The Rise and Fall of Glamorfell

19th Arodus, 4713 AR
The Diary of Teret Feron

It has been many months since I have set upon my desk, laid eyes upon it even, and put ink to paper. In some ways, this is good. It means our Council moves forward, becomes involved in tasks larger than ourselves. In other ways, it means we are perhaps to invested. That we cannot pull back to take perspective on the matters at hand.

All about us, the Narlmarch Forest, the plains stretching to the Tors to the East, where we believe Varnhold is stationed. To our west lies Fort Drelev, We have older nations to our norht and south, and I believe there isn’t a one of htem that doesn’t mean us some form of harm. I am not sure how much I can do to prevent it. If not for the diplomatic skill of our prince, I fear we would have been a doomed nation from the outset. It still feels like the River Kingdoms sit upon a hill, waiting to loose a boulder upon us, smash us helplessly to bits. I cannot place my finger upon it, but the sense of doom is palpable.

Much has progressed though, since last I wrote. An army has been raised. 50 soldiers. Able bodied, but incapable of holding a sword by my estimation. It will take much to get them into shape, to turn them into a force to be reckoned with. Much of this takes me back to when I was last a proper soldier, serving under the Lebeda banner. A time when I last considered betrothal to another. Young Elanna, naive and haughty, but my wind and stars, held me captive. I believe, in retrospect she was well aware of this fact. The dirt mongering soldier turned captain, held in sway with a flick of thin wrists. It was a dangerous, but formative time. I will need that same passion and ferver as our troops form the backbone of our nations defense. As they begin to defend lands they claim as their own. There is nothing more fearsome than a soldier defending his home, he will place his life on the the line and push long past his breaking point to see it saved. It is this that I must drive into them, it is this that I must forge. It is this I must find in myself.

I find that I am growing attached to this land. In the years since our ragtag band set out from Brevoy, from my homeland to journey on, I have found many things. Danger, ever present, tranquility, peace, forgiveness. Returning to Brevoy as a General filled me with pride again, in a way that a soldier must always hold within his bosom. He must see himself as unbreakable against the tide of the land, lest he succomb to its realities. Seeing Elanna again, as she was due to be wed, nearly provided that tide to me. It was a great swelling of emotion, regret, fear, a deep rooted dread that I had long forgotten by the time we came back in attendance. By Iomodae’s grace, I had found that bastion within myself. In truth, I think I had found another that had captured my heart. Brash, bold, and without a blemish that my heart can discern I believe she is the one that I will begin anew with. I have held none as family save those who make up the Tetriarchy. They are my blood, as has been forged in countless brushes with death and as we tasted upon the very essence of life itself. It is that I wish to share with her. It is that I wish to build anew in this place, in this land which seems devoid of true providence.

Something that our recent adventure in the Accursed Halls, which has a whole life underneath what had explored, gives me great pause. Such magic is great indeed and roams unchecked on our lands. I will have to bring it to bear upon our Prince, ask that the sages delve further into the Histories to find mention of Nhur-Athamon. It is very likely the Prince himself has already ordered thus, he is a keen man. I do worry that should the Troll kingdom find purchase with that fount, we will be undone. It is a great power indeed to view the world, largely without restriction. I also wonder of the fate of Namdrin Quinn. He left in an angry state, and I think his jovial nature belied a truely powerful individual. He could be disastrous to have at someone else’s service. More problems, for another time, tonight, I dine again and forget the cares of this place, of its peoples. For only a few hours, my cares will be my own.

Enter the Princess

Arodus, 4713

The road had been long, long enough for doubts to creep in about her demonic betrothed, long enough for them to give way to careless dreaming; to grow tired of her Uncle’s dour moods so juxtaposed against his manic, honeydust-addled reveries, and long enough for careful practice as to what she would say, how she would act. First, there was the journey down from Eagle’s Watch on Mount Veshka, her home. As the foothills dwindled behind them, she kept casting glances back at the lonely peak. Seeing it on the horizon was always a thrill for her as a girl, coming back from New Stetven. Now she’d be leaving it for perhaps years, for the darkness of the uncharted, white spaces on the map. Then came Silver Hall, the haunt of the Lebedas, where she called on her friend Elanna; the boat ride across the dark sapphire waters of Lake Reykal, to New Stetven, and the long journey on horseback south, over the plains of Rostland. She read his most recent letter over and over again, the one that started simply “Akilina,” and ended simply “S.”

She had met Sayd Krynn, the man she was to marry, and with whom she would preside over a backwoods kingdom of, if the stories were to be believed, fairies, werewolves, kobolds, halflings and trolls, for the rest of her life, only twice before. The first time was at a reception in Restov. Having seized control of a stretch of the Stolen Lands marked as the Narlmarches on her map, mercenary captain Sayd Krynn and his crew, the Black Cats, were poised to found a frontier settlement in the region, declaring the borders of a new country in the process. Unlike the other chartered luminaries tasked with reclaiming this expanse of the River Kingdoms for the Crown, though, Sayd Krynn was unmarried, in need of heirs, capable in the extreme, morally flexible, and impressively dangerous. Lady Vellara, the elven layabout ‘aristocrat’ and sometime counselor to the affluent, had even whispered in her father Poul’s ear that Sayd Krynn might be the most dangerous man in Brevoy—if not in current power, than at least in potential. She suspected it was just a ploy, of course, but the Orlovsky had not been slow to pick up on the opportunity: if they were to stand against the Surtovan claims to the throne, they would need the support of the Swordlords, and the Black Cats were poised to bulwark the southernmost border of Rostland. The chance at alliance was about thinking five steps ahead.

She was told she’d present herself to him, hoping for a match, at the same time as her friend Faelbrin Medyved and several others, at a party, a reception. The prince-to-be seemed apathetically unmoved by her flirtatiousness, but she caught a glimmer in his eye when she spoke of falconry and reading the stars from her high perch on the peak of Veshka. She’d never forget how he looked past her, as if she wasn’t even present, and told her father, Poul, that her would take her for his wife, or the look of subtle disappointment on the face of the Medyved contingent. She didn’t know whether to be excited, or frightened. He was enrapturingly handsome, powerful and stern, and when he turned back and told her how he’d receive her in the Stolen Lands when suitable accommodations were built, she simply nodded, demurely. There were discussions in the aftermath, but none of them questioning the decision. That was something she was left to do alone.

The second time they met was at the wedding of Nadya Surtova, when Sayd passed her at the ceremony, inclining his head with the slightest of nods. She had been told not to broach the subject of their nuptials, there—it was in bad taste to discuss such things at the Surtova ceremony, when so many ears were about. When the sky reddened and the devils of Hell were literally unleashed upon the island, she hid with Faelbrin behind her Uncle Aeden until they were separated in the pavillion. She was positive she would die, then, but there he was, striding through the door of the tent as if nothing in the world were amiss, wreathed in light from the fading sun behind him, his eyes icy with fury and disgust at the situation. From the second he walked in, Akilina could tell he was coming for her, and the relief that washed over her was something she’d never forget. Many girls dream of handsome princes coming to rescue them from the clutches of monsters, but few experience it in waking reality. He touched her, and Faelbrin, with his magick, making them vanish to the eyes of others, and ushered them out to safety. Uncle Aeden led them away, down the winding path, in haste; she did not see Sayd slay the Shadow Demon with his guile, but heard of it after, as everyone did. She didn’t get a chance to speak with him again, on the boat ride back—he was caught up somehow with Hamaria Surtova—but she told her father what he’d done, in Eagle’s Watch, on a sunny day. He was pleased.


In New Stetven, the entourage—herself, Akilina Orlovsky, her no account Uncle Mossy and his bastard sons, the twins Poe and Grey Posey, both thirteen—met with an advance party dispatched by Glamorfell. A surly half-orc, Sasha, seemed in a terrible hurry to get back to Foundling’s Reach; Elissa, wife of the Black Council member Kalkamedes, was excited to meet Akilina, and finally a charming young halfling girl named Persie Agerthorn introduced herself as Akilina’s new handmaiden, while the steely-eyed Ejir Flint would be her bodyguard.

In the weeks of overland travel following, Akilina introduced the Glamorfell natives to her Uncle, Mosbellam ‘Mossy’ Orlovsky, a fatter and more devious merchant than Oleg even, who, having worn out his welcome with his older brother, Poul, and having finally written away his inheritance and succession in exchange for covering his gambling debts, was making a new start of things in Foundling’s Reach at the Prince’s graceful invitation. His bastard sons, Poe and Grey, were both much more promising, the former with a head for figures and perhaps even arcane study, while the latter was a crack shot with a rifle and looking forward to life as a hunter.

