We have returned to Oleg’s post after two weeks in the wilderness, and I am surprised to say that I already miss the wilderness. There are men here now, stout hearted and well trained, sent by royal leave to garrison our humble wooden pile of a home. I spoke with their leader. He seemed strong, confident—arrogant, even—and professional. I have met his like many times before. He is the mercenary ideal, powerful and stern. I do not doubt he has the loyalty of his men, nor that he will be well able to protect this fortification. For that I am glad. He did not seem to care for me, though whether it is my appearance or my manner that put him off, I know not. I am not sure why, but the entire crisp and brutal picture of him is irresistibly alluring. I fear for poor Svetlana’s chastity, no to mention my own. I get a bit weak kneed thinking of his even-keeled, slightly contemptuous tone. There is a half-orc woman in his retinue whom I caught glimpse of but briefly, but whom I desire as well. What is monstrous is so beautiful in her. I picture a medusa turning me to stone, locking my perfect features in marble forevermore, placing me as a trophy in her hall, and find my face flush. Such thoughts are why I miss the wild already. What I was made for is not spoken of in society, and the society of this wooden box is very small, and very vocal.
Sixteen days past we left the outpost on our first foray into the wilds. I had received a message from Quintessa that morning, delivered by a blue bird—so charming! Whether she truly wishes my company or merely to use me for her masters aims, I do not know. I shall be satisfied to do either when we next meet, or to twist her back upon herself, into my creature.
Yelenya had the misfortune to rouse a trapdoor spider some days into our exploration, and it proved quite deadly. It put Kaede unconscious on her back and poisoned me with its bite, a poison which thankfully only weakened me for a spell. All our attempts to pierce its tough carapace were met with frustration afore Teret hacked it across the underbelly as it flung splayed through the air towards him. It was a savage cut, a cut to be proud of. Then Yel rushed forward and planted an arrow in its eye, the scrambling thing. I would like to rear a giant spider as a pet as they are quite lovely. We found, in its deep nest, a number of coins, another amulet of the Stag Lord’s, and a picture showing a tree with a red X on it. Most curious.
One night I awoke of a sudden with the feeling that I had been caressed, and sure enough I found that my hair had been sculpted into a nest with a mixture of berry juice. A robin’s egg sat there on my crown. ’Twas the work of the fey, I doubt not, and I for one was delighted, though Teret made quick work of the egg for his breakfast. Some days later he woke to find that his horse had been muddled with such that all straps and buckles were loose on its kit. I smiled at that, for they are creatures of play, our admirers, and like me they harbor no ill until they do.
I realize with sudden distress that I have not remarked upon the beauty of the landscape at all thus far in my writings! Although it is plain and field typical for this part of the world, the blanket of snow that lays on the ground gives the landscape a diamond splendour, and I enjoy particularly sliding down the hills of snow and ice as we make our way. Being immured against the mild swings of temperature that humans appropriately despise, I have no ill feeling towards this season of snow and black skies. The Gnarlmarches as they are called were even more rare, for that is an old and wicked forest, and I delighted to step into it.
A broken village lay in ruins at the edge but we passed this, noting nothing. Within the forest my companions felt ill at ease whilst I giggled at the prospect of what might come. Yel found eight men—bandits, she said—carrying a boar some days into our journey. I quickly donned the Stag Lord’s crest and, sitting astride Teret’s steed, made my way into their midst, presenting myself as their friend. My heart fluttered with mad pleasure as I sculpted their own thoughts with my words and strummed the chords of their souls with my careless thumb. I am a melodist, yes. The world is my instrument. As I led them, inwardly dying of ecstasy, into the midst of my waiting and hidden companions, I turned back and struck them down with dark magic. We set upon them and slew them, then. Did I picture my smoking demon goddess licking her lips as I stomped their insect lives? Well gods, you make me sound so culty when you say it like that.
Something strange happened, then. As their blood hit the snow, I felt the forest tremble. The surface of the ground seemed to change, as if drinking up the crimson water of life. I knew not what it meant, but there was no time to consider it.
Their leader called out a warning ’afore we could silence him, urging his fellows to return to their camp and warn the others, and with fleet foot I began to race after the portion of the men who had stayed behind with the boar. My companions followed, but the noise we crafted in rushing was so violent that it occasioned an avalanche of snow from the ridge above us, trapping Addi. I know not what happened after as I became separated from the others, having slid down a gully while avoiding the crash of snow. The wood seemed to hiss darkly as its barren branches and rough pines moved, and it took me almost a minute to regain the trail. By the time I arrived, the fight was over. Teret lay on the ground, pierced by several swords, while Kaede and Elissa worked to revive him. Yelenya cleaned her blade and described what had happened, how Kaede and Teret, the latter on his horse, closed the distance between themselves and the bandits with remarkable grace, only to see the brigands escape when Teret fell. Yelenya had managed to kill one in close combat. I do not like to see her risk herself so, but was very proud of her for doing so.
With Teret cured by Elissa’s incredible favour, we searched bodies for goods and recovered Paco, who had wandered off and returned to us sullen, irritable and alien. Teret followed his tracks to find him, then led us back and after the bandits once more. The young man’s facility with tracking was of great use to us, as though the bandits trail was not ostensibly difficult to perceive there were never the less a few moments that required a soldier’s discernment.
As we continued along we came across a meadow where the snow could not hold fast and where a large patch of moon radishes waited, throwing up their spiced aroma. In the midst of this tangle of valuable vegetables rolled four kobolds that I immediately recognized were tripping balls. We approached them rather openly, more quizzical then afraid, when two more kobolds came around a scruff of brush and antagonized us warily. They spoke only broken common but Addi was able to translate back and forth fluently, he and they both speaking the draconic tongue. Their leader’s name was Mikmek and he became our fast friend. He allowed us to take three bushels of moon radishes, which we later returned to Svetlana for thirty platinum coins, and traveled with us back to Oleg’s. I took to the tiny creature immediately and hope to create peace between the Sootscales—his tribe—and the people of the outpost.
And here we are, now returned. We traded with Oleg and Yel obtained some potions that will heal her in the event that she is injured. For 110 pieces of gold I bought a beautiful black horse that Vekkel returned with, and named him Onyx. He is combat trained and will serve as my steed for our coming adventures. I also ordered a shirt of masterwork quality, made of chain but with close specifications so that if falls lightly and is covered with dark silk for a stylish look. It will be several weeks before it arrives. Tomorrow we set out again, this time in search of mites and of that tree with the red X o’er its darkly inked roots.