The Rise and Fall of Glamorfell

Sayd to Lullabye Jack

Jack,

I’m sending this care of my man Grennel Norwick. I hope you are doing well. I know the loss of your leg must weigh on you, but strap a peg-leg on and get on a boat for the River Kingdoms as soon as you can. My new crew (The Black Cats) is closing in on the Stag Lord. We will have vengeance for our dead friends. Make for Oleg’s outpost. I have enclosed a map.

There is a kobold there named Mikmek who can get you situated. No one will bat an eye at a firearm toting, peg-legged goblin if you say you are with Sayd Krynn and Yelenya, I can assure you. I have, as they say, influence.

Sayd

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Sayd to Grennel Noriwck

I’m most pleased with your progress, Grennel. I knew I could count on you. Here’s what I need right now:

1. I want followers of Erastil, be they martial warriors or priests, to come to the Gnarlmarch in force. To whit, I have enclosed an advertisement poster that I would like you to reproduce and distribute. The poster includes drawings of both an abandoned temple of Erastil as well as a huge statue of him. I drew both having visited the sites personally. It implores the faithful to join with the Black Cats in reclaiming and colonizing these sites.

2. I have enclosed a complete description of The Black Cats recent exploits which in particular paints me as a peerless hero and future legend. The account is actually not far from the truth. Make sure it reaches Jamandi Aldori’s eyes.

3. I require a researcher or diviner with knowledge of the First World. Specifically I need to know about a fey monarch called The Queen of Whispers and one of her subjects referred to as the Duchess of Hoarfrost. Let me know what resources you need to make this happen.

Beyond that, please continue to aid me as seems worthwhile. I trust your judgment. My goal is not necessarily to subvert Jamandi Aldori but rather to woo her to both my cause and my person.

SK

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Sayd's Diary, 2 Neth 4710 YK

Things started off simply enough, but are all muddled now. Our mission was straightforward: map the land, take out the Stag Lord. But none of us have ever been on this kind of undertaking before. As a mercenary captain I was used to jobs that took days or weeks: guard this, recover that, clear out the brigands at the old fort. We’re coming up on a year since we set out. I’ve traveled with my companions through fire and flood, absent the luxuries of urban life I was so attached to, and for better or worse I am changed. There are no wine-soaked taverns, no masquerade balls, no wenches, no aristocrat’s daughters and no street people out here on the endless rolling plains of grass and stone, in the grimy lit wood, under the arc of sky. We walk the wilds, where love doesn’t reach. We have seen it, seen the gods in the trees, and they have seen us.

We are marked for glory and for ruin. We have ante’d into the game of seasons, we have cast dice with chaos, as Mikhail once did. The Queen approaches. I feel the earth quickening, crying out for its lord.

I have seen our journey change them. It turned Teret from a blushing swordsman into a hardened charger, one who beds half-orc maidens and crushes skulls from atop his war-steed. It brought us Wally, a whirling engine of death, a thresher, from the body of a bumpkin. I saw Kaede change from a quiet warrior into a whirling witch whose knowledge and lore are as broad as the smile she blesses to the children of the woods. Only Yelenya, gypsie Yelena, whose home is everywhere and nowhere, seems to me the same person who we set out with.

And me. It was not so long ago that I would but laugh in the face of death, and dare it to strike harder. I cared only for making love, for bringing ruin, for drinking the world to the lees.

Now I would do anything to rescue a group of children I hardly know, these kids of Hollow. Or to rescue Lyla. Why am I fighting the fey? I should be joining them. And yet I can’t. I sit here writing this, knowing that I will give my life to rescue a little girl who can’t be rescued, who is already gone. Why?

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11-1

Possible new Yelenya pic.

She wrapped the neck guard with the intent that when she had access to the blacksmith shop she’d change the design as she perused the horses for sale. They looked good, but the prices were pretty high at the moment. Oleg’s might have a better selection. Yelenya was irritated that she had to buy another winter blanket, hers was with their stuff at the trading post. She wanted to get back there for a while. She could use a decent bath instead of using whatever stream presented itself. At least they had decent enough clothes for sale here. She had settled on a grey pair of pants and a rather drab long sleeve shirt, both in fine spun wool and fairly comfortable without being itchy. The pants fit reasonably well but after pulling the shirt on it was a little too awkward beneath the armor, a problem solved by wrapping some strips of cloth to make it as snug against her torso as possible without any seams to create uncomfortable spots. Her studded leathers went on over the clothes, itself getting a nice faded color to it, belt over that, and finally her grey-green cloak. She had ordered some new arrows with cold iron heads which should help against the critters abounding the forest, and wrapped some of the silver wire just behind the heads. Couldn’t hurt, her motto since they had gotten to these lands. The bee queen could be a usefull ally in the future, although she’d have to attend to that mite sooner rather than later. The red kobolds too, but that could wait until another day. The biggest issue that she had at the moment was Tenzy. Dear Tenzy had made an error. She had little issue with doing things that most people found morally objectionable, but enslaving a sentient creature was not one of them. She decided that however the problem would be solved he’d have to take an active hand in it. His choice, he could try to take her by force or find another way, and she wouldn’t help. She looked around as she got ready and watched the others, she had been listening to their conversations and would replay them in her head as they traveled, and it looked like they were ready to go. She sighed, protecting people was counterproductive in the end but perhaps this would create a rare “teachable moment” that might be heeded.