Of her new acquaintances, it was like night and day: the stern aggressiveness of Sasha and the remote coldness of Ejir, a woman in her fifties and no stranger to the labors of a farm, counterpointed by the warm humor and liveliness of Elissa and Persie. Persie regaled her, giddily, with the story of how the Prince held a big audition for handmaid’s for his new bride, how he made them talk about court matters, morality, about fashion, about nature, how he made them dance and sing and so many other things besides, while his impassive magister, Lady Kaede, laboriously kept track of it all, and how in the end, SHE, Persie, was the one he picked. Wasn’t it just kismet? She squeezed Akilina’s hand tight, and in that moment, so many of the fears of the long journey blew away.

“Tell me about him, about the Prince, if you like…” she pressed on Persie and Elissa. The latter responded first, confiding: “When I first met him, he impressed me with his charm—he’s very charming, he can make you feel like you’re the only person in the whole world—but there was this dark side to him, as well. Callousness. I didn’t think he cared much for other people, people outside his influence—though he would do anything for a friend. He makes questionable decisions sometimes… like he sees the world as this jungle where the strong rule over the weak, and would think nothing of lying and deceiving to secure victory. He’s powerful, but treacherous, too… Since he assumed the mantle of Prince, these last two years, though, he’s been different, distant but also taking greater care in his responsibilities, as if he feels the weight of history on his shoulders… but that’s just my feeling on it. The there’s the forest, and him. He longs to be near it, always…”

Persie listened intently, adding: “I only moved to Foundling’s Reach four months ago. The tales about him in the outlying country had been impressive, like, talk of how he had demon blood, was born without parents in the deserts far to the south… he’s much, much older than he looks, they say. When I arrived in Foundling’s Reach, though, I heard much mellower accounts. They say the Prince is not to be aggrieved, like, I guess he responds to slights with undue reciprocity, like a force of nature, almost, but beyond that, he’s said to be wise, or whatever. He doesn’t sulk behind closed doors, for one, but walks among the people all day, often barefoot, I’ve seen it—and sometimes disguised as other people, or other creatures entirely. He’s a powerful sorcerer, the Prince is…. He… oh! He sings at the tavern sometimes, beautiful and sad songs…”

Elissa rolled her eyes. “He’s a passable singer. What he’s good at is making people like and trust him, want to serve him. His manners, his mystery, his exploits, it’s all part of that. He shrouds himself in myth. He draws to himself people of rare acumen, like Lady Yelenya, or Lady Kaede, General Feron, or Wally. People as strong as he is.”

Akilina blushed a little at that. “He sounds like something from a fairy tail, one with actual fairies… of which, gods, I’ve heard there are many in your land. But who are these others?”

Elissa patted down her prancer’s mane, looking out at the clarity of the sky. “Before Glamorfell and the Black Council came the Black Cats, our company. It was me, the Prince, General Feron, Lord Walorin, Ladies Kaede and Yeleyna and Josef Akulov, of Varnhold. We charted all the lands we’re riding through, all this. You’ll get a chance to meet all of them, in Foundling’s Reach. General Teret Feron is Brevic as well, from Rostland, I think. He commands Glamorfell’s military. Lyrina Varn, you know her, right? I think they’re an item, or soon will be… Wally Silverkin, he’s the Royal Enforcer, our greatest fighter, the deadliest champion of Foundling’s Reach, but he’s a real sweetheart, you’ll love him. Lady Kaede Fatebreaker is an elf from the lands far to the east, across the sea. She’s the smartest person I’ve ever met, the Magister of Glamorfell, she oversees the treasury, public works, civic policy, you name it. She’s the Prince’s chief adviser. Lady Yelenya, she’s been with the Prince far longer than the rest of us, she helped raise him, I guess. She’s part vampire, you know, a dhampir. She’s also the finest archer in the Stolen Lands, maybe in all of the River Kingdoms. She watches everything from the shadows, and, like, she’s really quiet, but if you get to know her, she’s an amazing friend. I really love her.”

Akilina nodded along, enjoying the sun on her face. “Is there a shrine to Abadar?” she asked, but Elissa shook her head. “My husband, Kalkamedes,” the oracle replied, “oversees the congress between various faiths in Glamorfell and helps offer counsel to those in need. Although the Prince is very superstitious, religious edifices haven’t been a high priority for the Magister, Lady Kaede. I can understand why. Foundling’s Reach plays home to many faiths, each with their own adherents. Sayd is a great believer in letting people find their own way, without forcing them, at least where faith is concerned. He holds a great reverence for the gods and is loath to offend them. He himself is a devout follower of Erastil.”

Akilina smiled softly, tossing her hair as she looked over at Elissa and Persie riding beside. “Yes, he’s told me,” she said, “How the Deadeye is the patron of Glamorfell. He counselled me that the petty manipulations of the nobility, the trappings of civilization are a necessary but disordered and exaggerated brokering of power via, oh gods, what did he say, something to do with transactions? It was all a little offensive. In his expositions, the family is the epicenter of mortal life, then the community, which is an extension of family. His own ideal of social transactions, he said, were those performed by the sweat of shared endeavor, the primacy of magick, the binding power of ritual. He seemed skeptical of money, not in the real sense but philosophically, he wrote that it was… a mechanism for abstracting the realities of work to divorce labor from the emotional context in which it occurs… I mean, not to joke between us, but it sounded foolishly naive, or propagandist… except that, underpinning his thoughts was a lack of idealism, as if he understands quite perfectly how the world works, understands the necessity of it all, but still has a vision for how it ought to function, which is romantic, in a way.”

Elissa glanced at Akilina, simply nodding as if she understood, while Persie giggled and tried to change the subject.

“You’re such an intelligent girl,” Elissa offered, smiling warmly. “It will be sure to please the Prince. He isn’t the most intelligent speaker I’ve ever met, nor the wisest, but he knows how to cut to the emotional heart of things. Between us, I think he has a tendency to repeat the teachings of others, maybe as they slowly bleed into his own beliefs. He’s a great believer in the wisdom of others. When I hear him speak of Erastil—mind you I don’t much favor the gods myself—he makes me want to believe, a little. He always tells us that the first gift we ever receive is our family. Maybe because he didn’t have one himself, he values it more, you know? For years he led these insular groups, the Black Cats most recently but there were others before, I hear. Being captain of mercenaries, especially alone in the wilds and for so long, that’s got to be like being a father to a family, and that’s the way he feels about Glamorfell, too, I know. You’re set to be separated from one family—” she glanced back at Mossy and the others, riding behind, “but you’ll be gaining a new one, in a way. It’s going to be a blessing, honey. Sayd’s whole life is draped in portent and prophecy. He’s a person of substance. You’ll be a part of that, now.”

Akilina, smiled and glanced down, petting at her steed, tucking a few stray locks of hair behind her ear. “I’m a little afraid,” she admitted. “Not about the Prince, he sounds wonderful, but about life out here. I’m used to magick sleeping in the land… our own peak, Mount Veshka, sits lonely on the horizon, and we see the skies clearly from Eagle’s Watch. The Orlovsky have a strong tradition of divination and prophecy, of reading the stars. But this land…” she glanced over to the edge of the forest to their west, “…this place is old and tangled in different ways. He told me that the lines of energy, the space between planes are muddied, here… that the forest is alive and can see, that he can see through it… and of course, the monsters, the kobolds, the trolls, the boggards. This is a true frontier…”

Elissa smiled quietly, guiding her horse a bit closer. She leaned in, confiding: “This land is like a well of fey enigma, treacherous power, and the Prince is a part of it. He ate the Apple of Discord. He can see things here the rest of us can’t, things the rest of us aren’t meant to. This land is… it’s part of him, and he of it… they are married, he and it, just as you are to be married. The turning of the seasons, the growth and decay, the predators and the things they feast on, he can feel it all, pulsing in his blood. The Stolen Prince. Or… or so he has said. In this land, you’ll be under his protection. Maybe he can see us even now.”


The words were no doubt meant to be reassuring, but they awakened in Akilina only a greater fascination and anxiety, a desire to peel back the mystery surrounding the man. She was a bit surprised at Elissa’s forth-rightness, having not sensed anything zealous about her until she so spoke. This was not the first time she’d heard rumor of the Prince and his connection to the wilds, it was mentioned in his letters, and spoken of by her father’s own oracles and seers. She understood that it was significant, somehow, but not to what degree. Later on, Persie confided in her some of the less savory rumors about the Prince: that he walked the Narlmarches by night, hunting in the dark; that his own councilors sometimes found him staring into the depths of a mirror, unaware of the passage of time; that he handled the ‘interrogations’ of prisoners personally, and always learned what he wished to know. That night, by the fire, Akilina read over Sayd’s letters again. They were less than a day’s ride to Foundling’s Reach, now. Tomorrow, she would meet him, would speak the lines she’d rehearsed along the road. She’d need time to settle in, of course, before the wedding. She’d—

The loud snap of a branch was the first sign something was amiss, followed by Ejir’s shout. Akilina wheeled back from the fire, looking into the darkness beyond, but the afterimage remained, blinding her. It was only a moment later when three grotesque, monstrous forms emerged into the light: spindly-towering, gangly-limber, scaly, moss-green, all long, hooked noses and shredding claws, slouching nine feet tall. Trolls.

