally. Lyrii's grisly death only serves as a baseline for understanding Vehran's behavior. He did not kill the girl until she had pushed us to violence; this is important. He did not kill her until she had nearly killed two of our number, and we had been granted political immunity for the murders, should we commit them; this is important. Whatever else he may be, Vehran is intelligent, capable, deadly. Calculating.
This is the same man I have fought in battle with already. I am wary. I will wait to pass judgment.
It may not even be necessary.
The young sherriff, fortuitously still alive, seemed to have taken my letter to heart, for he next asked our help in solving a murder that has taken place in Sandpoint. Three men, two nights before and yesterday night another daughter of the General Store's keeper, alongside her trysting partner. What little we have gathered thus far suggests that Titus Scarnetti is involved, or someone of the noble houses, in any case. First there is the matter of fraud, notable in accounting books that permit us to draw a connection between the victims.
Then there is the note-- a note was left for Coral, scratched out on a slip of paper and pinned in the room with the Vinder girl's body. It seems to demand her love, and further reaffirms the likelihood that this entire town is filled with insanely lonely persons of some state of mental illness.
Of course, we are investigating. I have tried to take care not to let slip any more information that I am meant to guard, not share.
I will try to protect Vehran's secret, too, that we may walk in peace with each other.
I worry this will not end well. Serial murder generally doesn't.
(OOC note: I was asleep for over half of the session, so when Ash separates from the party, that's my explanation of what she was doing while I er, missed out on the action. Sorry guys!)
Musím odpoèíva, musím si sadnú.
The victims of the murder did not match. The woman, pulverized and peeled apart, made dinner by a ghoul or worse. The men, all of the men, ritualistically mutilated: silenced even in death, and marked by the sehedron, carved delicately into their chests.
Fortuitously, the bodies from the barn had not yet been laid to rest. After examining them, Morvius ordered them cremated. I did not see the benefit, but there is a certain sense in creamating the dead, here in Varisia. Even the powder of a body could do terrible things in the mana wastes. Here, I think it would be harmless.
The young lovers were much more disturbing to see, I think. The man had been hung upon hooks, like so much meat in a butcher shop. I felt unwell then, and if I am honest with myself I have not felt well again since.
Budem zle, keï nie som opatrný, musím odpoèíva.
We had many ideas; Coral sought to lure the killer by leaving out a shirt she had abandoned, by laying a spell to locate it upon the fabric. Perhaps if nothing else had turned up, we would have taken enough time to necessitate the gesture. Zeldana investigated the szcarni, while some of the others questioned Scarnetti. I silently accompanied Zeldana to be sure she was safe, but my distraction was already upon me then, and I found it difficult to concentrate on anything being said.
The end result was simple enough, and we learned all we needed to know in the saw mill, in any case.
Panický mešania sa tiesnilo okolo neho a premýš¾al, èo sa stalo. Mlyn bol tichý, a odišli sme príbeh ich predstavivosti. Vedeli ste, že bolo vraždy tu pred piatimi rokmi? Nemal som, ešte len zaèali hovori.
All that remained was what I had wondered from the start: what we would learn from the man who'd had the misfortune to discover the bodies within the barn. As he was in the sanatorium, our course was clear enough. We left the town without much hestitation, and traveled gladly there. My distraction was at its worst as we traveled, as we arrived and the others spoke with the man whose ill fate it is to own that wretched place. We went to the witness, and when I looked on him, I knew what was wrong with him. I have seen such an illness before, too many times.
Bolo by láskavejší k porážke ho.
Did we? I cannot remember.
Behind the nauseating experiments we discovered a necromancer-- eccentric, to be sure, but disinterested in Coral and dispassionate about the living in general. Mali sme testovali jeho rukopis. Instead we have brought him back to the town.
I am distracted, I am dangerous. I must meditate, or sleep.