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Dreams within Dreams.
"or what Yelenya has been up to."

It was good to see her companions again, even if she knew that Sayd was going to badger her with questions. The elf might too, but she would likely be more discrete about it. The forest called out to her, like a flame to a moth. She hated the way it felt in there. Sayd was less likely to feel it, and she doubted that the humans or even the elf were aware of just how alive the woods they wandered were. The low voice of life, so pervasive, had filled her mind. She was pretty sure that she had cleaned up thoroughly. For one of the few times in her life she was happy that she had lost her marbles, even if it was temporary. She sat quietly in the grass and watched them for a few minutes, unable to decide if it was a good time to return. She remembered everything that she had done since she had last seen them, and while it didn’t cause her any guilt, they might not see it the same way. She hadn’t killed anybody, not really, but she had killed a few animals… ok, maybe more than a few… and the blood drinking thing probably hadn’t helped her make any friends. She felt better now, it had been years since her last little blowout, 4 dead incidentally, and while her stomach felt a bit queezy, drinking a few gallons of blood that you couldn’t absorb or digest would do that, she mentally felt better than she had since setting foot in that forest. She sighed and tugged at a tuft of grass as she watched the party walk around. Well, no point in putting it off. She remembered the taste of the blood, and the fear, and the sweet smell of death. Yelenya smiled as she slipped into the shadows and made her way down to the party.

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Sentinel of the Skies
The Wisdom of Yukimura

High above the ground, hidden in the canopy of trees, Yukimura fluttered silently from branch to branch.

It took some doing, but Yukimura finally had convinced his master that he was “no fledgling to be coddled”, was “tired of hiding inside a hot, smelly animal skin”, was not a “flying man-torch”, and that he had no intention of “sitting around waiting to be scooped up like a fat, lazy grub”, along with some other bird-themed idioms that don’t quite translate.

So here he was, acting as forward scout. Below, a frog-man crouched behind a wall, with his tusked pets nearby. Hidden to those on the ground, Yukimura thought to himself, but not to the keen eyes of this bird. He took to the air, heading back to the group, and hoped that he had not betrayed a feeling of triumph through the empathic link. No sense spoiling the surprise.


In the quiet of the night, Kaede sat cross-legged in front of the campfire, poring over a book with burn-marks on it. Yukimura hopped over to her and spoke, “This thing again, girl?”

Without looking up, Kaede replied, “Master, I think that I can almost understand it. The writing is similar to the scrolls that I received from the Society, I may be able to do something with it. I just need a focus of some kind, and a little more time”. She sighed, “I wish Aduialon were still here; he’d be able to help.”

Yukimura twittered in an annoyed way, “Pah. Your patron provides you whatever you require, through me”. Nonetheless, he fluttered up to Kaede’s shoulder, and gazed intently at the wording in the tattered spellbook.

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Curious Village of Hollow
Kaede's letter to Emiko Lin

To Emiko Lin:

Greetings, Honored One—

Our investigation of the Narlmarch forest continues apace. There are many things worth reporting, but most interesting of them all is the curious village of Hollow.

The residents of the village follow something that they call the “Old Way”; some sort of remnant of an ancient agreement that a mortal named Mikhail the Woodcutter made with the forest. They are reclusive, isolated, sullen, and superstitious to the point of absurdity — I cannot take anything that they say at face value. Any investigation by the Way is going to require a strong knowledge of local lore, in order to properly interpret what the people of Hollow believe.

The area itself is strongly magical; metal items held within the Narlmarch will quickly rust and degrade. Fey stones or linseed oil act as a (temporary) countermeasure. Hollow itself appears to be immune to this effect, at least within the confines of the ring of scarecrows that surround the village. There are other such wardings in the village, including one that protects against encroachment of wild animals, but as evidenced by the wolf pack assault the eve of our first night’s visit, the protection is either imperfect or otherwise compromised by the events gripping the area.

My companions were able to overcome the horrors of the Hollow Man and the Singing Tree while I was absent on a scouting mission, which appears to have given the people of Hollow some measure of respite for now. Just the same, as outsiders, we were asked to leave, and return no more than once a season, unless we intend to join their community.

Before we moved on, they bade us to keep silent about the existence and location of their village. I was noncommittal, naturally; the aims of the Way shall not be denied.

We leave to explore the rest of the Narlmarch.

As always, I am your faithful servant,

-Kaede

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Sayd's Diary, 10 Erastus

Wake up and dream. I stir in the sheets, waiting for the knock knock knock of the Hollow Man. Anna lays beside me, asleep in pure contentment. She has not had a man in years. I flex my fingers in front of me, watch as the tapered black nails grow and harden into talons, then recede to their original form. I pick up my diary and write these words. The room is nearly black but for a sliver of moonlight sneaking in from the shuttered window. This does not trouble me.