Elissa pulled her back sharply, sharp enough to take her breath away, the oracle’s hand like iron on her arm as she stepped in front of Akilina and spoke some words in a language she didn’t understand, the tongue of giants, maybe. The lead troll smiled wickedly with its dagger-teeth, responding in common.

“The girll princesss, we’s wants herr…” it said, pointing at Akilina. Her pulse quickened. There was no way these guards could stop three trolls—and how did they know who she was? That she’d be here…? Magic…? She recalled Elissa telling her of the troll kingdom, how they were aligned with the hags, it all had to do with that Whispering Queen she spoke of. Was it hag magic that led them here?

Elissa tilted her head to the side, considering the trolls. Sasha, the half-orc and Ejir looked to the oracle tentatively, holding their weapons at the ready. Mossy was well behind, stumbling into his tent with Poe quick behind, though she spotted Grey readying his rifle, packing it down with powder.

Elissa sniffed. Finally, she said, in a level and icy voice: “This camp is under the protection of the Prince of Glamorfell. These lands belong to the Prince of Glamorfell. Be on your way, if you wish, or be destroyed. It matters not to me.” Akilina’s heart stopped at the words. What had come over Elissa, to sound so emotionless—and what was she thinking? They’d all be killed…!

Improbably, one of the trolls balked. He glanced at the others, licking his disgusting lips tentatively, and started to stammer. The leader would have none of it. “Yesss, tha’s nut gwingg to happennn, womann—” he hissed. “If you’s is luckyyy—”

But Elissa would hear no more. Holding one fist in front of her, the other hand gripping her wrist, she chanted, a magic seal written in pale blue light encircling her forearm. Then Ejir was grabbing her from behind, dragging her off into the darkness. She cast a look back, long enough to see Elissa draw her fist back through the seal, shattering it, and for living flames to appear around her, harrying the trolls. The half orc slid in, slashing at them with her sword, but the trolls were too huge, too fast. Then she had turned and they were just running. She heard the telltale bang of gunfire.

Later, Grey would tell her what he saw, how Elissa never stopped chanting, her chestnut locks floating around her head, pulling her fist through seal after seal as she summoned more and more elemental fire between her and the trolls; how Sasha stood in the breach, her sword flashing and taking a hand here or an eye there as she improbably kept the creatures back; how, having surrounded them with walking flame, Elissa began arcing wreaths of green balefire between them, burning them alive. How in the aftermath, they heard her screams from across the field.


“Gwinggg somewhyrr?” the monstrosity breathed as it raked a savage claw across Ejir’s face. She screamed in terror and pain but managed to retreat a step, holding her blade before her. They had come to the edge of a stream, the starry midsummer night and the fulsome moon reflected in its idyllic babble.

It’s claws rained down, one after another. Her sword flashed this way and that, cutting into it—this must have been a fourth interloper, one who hung back from the rest—but it was only a matter of time. With one last savage swipe it smashed her to the side, where she crashed against a rocky edifice and sank into a mortal recumbence, holding her stomach as her breathing quickened.

“Forgive me, my Prince…” she whimpered, her whole body trembling as the ten foot tall figure of raw muscle and hunger advanced on Akilina. That’s when they heard his voice.

“There is nothing to forgive,” he said, and as the claw swiped down through the night to snare Akilina, somehow, he was there, just as he had been that day on the island. She couldn’t see him, no, but the grasping hand stopped, the troll’s eyes went wide in surprise. And then, like a candle is lit one moment and then is out the next, he was standing in front of her, holding back the claw, and the green fire that flowed from his hands into the troll lit up the lazy brook like something from a nightmare.

When the creature was dead, sunk to its knees and blister-cracked, ashen, he planted a foot on its chest and pushed it down in an irrelevant heap. He turned not to her, not yet, but to Ejir, striding across the space between them like a panther, his hair long and unbound, his shape indistinct under a moss and leaf-covered cloak. He glanced to her quickly, his eyes lit by pale green fire, and she saw the bow-and-arrow broach clasping it shut, the symbol of Erastil. Then he was kneeling by Ejir’s side.

“My Prince, please, my sons… tell them th—” she coughed, wave of dark blood rushing from her mouth in a fit. Tears streamed down Akilina’s face, but Sayd looked unconcerned, moving slowly, even as he drew a long horn from his belt, hushing her even as he un-stopped it and poured it down her throat.

“Shhh, shhhh” he soothed, gently, brushing back the gray-haired matron’s hair as she struggled in pain. “You will not die this day, little one.” She squeezed her eyes shut; Akalina did the same.


Back at the camp, Poe and Gray were burning the troll bodies under Sasah’s direction, while Mossy looked on anxiously. Sayd carried Ejir in his arms all the way back from the stream while Akilina followed beside, numbly. He passed through the night with the dignity and malice of a vampire from legend, paying her no more mind than he would a servant. He laid her in a tent, and Akilina followed, sitting by the woman’s side, taking her hand. Sayd went out, maybe to find Elissa, and did not return for an hour. When he did, Sasha came in, frazzled, herself bloodied from the fight, and looked over Ejir. Sayd looked at Akilina with his back-lit eyes and said simply, “Come.”

She followed him back to the fire. It felt terrifying to stand out in the night, again; the fire was low, the bodies gone, the warmth welcome in the mild air, but anything could be out there in the dark. She swallowed. “How did you know to find us…? Th-thank you. For saving me,” she said.

He nodded slowly, eyes sitting like pale green disks in an otherwise shadowed face. “I was here, when they attacked,” he said plainly. “I’ve been with you since New Stetven.”

She stared. Mossy emerged from his tent, bumbling over with his characteristic lisp, saying “My Printhh! Allow me to introduth mythelf—” but he held his noble hand up without even looking in the Uncle’s direction. “Not now. Back to your tent,” the Prince intoned. Something in his voice, whatever power he held in it, shut the otherwise boisterous and corpulent Orlovsky up, and he retreated to his place with an offended look cast back over one meaty shoulder.

Sayd held up one hand, his distal phalanges hyper-extending slightly, and his form changed, his clothes, his hair, his face. It was Elissa standing before her, offering a perhaps apologetic look, and then she was Sayd again, the blonde of his long cascading hair glinting in the firelight. Akilina’s face paled. “You—you were Elissa?” Her voice was incredulous, angry a little, trembling now. “I thought you were my friend—!”

“I am your friend, lady,” he answered softly, interrupting her. “I know you have been through a lot tonight, but remember to whom you are speaking. I am your Lord and the Lord of these lands.”

She looked down, then, frightened, embarrassed, before gathering herself and meeting his gaze. “Yes, my Prince. Forgive my surprise.”

“It is nothing,” he said. “You are young, you are frightened, and I deceived you.”

“But why…?” she asked.

“I deceive everyone. You will come to understand in time,” he said flatly. She shook her head, smiling a little at last. Despite his words, something in his tone was comforting. “Those trolls, I thought we were done for… we have no such creatures in Orlovsky lands. I knew you to be fierce, but…”

“They are garbage. Trash,” he said, sliding his eyes up and down her body. “They should have stayed off my land. These hills belong to me. This forest”—he gestured—“belongs to me. None my pass without my leave.”

She blushed, smiling a bit wider, weary, her teeth snow white and perfect. Raked a hand through her hair. “This feels like a dream, it’s so strange. You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met. You’re like a character from a tale I read as a child…” she said, studying him hopefully, as if looking for recognition—but she found only brutal dispassion, the faint ghost of a smirk, perhaps.

“I’m quite real, I assure you,” he said.

“But um, as Elissa, didn’t you say Prince Sayd cloaked himself in mystery, in myth…?” she asked.

“Come, it is late,” he said. He led her to her tent—Persie retreated from the flap where she’d been eavesdropping—and laid Akilina down, planting a kiss gently upon her forehead.

“What if more trolls come…?” she asked. Persie looked up at Sayd too, her eyes wide at the possibility. “Then there will be fewer to kill later,” he said seriously. He slipped out of the tent, his hand sliding down the flap as he closed it. She thought she wouldn’t fall asleep right away, but she did.


Several of the horses had been casualties of the melee, she discovered in the morning, and had to be put down. She rode into Foundling’s Reach side-saddle in his lap, leaning into his chest, huddling in his cloak. He was an able horseman. He was an able everything.

The town was much bigger than she’d thought, and all the farms and mines they’d passed, besides. These weren’t insubstantial holdings, she’d seen the maps. Maybe half the size of Orlovsky lands, and it was amazing what they’d built in just a few years. There on the tall hill, the castle was half complete. Her new home.

