The Rise and Fall of Glamorfell

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.

View
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.

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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]

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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.

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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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Desnus 23, 4713 AR
The Diary of Teret Feron

It’s been many moons since I have written in here. I near forgot I had such things. As I read back in past entries, I think I would rather still not have recalled it. It is only a reminder of how I have failed. Though Silverwind is now a memory, freely roaming the plains with his forebears, I cannot help but feel that I have failed him. I cannot help but be reminded of the times he had stood over me, as I lay fallen on the field. Mortally wounded, in body and spirit. How many times had he gripped my mail in his teeth and dragged me to safety? Yet, I stood as he was ruthlessly taken by the Hag, Toboura the Fervent. Forever shall she be marked an enemy, I shall mount her head upon our gates, and tear her flesh from her bones, whatever may be in that decrepit sack of hers.

Silverwind acquitted himself well. I suspect he knew the danger as we rode into the building. We always do, as soldiers. Part of me thinks he knew it was his time, but if not, he never flinched. It is an ending I hope I too can be deserving of. A heroism in the face of certain doom, for the sake of many, or even just one. I look upon the belongings of his that are scattered about my home. Small bits of memories that linger, forever after in a world that probably would not know what he offered to it. I am reminded of the battle at Harysford with the Lebeda army, such as it was. Neither of us walked away unscathed, but it was surviving that time that banded us. Through everything that occurred after, he was my steed and I his master. He knew I would guide him as best I could, I knew he would never stop carrying what I asked of him. Many riders fell that day, many good people on both sides. The rain that fell mere moments after the rebels conceded did nothing to wash away the grime, the smoke, the smell of death. It was a stain, one I tried hard to wash through good deeds, if not always to great effect. I do not believe Silverwind ever carried such a stain. I like to think that even now, he roams unblemished with a great herd. Perhaps, some day, after my life passes from this world, I will find him, and we shall ride again to find glory in the afterlife. It can be but a small, but hopeful wish I shall carry, I have nothing more to offer the dead who have given so much.

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Yelenya's House

Yelenya’s house is off the beaten path, close to the river. The house itself is fairly unremarkable, but it looks a little weird. The windows are close to the roof and the sides are as smoothly made as possible. The door opens opposite from the way it looks, opening out rather than in. There are potted flowers around the outside of the house, and appeared to be tended with someone with more enthusiasiam than skill. Inside the house is rather sparse, basically one big room. There is a table set low to the floor with cushions to sit or kneel on, and a small stove to cook (or aid in metalworking). Her sleeping arrangements are rather odd as well with a hammock slung nearly even with the barred windows. There are two other rooms, one is set up as an armory/wardrobe, the other contains a copper bathtub and necessary. There are flowers in pots throughout the house except for the table. The shell of a giant turtle rests on the table like a huge bowl and at first glance appears to be full of white pebbles or shells. Closer inspection reveals a collection of bones. There is a small box resting on top of the pile. The box is made of wood, worn smooth and polished, with a lid made of giant mantis chitin. Despite being a permanent residence, everything looks almost packed to leave at a moments notice.

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Sayd and Akilina's House

Far from a kingly manor, Jagged Hollow, Sayd’s cave dwelling, can be found far away from a side street, practically beyond the walls, a long walk down a plain path. Bright, colorful flowers grow along the way. Everyone knows the Prince lives there, but the only evidence is an increased patrol of guards who walk the grounds.

A simple gothic arch of carved oak opens on a patio, behind which a weathered looking circle of stone monoliths stands, some low enough to sit on, some taller than a man. Although they might appear to have religious significance at first, they are actually astronomical, laid out to track the progress of the heavens as the seasons change—a primitive observatory, no doubt built to please the Princess Akilina.

Down a gentle slope, a stream that cuts through the property cascades down some rocks and opens into a flowing pool, perfect for bathing. A small fire-pit with plenty of logs and rocks to sit on is positioned nearby.

A cavernous entrance by the spilling stream is well-lit by a hanging lamp. A guard stands here, watching the flitting butterflies and listen to the sound of wind-chimes handing from the low tree boughs. A stone door, of dwarven make, lies under the natural arch.

Inside, Jagged Hollow is incredibly spare, and lit mainly with phosphorescent mushrooms that cast everything in magical blue, green and purple light. A long room with a dining table, kitchen and hearth, the smoke no doubt directed through some carved chimney, is clean and homey. A small sauna contains a bath and a brazier for creating humid heat. A massage table here and a collection of perfumes and oils seem out of place with the dimly lit surroundings.

The bedroom, by contrast, contains richly dense white carpeting and is very well lit, not only by the phosphorescent plant life but by a massive dwarven skylight. It reveals the sky by day and the stars by night. A series of cranks closes shutters at the top of the shaft, for inclement weather. A plush bed is immaculately made up in white linen sheets and overthrown with warm white animal furs. Newish wardrobes, dressers and a walk in closet are almost entirely bare of clothing. The furnishings have all been imported from Brevoy in the latest styles, except for the bed itself, which is large and cut from local lumber.

In one corner, a set of bookshelves are packed to overflowing with novels, treatises, histories and maps. Books on troll lore, Brevic noble lineages, legends of the First World and descriptions of fey are all visible. A cozy chair and an end table are clearly meant for reading. There volumes are given places of special prominence and look well read: The Parables, The Eight Scrolls, and the Book of Magic, the holy texts of Erastil, Desna and Nethys, respectively. A copy of the Asmodean Monograph, no doubt a gift from Woodrow, lies nearby as well.

In another corner, a small shelf contains icons and statuettes representing Erastil, Desna, Calistria and Abadar.