We sent Teret and Kaede out to scout and they have not returned yet. I worry for them. We have truly bonded, in the way that companions do. I would risk any danger on their behalf. It is a security, and a pitfall, that only fighting men know.

I should be more honest here. At first I had planned this diary to accidentally fall into the hands of the bards, that my legend might grow. Lying next to Anna, letting someone in, even just a little, makes that seem a paltry reason for falsehoods.

Arryn Ashe. There is a name I have not uttered or put to print in decades. We keep things secret sometimes to protect them from the world around us. We lived like royalty once, my governess and I, playing hide and seek in gardens so vibrant and real, I can still taste the honeyed air. Later we held court in alleyways, plotting vengeance—but how can you revenge yourself against blind fate?

The only truth worth knowing is this: there is a wall, in this life or the next, that towers above me, and I, with naught but my pride, throw myself at it so long as I breathe, and it will break before I do.

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Bird's Eye View
The Wisdom of Yukimura

Yukimura would have frowned, if he were able.

He could not understand the incessant chattering of the wingless, but there was no mistaking the waves of panic that washed over him from his empathic link with Kaede: trouble. A moment later, he heard the distant howls himself. With resignation, Yukimura quickly snapped up one last berry, and fluttered up from the table to perch upon his master’s shoulder.


As Kaede raced through the starlit village, Yukimura crouched low, to keep from being shaken away. A cluster of poorly-armed figures came into view, and the notes of panic from Kaede dulled, to be replaced by a knot of rage, smoldering like the embers of a lightning-struck tree. Yukimura sighed inwardly. Wolves approached, but rather than flee to the safety of their strange nests, the humans huddled together in the open, like foolish fledglings.

He heard Kaede bark orders at them in the strange language of men. As she hastily tried to scale the side of the nearest nest, Yukimura was nearly flung to the ground when she lost her grip on the (amateurishly laid, in his opinion) thatch on top of it.

Annoyed, the yellow thrush spoke in their shared tongue: “Fool girl, slow down. Anger is weakness. Calm your mind, find your center, try again”. Kaede glared at him over her shoulder, but paused, took a breath, and vaulted herself up the side of the structure with one hand, perching gracefully at the top. Yukimura allowed himself a tiny nod of satisfaction.

Suddenly, Kaede began chanting, and after a moment Yukimura saw his body glowing like a torch; a Light spell.

“Yukimura. Help Walorin. Go!”

Of course. In this light, the barbarian won’t be able to see. Yukimura took a short hop and went airborne, taking quick stock of the situation. It seemed that there were battles going on in three different places. After a moment, he found his mark: Walorin was barreling through the center of the village at full speed, tripping over shadowed rocks and stray planks of wood, but managing to catch himself at the last moment with acrobatic dives and rolls. Yukimura dipped his right wing, and swooped in above the barbarian, keeping pace and lighting his way.


Circling high above the melee, Yukimura watched helplessly as another pair of humans were knocked to the ground. This was going poorly. Just then, he felt a surge of triumph pulse through his bond, and saw Kaede leaping from rooftop to rooftop towards him, disappearing from sight once, but popping back into view a moment later. As she reached the peak of the nearest nest, she shouted to him, “Yukimura! Find Teret and lead him over here!”, before dropping gracefully over the edge and pulling a double-chained kama free from her belt.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he banked, and dove to the east. In the distance, he saw Teret, atop a laboring (but alive) Silverwind, and loudly chirped to get the man’s attention.


In the end, three of the men were killed by wolves, the company’s plain-looking new recruit was still unconscious, and several people were badly wounded. In Yukimura’s estimation, fortune smiled upon them; had the pack truly attacked in force, this strange village likely would have been reclaimed by the forest.

Once again perched upon Kaede’s shoulder, Yukimura twittered to get her attention. Lifting a still-glowing wing, and gesturing with it:

“Would you mind, girl? Your master is happy to be of help, but this is embarrassing.”

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Sayd at Hollow, 9 Erastus 4710 YK

This is it.

When young children gather around the hearth to hear tales of wizards and warriors, of giants and dragons and dark gods, this is the scene. When they crawl under their blankets and picture themselves, swords in hand, facing the looming shadows under the trees, this is where they come. We are on an island full of innocent, wide eyed folk surrounded by an ocean of fucking darkness. It is a microcosm of the the world. This village, Hollow, represents society. The woods are what we fear. And we are right to fear them.

Adventurers, mercenaries, win acclaim because they cross that threshold, they leave society behind and enter the unknown. And what is the unknown, what is the greatest unknown? Death itself. Adventurers are those who step outside the carefully drawn lines of civilization to face death itself, to kill fear itself.

How do I make all the maidens swoon? It’s not my looks, though they help. It’s because I kill death for a living.

I kill death for a living.

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