He left here there, in her own place with Persie, to get acclimated, in the capable hands of Lyriina Varn, to meet the council, meet the important people in town; introduced Mossy to Edgrin and Oleg and Woodrow, and then he was gone.

“It will be this way, before we’re wed and after,” he explained. “I must know every inch of this land, I demand it, I require it. There are enemies all around us, Akilina. To the west, Drelev’s own ambitions are only held at bay by the literal and figurative quagmire in which he finds himself. To the south, the trolls and the Mivonese both threaten, although in unequal measure. On our doorstep, the kobolds are allies of coincidence. Go and speak with Vellara. Speak with Woodrow. I cannot always be here, in the Reach, I’m needed out there in the wilds, to press our interests and make war on our foes. The people still need a leader they can rely on, a leader with continuity, and even more, I need my voice represented to the council, I need my eyes watching them, and you will be that voice. You will be those eyes. Do you understand?”

She nodded softly. “I do,” she said.

“I have asked Jhod to come meet you, as well. He and Woodrow are planning the wedding. Let them know your wishes and they will see it done. Between Lyriina and Persie, I’m sure you’ll be at home here soon.” He lifted her chin with a light touch. “I know it has been a long journey—with a traumatic denouement—but you’re safe now. You’re safe here with me, now. I am not blind to the ambitions of your father, and all others who refuse to bend their knee to the Surtova clan. In this forest, I am drawing to myself a power of which lesser men can’t conceive, and with it, I will bend the world to my desires.”

He looked dead serious, so serious she feared to giggle at the audacity of his ego. “Yes, my Lord,” she said, instead, lowering her gaze. That seemed to go a long way with the Prince.

“We’re ready,” Yelenya said from the door. How long had she been there…? He nodded at her, then looked back at Akilina with a smile-less wink before turning and walking out.

She stepped over to the casement and looked down at the town below. The sun was warm but the breeze was cool. Lyriina would be there soon, not a proper noble, really, but a daughter of the Aldori Swordlords. She’d have to do. After she bathed, Akilina brushed her hair, studied herself in the mirror, pictured a crown on her head. It suddenly seemed more than possible. The Prince and his Black Council, in just three years, had carved out a thriving settlement from a lawless land. What else could they do?

Wally's House

The road approaching Wally’s house is newly worn and wagon-rutted dirt. The wild grass still overgrown and hedging in on the sides, including between the furrows which wind the light valleys of the gently sloping topography through open, largely unkempt fields.

A large assortment of wildflowers and other plants poke through the tall grasses, rare and underrepresented flora dot the horizon as you pass; some are strung up to get more sun, and some are covered to increase shade.

Around one particularly wide turn lies the house. A simple affair one-level with a large porch and thatched roof. Outside sits a wagon, decorated modestly in the tradition of harrow readers. It is here on warm summer nights where Ralla reads the harrow for townmembers. From the front yard, you can just make out the occasional horse whinnie, punctuated with strange snorts and grunts. You also take note of a particularly high concentration of honeybees in the area, thanks to a hive gifted from Tenzy.

The inside of the house is open-concept with low or few walls dividing the living areas. While the bedrooms and other areas are sequestered discretely behind closed doors The hearth itself is dominated by a large cauldron, while the surrounding kitchen seems to dominate most of the open-living area, it is difficult to distinguish any real functional separation due to the chaotic abundance of trophies and martial weapons hung proudly on all the exterior walls. Bundles of drying herbs, flowers, and other alchemical and/or medical ingredients hanging by string from the ceiling beams dominate the rest of the room. There is a profusion of chairs and tables, to the point where it almost resembles a tavern. The largest table, near a large is festooned with jars and bottles filled with various liquids, extracts and unguents. A large open book dominates one end of the table.

Through one of the side doors, a few steps down, leads to a well-swept work-room, with a wide wooden work bench. In the corner lies a small still, besides which is a rack full of earthenware jugs. The smell of barley, hops, and alcohol is strong in this room.

In a darkened rear corner by the pokers for the hearth, the dirt around the ill-fitting slate floor panel is slightly disturbed. This is the only evidence of the entrance to Durmo’s underground hidey hole. None know what secrets fill that dark abode, protected from intrusion with layers of traps.

Welcome Home, Imro

Edgrin turned his head and shouted over the noise of the squeaking, clanking, mule-drawn cart and the cobbled, bustling market street. “Imro sir, I, I can’t tell you how sorry I am about this,” he said. He had repeated the apology a half dozen times this long, hectic afternoon. Imro hunkered down on the thin blanket in the open, hard wood bed of the cart. This ride through town on cart was even tougher going than some of the rough unfinished trails he had been on in recent weeks. He reminded himself that despite the day’s trials, at least he was out of his armor, and away from the dangers of adventuring, and would soon be at a comfortable residence he could call his own. There was a sudden lurch, and Imro’s arm shot out to steady an unsecured cask of fine ale. Imro cursed in the dwarven language of his forebears. The cask was the most prized of the last-minute furnishings in the makeshift pile with which he shared the cart. Imro looked toward the darkening sky and realized that it wasn’t as late as he supposed; instead, storm clouds foretold imminent rain.

“Don’t worry, we’re almost there.” Edgrin was an energetic and affable halfling – even as halflings go – yet the smile he flashed in Imro’s direction didn’t contain the same boisterousness and enthusiasm that it had that morning. Despite his annoyance, Imro was bemused to discover that he felt true affection and a little pity for his new halfling friend.

It was understandable, the zeal with which Edgrin tended to Imro’s needs. What else could Edgrin do for Sayd, the untouchable Prince of the Reach, other than shower his love and gratitude on the Prince’s companions? And by doing any other work that he was asked to do, to the best of his ability. Edgrin was so eager to please, and was bursting with such loyalty to Sayd, Teret, Kaede, Wally, Yelenya – everyone Imro had been traveling with these recent months – that he had over-reached.

Edgrin had been tasked – weeks earlier – with finding Imro “suitable living quarters,” by Sayd himself, during a brief stop at Foundling’s reach to resupply. And as Edgrin learned the heroic story of how the Prince of the Reach had liberated Imro and a few other dwarves (Torvic, Lyrehawk, Merisk, and Daybreak) from the Accursed Halls, his moon-faced eyes widened with awe. All the dwarves had suffered in that place; Imro had been grievously tortured, and suffered memory loss as a result. But Imro wished to continue with the adventuring group, who were not staying long. So Edgrin conducted a single, hurried interview with Imro to find out what sort of house, specifically, he would like. Imro had explained that, unlike most dwarves, he sought out open skies and sunshine.

During their time away, the story of the Accursed Halls, and Imro’s part in it, had circulated among the townsfolk and the nearby countryside (and no doubt been highly embellished.)

The cart made a turn onto a narrow side street. Ahead, the cobbles gave way to rutted dirt that led up to a cleft in the mildly rolling, wildflower-speckled hills. The cart rocked more and jolted slightly less as the uneven wheels turned in the softer earth. A few raindrops began to patter gently down.

Imro was road-weary. During that first brief visit to Foundling’s Reach, he had felt empowered by the awesome, life-giving power of the Dawnflower, Sarenrae. He knew that she had lifted him up for a purpose, transformed him from the dwarf he had been before his ordeal in the Accursed Halls. Since then, he had lent his talents to the adventuring group, and it was hard work. They had fought life-threatening dangers, explored, and debated kobolds. Edgrind had been especially interested in the kobolds.

Convinced that he had fallen in with this group for some as-yet unrevealed divine purpose, Imro had not yet found what he sought, and he needed time to think. Then, once again within sight of the walls of Foundling’s Reach and promised rest, there had been yet another challenge, in the form of Marcellus and his fifty men stationed outside the city. This time, Imro had offered his thoughts and wisdom; there was (blessedly!) no need for his interference.

Imro desired time for reflection, prayer, and meditation. The rain was now pouring down in earnest. Imro squinted up at the sky, placed the thin blanket on his naked head, and kept his eyes and his hands on the cargo as the cart wobbled up and down hills.

After the matter of Marcellus and Akiros, it was discovered that they had arrived on a special feast day, that of the Midnight Dash. While he enjoyed observing the raucous and busy halflings as they celebrated, Imro was forgotten; and though he ate and drank merrily, he got little sleep. When Edgrin came round to collect him in the morning, Imro was discovered snoring in a tavern chair, still fully dressed, with his boots on the table. Imro did not mind being awoken early, once he saw that it was Edgrin, because he knew Edgrin was to show him to better lodging.

Imro soon observed that while the halfling population were both playful and industrious, they were not great communicators. Because of some misunderstanding between Edgrin and his coordinators-about-town, they had prepared, of all things, for Imro – a dwarf! – a houseboat. Now, Imro had preferences uncommon to a dwarf, as he himself would readily admit. Nevertheless, a houseboat was manifestly unacceptable even for him, and he told them so, in no uncertain terms!