A large mirror is turned towards the wall, due to the owner’s apparent distaste of his own reflection; still, since the room looks like it is soon expecting a princess, it will no doubt see use. Colorful art decorates the walls: flags from campaigns long past, artifacts from Sayd’s mercenary career, maps of the kingdom, as well as paintings and sculptures.

Jagged Hollow looks like it exists mainly for sleeping, eating, and bathing in a very secure place, considering Sayd spends most of his time exploring or working in town. There is a spare room, totally empty, that could make for a nursery if need be.

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A Moment of Relief
Kaede's Home

Stillness, and serenity. A mote of dust, caught by a narrow shaft of light peeking past the shades, drifted across the room, and alighted upon the bald pate of a small stone statuette of a man resting cross-legged in meditation. The silence was broken by the muted voice of a young woman:

“Wait here a moment, Walhaim. I must make a brief inspection.”

Sunlight filled the room as a hanging straw mat was thrown aside, and a petite elf dressed in plain robes lithely stepped into the doorway. Turning her head slightly, she spoke in Tien, “Master, please check the ceiling. I will take care of the rest.”

A small thrush fluttered into the air from her shoulder, and flew a circuit at ceiling height. The woman stalked into the room like a cat, stopping to inspect bits of string placed on windowsills, mats left askew, and glass vessels balanced precariously (and particularly) atop piles of papers and books. After a few moments, the thrush landed once again upon her shoulder, chirping briefly as he did. The woman nodded once, satisfied.

“Nothing amiss, Walhaim. Enter, and kindly take care not to track anything as you do.”

At that, a diminutive halfling stepped tentatively into the doorway, carrying a stack of books, papers, and scrolls. He coughed politely and said, “Umm… where shall I place these things, Lady Kaede?”

Kaede, already engrossed in a document she’d pulled from depths unseen, gestured absentmindedly towards a low wooden table in the corner of the room. “Over there will do, Walhaim. And if you would, please prepare some tea for the both of us”.

Walhaim glanced around the stone-walled room; it had been a long walk, further from the Council chambers than he had expected. The decor here was very plain: unfinished wooden tables and cabinetry, a lone chair in the corner piled high with books, a hanging scroll on the otherwise-empty wall stitched with a strange foreign-looking symbol, and straw mats and cushions placed strategically around the floor. Placed in the center of the back wall was a shrine with unlit candles and a small statue. Tucked into the corner of the room, was a bedroll, with a stiff-looking pillow laying on top. The only other notable feature was a fireplace set into the wall, with a nearby stack of firewood.

Without looking up, Kaede sighed from behind her paperwork. "The house is far from the chambers because it’s quiet and serene here in this part of the city, chairs are an unnecessary luxury, the symbol means “Focus”, and the statue is of Irori, Master of Masters. I have great plans for you, Walhaim, but none of them involve woolgathering in my doorway. We need to study these blueprints, make the necessary adjustments, and have them back to the Ministry by evening. The Council will not stand for delays in construction, but nor will I suffer the edifices of our kingdom to be little more than haphazard piles of rock and mortar".

The halfling started, opened and closed his mouth a few times, and then shook his head and said, “Y.. Yes, Lady Kaede. Straight away.”

A small thrush chirped from upon the elf’s shoulder.

“Master Yukimura,” Kaede chided, “that wasn’t very nice”.

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No Time for Hesitation
The Wisdom of Yukimura

Yukimura glowered at the scene, in the way that only a bird could. Those four-legged beasts were in serious trouble, and would not last long in the river’s current.

“Get moving, girl. Even if your nestling companions had the faintest shadow of a plan, they’d never make it in time.”

Kaede nodded at the thrush on her shoulder, quickly spoke the words for a spell, and the air began to shimmer near the ground at her boots. A moment later, she raced towards the shoreline, faster than the swiftest horse. Through his empathic bond with her, Yukimura felt Kaede calling upon her powers of prescience, reaching into the future…

that one. that’s the sturdiest rock.

Kaede planted both feet on a rock at the edge of the bank, and leapt into the air towards the center of the river.

slow down. land lightly.

As she sailed over waterborne Sayd’s head, Kaede called upon her otherworldly bond to slow her descent to that of a falling feather, touching down upon the cart on her tiptoes.

the cart is unstable. crouch slightly, take this path.

Keeping her balance perfectly amidst the rocking motion of the cart, Kaede smoothly picked her way to the front, and untied the panicked beasts of burden that were still tethered. Reaching behind into her haversack without looking, Kaede produced a small vial, drank the contents, and flung the empty clay vessel over her shoulder. Within moments, she was doubled in size, the cart creaking under the sudden weight.

“I’m not in need of a bath just now, if it’s all the same to you, girl”.

Yukimura took flight from Kaede’s shoulder as she hopped into the water.

there’s a narrow ledge here to brace against. keep a wide stance. lean slightly into the current.

Despite rushing water pounding against her chest, Kaede easily kept her balance and grabbed hold of both sets of reins.

almost there. watch for the eddy hidden beneath the surface. turn towards it as you walk past.

Gritting her teeth against the cold of the water, with wet hair plastered against her face, Kaede slowly walked across the river-bottom with both animals in tow, towards the far shoreline.

take hold of that vine, it has deep roots.

Clutching a fistful of vegetation, Kaede pulled herself out of the water onto the shore, handing the reins to the waiting gnomes as she did so. Kneeling for a moment to catch her breath, with a hand pressed against the ground, Kaede spoke softly, audible to none but herself and her master:

“Fate finds a way.”

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