When the mistake was discovered, it caused Edgrin’s well-meaning but bleary-eyed cohort of halflings to go into quite a flurry of last-minute activity. Imro would have stayed at an inn until the whole thing was straightened out, but Edgrin wouldn’t hear of it; he arranged that Imro stay with relatives of Edgrin’s, and this only for one night. He reassured Imro, rather sweatily, that they would get everything right by the next morning. Edgrin had a house in mind, he explained, and it was a good house. His friends had merely provisioned the wrong one. So Imro spent his second night in Edgrin’s second-cousin’s daughters bed, on Edgrin’s second-cousin’s farm. The bed was too soft by far; on the other hand, he did get bacon and coffee when the rooster crowed.

Edgrin insisted on getting everything done post-haste, today. All of Edgrin’s spare workhands were employed in moving the furnishings from the boat house to Imro’s actual house. Edgrin’s sense of etiquette required the two of them to be joined at the hip for the time being, so Edgrin had swept Imro along from shop to shop buying all sorts of housewarming wares, an activity he seemed to think would be enjoyable. Imro was too tired to argue. And now, finally, here they were.

The cart was stuck in the mud.

Edgrin dismounted and Imro stepped down and stretched his sore legs and back. It had been slow going through the mud and the rain, but they couldn’t have traveled more than a mile from the town center. Imro assessed the hopelessly mud-caked cart and the soft ground. There – Edgrin pointed up the hill – there could be seen a garden with trimmed hedges, and a structure with improbable angles, silhouetted by the setting sun. Sweet-smelling smoke from a cozy wood fire drifted up from a chimney, and here was Lyrehawk jogging down the path toward them with a great big smile on her face. It was, perhaps, the most beautiful thing Imro had ever seen.

Adventures in Babysitting
Wally and Kimmi

[Exterior; Narlmarch Forest, Night]

Wally and Kimmi are hiking through the woods with a destination of the newly(ish) recovered Shrine of Erastil. The full moon shining overhead flits through the pines casting myriad shadows.

“By Desna’s wings,” Kimmi whispers hoarsely, stopping and doubled over obviously out of breath, “Do you have elk legs? I have a stitch in my side.”

Wally slows his horse-like pace for a brief moment “These woods is dangerous, it be best if we git’er done fast; in an out. I reckon we can make camp jest up ahead, I think theres a clearin’. We can do some o’yourn educatin, and rest for the night.”

Kimmi rolls her eyes in the dark, “This sucks.”

Wally, already striding ahead in the gloom, “Then maybe you have the temperment for a herbalist…”

Kimmi snarls to herself, grits her teeth, and trots into the trees to catch up.

[Sometime later]

In a small moonlit clearing, the two have made camp. Around a modest campfire, Wally and Kimmi finish sparring with light arms.

“Good! An I see yer jest about growed inty that armor I give to you. Go fetch us some dinner, I got somethin needs attend to.” With that, Wally sits down and begins scribbing on a piece of parchment.

Kimmi sheaths her short sword, grabs her bow and arrow and ventures off.

Once in the woods, Kimmi’s vision slowly clears from the bright light of the campside to the dim light of the wood. The air is damp and cool, and the trees feel almost oppressively close; for they are deep in the forboding Narlmarches. As she walks, Kimmi squeezes hard at the token around her neck, a tiny effigy of her prodigal father, hoping for luck in her hunt.

“Tracking at night, what the shit. Redneck idiot, what is he even thinking? We’re both going to starve.”

Suddenly Kimmi’s blood runs cold as she hears a low growl turn into a menacing chuckle, too close for comfort.
“…And here I thought I was the only one who was hungry, little Kimmi…”

Kimmi turns and runs toward the camp at full speed, the ache in her legs suddenly forgotten in her panic.

The sounds of rustling and cackling erupt behind her, “Yes Run!”, followed by a terrifying howl.

Kimmi passes into the clearing, “Wally! Help!”, but stops short blinking in shock and disbelief – the barbarian is nowhere to be seen.

In that instant, something bursts out of the dense treeline behind her, slamming her forward and knocking her off her feet towards the fire. She turns to face her attacker while scrabbling backwards with her hands in a panic, unable to draw her sword.

“Oh Wally Help!”, Jeva mocks in gravelly falsetto, rising to her full height and bearing down on the prone Eaveswalker. The firelight reflecting in the werewolf’s eyes and fangs giving her an even more wicked and demented appearance.

“Don’t mind if I do!”, the sound of the Wolfkiller axe whistling through the air above Kimmi’s head cuts Jeva’s cackle short, followed by a solid thunk as it embeds itself in Jeva’s shoulder before disappering in a cloud of motes.

Jeva snarls as Wally (with a howl of his own) takes a running leap over both the fire and his prone apprentice, landing between Kimmi and Jeva. His whirling silvered scythe blazing with reflected firelight and rage. Jeva steps back in surprise, just as Wally spins the scythe, sticking the pole between Jeva’s legs and twisting, causing her to trip backwards.

“Leave her alone, you bitch!” Wally swings at Jeva as she springs to her feet. Ducking and weaving, Jeva snarls one last time before withdrawing to the treeline. “One day, inbred! Would-be-King of Wolves! I will feast!”

“It’s Ragebred King of Wolves to you!” Wally shouted after her into the darkness, the only response a retreating howl.

Josef: Delving Into the Past

Immediately after the battle with the goblins, Josef stands to the side for a moment while you loot their corpses, finding what trinkets you can beneath the massive sandstone columns of the pool room. Kaede’s light, a glittering outline of a stag that throws off a succession of colors, remains the only illumination, throwing long shadows across the dark pool of water.

Josef runs his hands over a seeming crack in the one of the enormous blocks. He closes his eyes for a moment, his left hand gently stroking the oversized ghastly knife at his waist.

“The wizard’s name who built this place was Nhur Athemon. I remember the stories now – how he had this tower built, hiding from the other Thassilonian wizards he had no doubt angered somehow. This basement is all that is left of that tower – such strange architecture – so many redundancies. It really makes no sense. What could have driven him to it?”

The archaeologist steps back for a moment, considering.

“I can see much, due to the ancient secrets I have delved. But the motives of mankind often remain a mystery to me. The more I delve into the past the less… real… my present often seems seems.”

He looks startled for a moment, the look of surprise easing into a troubled frown.

“We never talk about our pasts much around here, do we? Not here, in the River Kingdoms. Its considered garish for most. We’re all trying to run away from something – a memory that haunts us or a past we’d like to remedy or forget.”

“The truth is, most of you have better reasons to dodge your past than me. I grew up relatively privileged – my father an aspiring accountant and my mother an academic at the University, specializing in the migration of Kellid tribes across what would become Brevoy. Safe work – the machinations of the great houses seemed distant to us, part of another reality.”

“They had dreams for me, aspirations. They were delighted in my pursuit of archaeology, avid patrons of my studies. I was a promising student, a perfect blend of curious and unquestioning – the kind of student a professor loves. One who does not question their own genius. A favorite of the faculty.”

“Until I met Nigel Aldain.”

“Do you remember him at all? The most un-elf elf you’ve met in quite some time? Wedded into Brevic nobility and engaging in the – what must seem like absurd – dance of the noble houses in order to secure funding for his museum?”

Josef laughs for a moment

“Not an easy man to like, certainly. Precocious. Shrill. Unwilling to acquiesce a point he disagrees with when he would be better served to shut his mouth. But I ran into him on a graduate course study and his ideas – well, they just seemed to have a life of their own. A chance meeting devolved into near fisticuffs over a disagreement regarding historic Issian burial customs.”

“He showed me that academic study can be endlessly augmented by viewing it through the lenses of occult study. He illuminated and inspired me. Or ruined me, depending on your point of view. He was an expert on topics that most people dismiss as ludicrous: Phrenology, psychometry, subconscious access to past life experiences. He told me that I had an immediate talent for it, and it seemed that it was so. Within mere weeks I could pick up an ancient tool or weapon that we had studied for months at the University — I could pick up and instantly see the barbarian who wielded it to kill his own kin out of revenge! For a moment, I was that barbarian, full of rage and righteous clarity of decision! It was intoxicating.”

“But this kind of study it, … it is not taken seriously. Discerning the use of an object by divining the emotional state of its wielder – well, its seen as chicanery. ‘Most Un-scientific!’, my advisor said. Another called it a ‘desecration of the scientific method’. They cautioned that it was dangerous, that it opened oneself up to intervention and influence from otherworldly powers that sought to obscure and pervert knowledge, not preserve it.”

“And they were right, in part. I have been misled a dozen or more times through my intuitions. But they are also addictive – the feeling of living someone else’s life, to be displaced in history – it is an immense thrill. It is achieving a sense of self separate from one’s incredibly limited point of view. I dont know if you understand how meaningful that can be.”

“My parents tried to dissuade me, the most time I spent with Nigel. All my academic credit, all the reputation I had been working toward as a scholar – and theirs, too! – was being discarded, they said. I was selfishly ruining both their careers and my own by publishing papers tainted by occult knowledge that was, by its very nature, almost impossible to verify by scientific means.”

For a moment, a rare display of grief and emotion cross Josef’s face. But just as quickly, as he touches Heart Ripper at his side, it vanishes. He sighs.

“I haven’t spoken to them in years. I simply became… distant. It was best for them, if their son was seen as a random outcast, a rogue outlier. I spent months holed up in the Museum Illuminated with Nigel, working on discerning prophesies and portents more exciting than anything I could have pulled out of a dusty tome. His elven sense of timelessness seemed to transfer to myself, for a spell. I lost all track of time. I studied with a focus and disregard for time that was all-consuming”

“Months later, i was nearly penniless, destitute, my head awash with ideas that were not my own. I would say I was lucky to find Lord Maegar Varn but the truth is … men like Varn will always exist for men like myself. He hired me to ostensibly unearth the past within Varnhold in order to secure its glorious future, and I have been doing so.”

“But just as much as he desires the prosperity of Varnhold, Maegar Varn desires glory for himself. I think this is obvious to anyone who meets him, and I do not think ill of him for it. It is an unavoidable part of human nature.”

“Desna knows that I have seen enough of human nature, through the eyes of others, to know its pitfalls. It is cyclical… mankind. The Azlanti were orders ahead of us in society and technology by they had the same petty poisonous aspirations and moral pitfalls waiting to ensnare them. I often wonder if there is a way out of that vicious cycle for humanity, perhaps by looking to inspirations in cultures who have…. well, shed it for something else.”

Josef lapses into a quiet again, looking up at you for a moment with his brow furrowed and then smiling his eternal polite smile. He quickly resumes his diligent work.

On Being Human
The quest for immortality in alchemy

“I think you poisoned him.”, Ralla’s voice filtered calmly into the room.

The mulletted barbarian did not even look up, seated on a tall stool and hunched over a large wooden workbench and laboring over a parchment scroll of formulae and hand-scrawled schematics of brewing and distilling equipment.

“Uh-huh.” he muttered, and continued to focus on his work, struggling as clumsily with the delicate charcoal pencil and his stunted literacy as with the complicated subject-matter.

The minor distraction proved just enough for his mighty hand to shatter the much-suffering writing implement; he cursed it as he threw it to the floor.

“Dag it! Durmo, fetch me another gods-durned writer! Please!”, he bellowed and turned.

The miniscule and misshapen kobold, eyes bulging at the sudden shout, stared in horror as the barbarian whirled around without looking and nearly trod him underfoot. Already only two (kobold sized) paces away, ready with yet another ‘writer’, the diminutive butler squeaked and jumped back quickly.

“Oh! Sorry little buddy! HAHA! I near squarshed you there!” whereupon Wally lifted his foot (in a terrible attempt at humor) to compare its size to that of the Kobold. “We needa get you one of them ridin’ weasels your kin use, jest to give you some reco-nition.” as he snatched the wrtiter out of Durmo’s nerveless grasp.

“Did you hear me?” Ralla’s, now entering the room, finally permeated Wally’s thick consciousness. “I said I think you poisoned him. He seems poisoned.”

Dimly, Wally became aware of the sounds of retching, spitting, and general agony somewhere on the other side of the house.

“Poisin’d! By alcohol? I ain’t ne’er heered of such a thing! Maybe he done ’et to mucha your pheasant pie lasty night!”, Wally retorted. Irritated, he dropped his writer, shattering it on the ground as he strode out of the room. Durmo, who had spent many nights cobbling together remnant pieces of broken charcoal, let out a low wail.

Following the unpleasant noises, Wally soon came upon his friend and compatriot, Harpell Moonwalk, who was out near in what Wally liked to refer to as the Back Wash. Harpell, curled into the fetal position, was laying on the ground in obvious distress. His normally fine raiment was soiled by both his own expulsions and those of the hogs he currently wallowed in a sty with. The evidence of Ralla’s ministrations were evidenced by the pungent herbs, peels, and other natural remedies that had been both ingestested and expelled.

“Ooooeeeeiii boy! What is the matter!” Wally exclaimed. Harpell, who had taken refuge in the one shady spot in the entire pasture, grimaced at him, clutched his belly, and said “That potion isn’t the fountain of youth, its a gateway to the hells!”

“Well shi’it. You goan be a’ight? Should we call ‘pon Jhod, or you reckon we need t’go direct to Woodrow an take yer last will and testamet?” Wally put his hands on his hips and spit some chaw to the side.

Harpell couldn’t help but give one belly laugh before heaving again. Upon his recovery, “No, it’s fine, but even if this is going to work, we need to find something to replace extract of elderflower because I am never, ever, going near that stuff again.”

Squatting down, and in a more serious tone, Wally nodded gravely “This was sposed t’help cleanse the body of impurities; make you stronger, quicker, heathier. I ain’t convinced it ain’t doin it’s job now- considerin how much nasty bile you are expellin.” Wally sucked on his teeth and the piece of straw in his mouth, “On t’other hand, cain’t be right if you’re all ashambled like this neither… we goan hav’ta work on it s’more.”

With that, Wally stood abruptly, and took a step fluidly towards the door. Barely recognizing the presence of Ralla, who was hurrying past him with a new herbal tea for her patient, and Durmo (who had already learned his lesson and stood 3 kobold paces away and to the flank) quivering and holding a charcoal pencil in his outstretched palm.

Introducing Imro
Lady Morieth awaits

I found this sheaf of leatherbound pages among the items which are mine. Although I have no memory of them, the scimitar, the shirt, the wrought rose I wear on my breast – I feel they are a part of me. But there is nothing written here; a good half of the pages have been ripped out and the remainder are as blank as a cloudy sky that stretches forever. (Why should I, a dwarf with an affinity for dark places, why does my heart leap at the thought of open sky?)

Torvic is here, the poor bastard. We have been similarly mistreated but I seem to have fared better. We are … colleagues? Friends, perhaps. I trust him, and the others. We – Torvic and I – and some others were together on a journey of intellectual discovery (something … the Gallery of Wonders?) when we were taken by hissing, gibbering creatures, and brought to this foul place. But those other companions are not all here, those few remaining have suffered as I have. There are new others, warriors, of sorts … people I am certain I do not know, and yet I trust them in this damnable place. (The confusion still comes and goes, by Azathoth’s Balls! Deep breaths.)

The pages, were they removed by the madman, my captor … more games? I begin to feel a pulsing pain around my head. I can hear his whispering voice, and that of … Her … I want to rip this blank book to shreds, Lady help me!

I must hurry, as memories are as evasive as the sightless fleet-winged creatures glimpsed here and there in the corners of this stinking hole, so unlike the comforting close tunnels of my (home? boyhood?)

I know my name now, it is Imro. But I feel I could forget even that after the next watch, when I lay down my head in exhaustion.

I am uplifted now – help has come – though this horror may be far from done. But I get ahead of myself. I should start at the beginning. I must focus, somehow, to the extent I can, on my current situation, and commit to writing what I can.

Derro, is that what he named himself? – the chief of my captors. The thought of him unsteadies even my iron stomach. I choose, for now, not to write about the pointless unspeakable violations he inflicted on me, and apparently those taken with me, including … my friend … Torvic … (I forgot his name for a moment but I had previously written it. The musty fungus that suck and feed here and there on the walls of these caves are a constant reminder of the experiments! If I stare too long, it becomes harder to think.)

We are talking of moving again, so I must write quickly. I have not written of the miraculous part. When I came to my senses on the table and found the straps loose, I somehow found my strength, clambered to my feet and reclaimed these things. I could hear sounds of melee in the next room. Upon making my way there, I saw strangers (now my erstwhile companions) in battle against the creatures who had helped to keep me captive. I will not be believed without proof, and I doubt my own sanity. But they are a motley bunch! Imagine my astonishment to see a knight on a warhorse, here in these close nether halls! (And they have not ceased, any one of them, to astonish me since, these singular characters.)

I lacked the speed and strength to reach the fray, over in moments. And yet who should I lay eyes on, fleeing these liberators, than this Derro himself? And coming right toward me! As if in response, I saw and felt a glow; looking down at the scimitar in my hand I witnessed it bathed in quiet, holy flames! And I barred Derro’s way.

They wounded and captured him. Seeing me no threat to themselves, and it being evident from my condition and Derro’s words that something untoward and curious had happened, they allowed me to join in interrogated him. It soon became clear to me, in this chamber of horrors, that neither I nor our strange party, could safely suffer him to live. Nor, in my heart, did I wish to. By sweet Sarenrae! I understand why those of evil heart thirst for revenge! In this case it was fully justified – nay, righteous. Thank The Goddess for her providence – with my weapon, I struck him down in flames! With hardly a whimper, his death was quicker than he deserved.

We are still in Her domain, I am certain. Lady Morieth drove Derro to his madness I think, and I too succumbed. We may have to face her yet. Being surrounded by these seasoned adventurers fills me with hope. Should the Dawnflower grant it, I will write more of these exceptional and unconventional figures.

[notes in the margins: Teret, Kaede, Yelenya, Wally, Sayd]

Teret's House

Made entirely of wood, exactly the same as any other in Foundling’s Reach, the home of Teret Feron is relatively nondescript on the outside. Occasionally, a sentry or two will be stationed outside as meeting are held, but otherwise, it appears as any other. Inside, the entryway is made of wood still, but smoothed to a finer finish. Upon examination, most of the single floor dwelling does had hardwood flooring throughout. It is sturdy, and looks more earthen than the flowery fanciness of nobility, its owner would comment if pressed. Immediately next to the entrance are a few swords, axes, and a bow with quiver if defense is called for. It also serves for those who visit to deposit their weaponry as needed. Directly to the left is a parlor, with comfortable seating, and modest decorum. Of strong note is the Féron Crest in middle of the interior wall. The Two Headed Hydra on a split field of Black and red, with a V of opposing colors. In the center a radiant sun of gold over white. The parlor is largely unadorned with a service table for wine and refreshment otherwise. Opposing the parlor is a dining room, set for half a dozen. The owner hosts smaller dinners on occasion and prefers smaller groups for company. Larger gathering are held in more formal acccomodations within Foundling’s Reach. The settings are simple, not ornate, but matching the station of a council member while being practical. Leading straight from the entryway leads you to a pair of double doors that open to a study space. A large table, almost always adorned with the known expanse of the Narlmarch under the care of the Black Council is spread across. A modest library of books the owner has read touches a back wall, with a few scrolls and parchments otherwise not carefully placed. Also visible next to, or on, several walls are pieces from the conquests of the Black Cats. A set of ancient Wight armor, which appears to have been picked apart and reassembled. The Lonely Kings’ shield is placed upon a wall, reverent respect without paying homage or idolizing. To the right, off this study room is the refreshment room, with little adornment but a mirror, shaving accessories and a dry sink. Opposite that, across the study is a modest bedroom with a queen size bed and a stiff mattress. Years on the road has given its owner a particular taste for hard packed accommodations, and a soft mattress leads to a lack of sleep. A simple wooden storage for day shirts and shifts is visible directly next to the bed, and a small closet is visible with a patching station for the master’s armor.

Aftermath of Nonna Popov's Farm

Sayd held the child close to his chest as their horses walked grimly through the mud, in the falling rain, shielding it with his magic. A bolt of lightning shot across the sky on the western horizon, followed seconds later by the rolling crash of thunder. The night was as terrible as the Black Cats’ mood.

The dark held no secrets for his demonic vision, however. He looked back behind him, over the companions in his wake, and forced a smile as Yelenya caught his eye. Elissa, soaked to the bone and terrified, was leading the blind Kaede; Yelenya was in her own world of wrath, no doubt plotting revenge; Miles Bandy followed along, hollow eyed, and Teret, riding a borrowed nag Obediah had liberated, looked a broken man, his eyes downcast.

They had wanted to burn the farm to the ground, but he didn’t let them. A cool hand was required in a dangerous situation, and despite his reputation as a hothead, his time as Prince had taught him to temper his baser instincts for revenge. This was a matter for the priests to decide. Still, he could hardly recall a time when, despite apparent victory, his friends had seemed more demoralized.

He sat at the head of the table as they waited for Vagda, the last council member to arrive to this midnight session. To their credit, none of the council members complained about being woken from their slumber at such a late hour, or in the case of Edgrin, dragged from their dance hall. Grim faces echoed the concern that he and the others could do little to hide.

Sayd sat silently, thoughtfully, while the blind Kaede, with input from Yelenya and Teret, filled in the council on the precarious situation in which their nascent country now stood: a cult of the Hag Goddess Gyronna, hundreds of years old, stalked these lands, and had taken root in Foundling’s Reach right under their noses. A curse that could only be ended with the sacrifice of a male ruler plagued their town. Babies were being swapped out for hag children. All eyes turned to the rescued child, now asleep in Elissa’s arms, as this point was driven home.

Then the strategizing began. Should the public be warned, or should this secret be kept quiet until it could be handled. Could an outside force be aiding this cult, was it part of a broader conflict, could the Queen of Whispers be behind it?

Oleg, hesitantly, offered “If it had been little Yellie who was taken—by that monster, Kedrova…I don’t know what I would do. But still, if word of this spreads, it will hurt our growth. Who wants to move to, or trade with, a Gods-cursed town?”

At this, Sayd held up his hand, calling for silence. So far, he had not spoken.

“This is not a question of economics,” he said, at length, apparently choosing his words carefully.

He paused for a long time, though his face clearly indicated he was framing his thoughts. Edgrin looked like he might sneak a thought in, but he held his tongue. Finally, Sayd continued.

“I grew up in the Ankar-Te, in Kaer Maga, the City of Strangers. I scrambled down the streets with liches, beholders, gnolls, blood mages and thieves of every stripe and description. In a place like that, these cultists wouldn’t make one bat an eye.”

He stood up, circling behind his seat to put his hands on the top of the chair-back, and stared down at his council. “I am a creature of dark magic, born from the Midnight Isles, if the priests can be believed. I was carried to Varisia from the desert lands, far to the south. I grew strong in a place of adversity, of impossibly cosmopolitan strife, where nothing is held sacred, and everything is for sale. I have fought in wars, I have traded secrets, ended countless lives, most deserving, and so much more, in the name of conflict, fame and treasure. When I pressed for command of the Black Cats, I wanted nothing more than to carve our mark on these lands and make us all fabulously rich. I mean truly, that was my goal for us: power, celebrity and massive wealth. I have always felt that tradition was foolish, that nothing was to be taken for true, that by expanding our minds, our awareness, our tolerance and our willingness to learn, we would all grow stronger. That was the lesson of my homeland. That has been the true compass of my life.”

He gazed around from one person to another, searching their faces for recognition. “You are asking yourselves what this has to do with out current predicament, I have no doubt. Well, I assure you, it has everything to do with it. Because this—” he said, gesturing around at the room, and the town beyond the windows. “This is not Kaer Maga. And that’s the point. People grow, and change, and learn truths, based on their environment. In Kaer Maga, to hold something sacred is to court weakness, because there is no constancy there, and the thing you choose to love is just a commodity to someone else. Opening yourself to caring, to thinking in moral terms, will just break your heart. It will shatter it.”

Sayd looked down, momentarily, before continuing, his voice certain. “We all brought our baggage with us here, to this place, didn’t we? Kaede runs our projects, lays plans and keeps books with the sagacity of a Tienese minister. Teret trains our men as he was once trained, passing on knowledge and discipline. We apply our wisdom, our resources, our backgrounds, to the work at hand, don’t we? Only, not all our wisdom is equal.”

Waving down Elissa’s raised hand, like something one would see from a school child, Sayd continued “I dreamed of creating a land of equality, where people like me, like many of us, would not be judged for how we look, for the circumstances of our birth, for our creed, but would tolerate and accept new things. Such was the reality of my homeland, and as I have fought across the world for all these years, I often sorely missed it, when Yelenya and I were judged. Absalom was the only city we visited, outside the breadth of Varisia’s city-states, where we felt anywhere near as welcome. Many of you know that I honor all the gods, that I am a man of faith and mysticism. Desna is the patron goddess of my homeland, and she has always held a close place in my heart, beside Calistria, who teaches us to respond a thousand fold to the merest slight, and Nethys, who cares only for the power of magic. These are the ones I most often prayed to.”

“That was the man you met in Restov, three years or more ago, now. Quick to anger, caring only for the thrill of conflict and the comforts of wine and pleasure houses. Eager to match wits with death, perhaps too eager…”

Sayd’s smiled softly at this. “We walked these lands together, every day charting our progress on maps, filling in details. I, who had seen much, saw things in the Narlmarch that were new to me. I had been away from society before, on expeditions, but never for so long. I came to appreciate the long silences, the quiet marches, the riot of colors in the autumn, the endless plans of snow in the winter. And there was something different about this place, I am sure of it, for all of us. We had to rely on a very fragile lifeline, represented by Oleg’s outpost. After protecting it from the Stag Lord, many of you began to think of the people there as your friends, and perhaps more. Yelenya and Svetlana took to each other as only two Varisians far from home can do. Teret befriended the Free Irregulars. Wally took to the other locals, Elissa met Kalkamedes, and when we discovered Hollow, you made that many more friends. But not me.”

“I confess that I never trusted or revered a single soul we met except Baba Magori, and Josef, who was an outsider like us. I practically called Jhod a spy for the Stag Lord; I converted Woodrow and Akiros to our side because it was strategically sound; I held a grudge against Oleg for trying to out-negotiate us for a very long time. I was angry at Elissa for leaving. I despised our enemies and had no problem eradicating them, showing not an iota of sympathy for breaking my word when I did. I do not regret any of those things because I believed I was doing right by my friends, and because I kept us alive, and led us to victory. But things have changed.”

At Sayd’s self-indicting words, reactions from knowing smiles to frustrated groans to bitter looks to empathetic understanding crossed the faces in the room. He appeared completely indifferent to the reception, clearly intent on his message.

“What have we accomplished here, with our emphasis on control, with our focus on constant trade, on growth, on commerce. Do you know I actually was upset at how many halflings have flocked to our lands? Rather than think, here are people who want to be part of something, I asked myself, why have dwarves not answered the call? We need masons. We need miners. I asked myself, why is this society not growing as I command it? Why do the people listen to charlatans? Do they not see everything we’re doing for them, to protect them?”

He laughed then, a rueful sound. “How blind I was. How fucking blind.”

Sayd walked slowly around the table, stopping behind Woodrow’s chair, and placed his hands uncomfortably on the Asmodean priest’s shoulders. “What do we think Woodrow wants? So many of you have feared his motives, I’m sure. After all, he worships the Prince of Darkness, doesn’t he? But he is just a person, like all of us. I imagine wants the same thing as many of us, power and authority, to shape his own destiny, and this town’s. This kingdom’s. Despite our very different philosophies, Woodrow and I are friends. He’s very valuable to me.”

“Thank you, my prince” the priest offered at Sayd’s pause, his face clearly unsure of whether a dagger might be suddenly jammed in his throat. Yelenya looked on curiously, trying to deduce what Sayd was up to.

He continued stalking around the table, speaking as he passed each chair. “Kalkamedes and Elissa want a peaceful place where they can raise a family, and no one ever goes hungry. Vagda wants the principles of Torag and the noble traditions of the dwarves to have a place here. Everyone has their own vision. I’ll tell you what I want,” he said, stopping back by his own chair.

“I want a land of peace, a land of plenty, where the people are happy and content and can go about their lives, living and growing old without fear of the dark and horrible things of this world, and where I can settle down, after a long life of war, and create something beautiful, and watch it grow, and build a family. Because here is the reality, for those of you too young to have learned it on your own: the world is a dangerous place, and although I may romanticize the philosophical cosmopolitanism of Kaer Maga, the fact is that that place was a death-haven where the weak and the innocent and the good were driven under the heels of the strong and the devious. I grew up an orphan—”

He paused then, sudden emotion flashing across his face and rising in his voice, before it subsided. “I was raised in a stone alley hell, and it did nothing but make me callous, and cold, and controlling, and quick to wrath. I don’t fight fair and I don’t show mercy. And that’s fine. That’s who I am. The world needs killers like Yelenya and me, because there are bad things in the dark. But she—” he said, gesturing at the child asleep in Elissa’s arms. “All of them, they deserve to be safe in their beds at night, don’t they? They deserve that. I want to give them that. Not to atone, or anything. The gods know me well. I have no doubt they will welcome me into Heaven when my hour comes. This isn’t about atonement. It’s about what’s right.”

“Think about that for a minute. What is right? What kind of society did we want, and what have we built after two years? I see a town a land that we labor on ceaselessly, trying to position ourselves for the best trade opportunities, because that fills our coffers and allows us to expand even more. We worry about the kobolds: will they seize more territory than we want them to? Will they ally with the trolls. We have juggle the needs of our neighbors, and all of it is to the end of growth, expansion and wealth. It makes sense, right? A wealthy society is a happy society, right?”

In a sudden motion the shocked everyone, Sayd slammed his hand down on the table, hard enough to splinter the wood. “WRONG!” he shouted, anger showing on his face.

He chuckled then, calming down, and brushed the bangs away from his beautiful features. “We have labored to create a society of strong infrastructure and very intelligent planning, where none of the people are of a mind. Our citizens endeavor to create new trade opportunities, farm the land, work the mines and the rivers, trying to make coin and something of themselves, but nobody believes in us or in this town. They are all, individually, in it for themselves, although I suppose to an extent, the halfling population can be said to be in it together. There is no loyalty to this council, this town. We’ve created economic opportunities, the people have flocked to it, but they don’t have anything resembling a common purpose. Now, this is no one’s fault—we made a choice, to foster the economy and growth, rather than looking after the spiritual and philosophical needs of the people. But what has it given us? A budding town where a single—” he said, raising one finger, “a single dissenting voice, granted, that of a bard who specializes in turmoil, but a single dissenting voice could wreak chaos among the population. A budding town where we do nothing to care for the women wronged by their men and by society, and the cult of Gyronna has now taken root. I will follow this path no longer. From now on, my sole purpose is to frame and shape the development of our society along moral and philosophical grounds, to create a bastion of communal ties in our town, the outlying farms, and the kingdom.”

Oleg raised his hand, saying, hesitantly “But what does that have to do with this cult, again?”

Sayd nodded, listening, and then continued. “It has everything to do with the cult. I will tell you what we all know to be true, now: the cult of Gyronna has existed in these lands for centuries, poisoning the earth, spreading their hatreds, fanning discontent. You can ignore it, if you want; you can ignore that our castle is being built on the site of an old monastery to Gyronna, that we have heard rumors of the Tiger Lords to the north welcoming her champion into their fold. SHE IS PART OF THIS, ok? If there were a priestess of Pharasma or Desna here with us now, she would read the threads of prophecy and confirm it. We are beset, in these lands, by old fates, old lies, and weaknesses between our plane and the First World. These are real dangers we face. This hag coven is out there, plotting our destruction, and they are whispering in the ears of the Troll King. They would have turned the kobolds against us had I not been there to shore up our alliance! The Queen of Whispers and the Duchess of Hoarfrost claim these lands as their own. Agents of the Surtovas and the Drelevs try to weaken us. The Empire of Cheliax and many others have no love for our anti-slavery laws and our protection of halflings. Open your eyes. We are walking a razor’s edge, and this cult is evidence of how we are going it alone.”

“We have slept at the temple of Erastil, and drank from his pool; we have shaded ourselves in the shadow of his statue, many of us. Did you not feel peace? We have seen the Grim White Stag, not in passing, but he came to us and taught us how to bind ourselves to the forest. I have drawn plenty of attention from the gods in my career, or it has felt like it, but never have I seen so powerful a sign. When we first came to these lands, I began praying to Erastil, along with many other gods I worship. I could tell he had a special place here, but as we explored the Narlmarch, it became apparent how special. Old Deadeye is in these lands. He is watching them. He sent his servant to aid us. He wants this town to flourish. He is protecting us, that’s what he does, and I’ll be damned if we will not repay him for it. And I will say it before you all: the God of Hunters is my patron now. I prayed to him before we faced the Stag Lord, because of the desecration of his symbols I saw there, and he delivered us; I prayed to him when we faced the minions of Gyronna, and he delivered us. If the Hag Queen exists to cause strife between women and men, Erastil does the opposite. He teaches that families and communities must be strong, and that tradition and seniority have power. I am the Elder, here. I am the father of this kingdom. The flaws in our society are down to my lack of social leadership, and that ends now.”

“We will crush this cult of Gyronna, but not without addressing the underlying problem, which is that women are being mistreated by some in our town and our farms. We will take whatever steps we must to ensure that families stay together, that no women is cast out by her peers, and that men who galavant about causing pain are ridiculed for it as faithless and worthless.”

“In short, we need an ally more powerful than Gyronna, more powerful than the Queen of Whispers, and my heart tells me that Erastil, the hunter god who watches over us in the deep wilds, is that ally. He has revealed secrets to me. I have seen them, walking the wilds, alone, in the cries of the birds and the turning of the seasons. They say that Erastil gave the first bow to man, and taught him how to follow and slay his quarry, that we did not starve, but instead grew strong. In the cities and metropolises of the world, people only care about image, about prominence, about status. These things are all as illusory as a figment I could conjure.”

Sayd resumed his seat, the chair scraping over the wood. “All that matters in life is power. But how do we use it? I am weary of endless war and bloodshed in the name of gold and platinum. I will bend my energy to making Glamorfell a bastion of Erastil’s power, that the God of Hunters may protect us from the supernatural evil that has tainted this land. No more or less than that. I ate the Apple of Discord, and it changed me. You have all seen it. The wilds are in me, now, too, and I can no more escape it than I can escape death. I choose to embrace it instead, and in so doing, find us victory.”

“Now let us discuss how this will be so.”


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