The Chronicles of Hallowdwell

Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 19
Wherein our wizard discovers a bustling port city, but loses his temper and possibly his mind

I have to face the possibility that I may be losing my mind.

The dreams have become worse. They grow in specificity and detail. I have grown to dread falling asleep, as these visions torment me all night and haunt me when I am awake. I am sleeping for shorter and shorter periods of time, and I know the lack of sleep is bound to catch up with me sooner or later. But I loathe to close my eyes, for fear of what I’ll see. Even though the song in my dreams keeps getting clearer, and louder, so do the portents of destruction. Her song may be a delicate carp, but it’s being swallowed by a whale.

Perhaps it is better to pick up from where I left off in my last entry. We approached the great port of Lorut from the desert. It is truly massive, the largest city I have ever seen. It spreads out for miles, in a great semi-circle surrounding the Crescent Harbor, split in twain by the delta of the Snake River. Getting closer, you can begin to make out the buildings, built on top of one another with little concern as to a singular aesthetic. Here, people live right on top of one another. There are wide boulevards, but many streets are really no more than alleyways, twisting and turning without any particular reason, an urban labyrinth swallowed in an excited, never-ceasing chattering of voices. The most peculiar scents drift through the air, combining in new and unexpected ways, some pleasant and others utterly repulsive.

Weaving our way through these streets, led by our Lorutian native Coronatum, we headed for the docks, where we were told that we could find Koran, who was aligned with the Dark Legion and would have information for us regarding Aislynn’s hunt for vengeance. We happened upon the merchant that we saved from the burning caravan, supervising a shipment being offloaded. He introduced himself as Toryn, and suggested that we take rooms at the Silver Drake, a nearby inn that was, thankfully, upwind of the fish markets. He also gave us some kind of elephant sculpture as a token of his appreciation for the rescue that both Lahktar and Aislynn seemed particularly interested in. It was an elegant piece of art, but I frankly don’t know what we would need with fine art on our journey. Aislynn wound up with it, which seemed to make her happy. That’s a rare condition for her, so I decided to hold my tongue about the questionable utility of such an object.

We made our arrangements at the inn, and Lahktar decided he wanted to wander the city. Unsure if I particularly cared if he managed to get lost, he left. The rest of the group was exhausted from our desert sojourn and decided to rest. I did not want to sleep, though I was tired. I decided to put my restlessness to good use. Drawing on a ritual taught to me many years ago by Meros, I took some of the dragon’s blood that we had persevered and drew arcane sigils on the floor of our room. These were wards against the undead, which I hoped would not be of any use to us. However, the forces of the Deathwind had already ambushed us once, along the banks of the Snake River. It was not unlikely that they would want to strike at us again. Here, in this inn, we would be most vulnerable. And so I drew the sigils with my fingers, finding a measure of calm in the precision the task required. When it was done, I felt some relief, a rare emotion these days.

When the rest of my companions awoke, we decided to split up. Aislynn, Hilde and I decided to seek out Koran with some information we had obtained from Toryn, while Coronatum returned to the temple of his god Avandra to speak with the head of his order. While we walked to the mercenary hub where we would find Koran, I noticed that the citizens of Lorut seemed to have a common goodbye. The first would say, “Avandra be praised,” and the second would say, “And may she watch your path.” I found it to be quite poetic, though most who spoke it said it with the same fervor as others said “goodbye”. It may have been new and fascinating to me, but each of these speakers had heard it a million times. I believe it is true what they say, that no matter how wondrous something is, familiarity often bleeds away that wonder.

At the mercenary hub, we searched for Koran. We came upon Lahktar, who was excitedly talking to a merchant with that glint of confidence in his eye that usually meant he was biting off more than we could chew. Whatever promise he made, we would deal with it later. We told the merchant to meet us at the inn tomorrow, queasy as to what Lahktar might have already promised. Once we had dealt with that unexpected situation, we continued to search the dank, sweaty market. A dragonborn mercenary wielding a chain, in an attempt to drum up business for her company, challenged any comers. Hilde, perhaps following the dictates of her tribe, the Wen, took her up on the challenge. This dragonborn was huge, bigger than any human could be. The dragonborn seemed to not take Hilde very seriously, but that quickly changed when Hilde slammed into her at full charge, knocking her out of her stance. The two beat the hell out of each other, and the impromptu betting odds seemed to shift with each blow. They essentially fought to a standstill, earning Hilde the admiration of the majority-dragonborn crowd. As the crowd dispersed, we caught glimpse of a dragonborn matching our description of Koran.

Aislynn immediately asked for her information, and the answer shocked me. He claimed that a tiefling wizard called Meros, who had taken residence in a villa here in town, was part of the slaving ring Aislynn sought to destroy. I felt an anger rise in me that I had not felt in my life. Was it the lack of sleep? Perhaps, but I have been tired before and never lost my temper. Was it the dreams that I have been having, souring my mood and priming me to explode? Perhaps. Or it could be that the mystical energies that I have been channeling have been too much for me to handle, and that I am going mad. I verbally tore into Koran, demanding to know how he dared slander the name of the great Meros. He began to back down, but I was not satisfied. I continued to threaten him, telling him that a wizard had only two things of importance in life—his power, and his reputation. The fear grew in his eyes, and shamefully, that only goaded me on. I clearly must have been making a scene, as Hilde made a move to restrain me. A red-hot geyser of rage erupted in me, and I wound up firing a bolt of energy off in Hilde’s direction. I cannot say for sure, even now, that I did not mean to hit her. Koran took the opportunity to scurry away, for which I can’t blame him. We left, and I can only wonder what impression I had made for our band of adventurers.

We went back to the inn, where I got some fitful sleep after a night of heavy drinking. That is a habit I do not wish to get into. The next morning, the merchant that Lahktar was talking to came to our inn. His son had gotten into trouble in Lorut, apparently offending a high-ranking member of Protence society. The merchant offered us all manner of reward to save him. We said that we had some business in Lorut, but that we would be willing to look for his son when we headed to Protence. Meanwhile, Coronatum said that he wanted to take both me and Hilde somewhere, which would allow Lahktar and Aislynn to investigate the villa of “Meros”, and hopefully find some answers.

When we stepped out of the inn, we were accosted by a group of devotees to the Raven Queen, acolytes of that miserable old wizard al-Hiraj. They accused me of being a necromancer, which is unfair; I have been touched with dark energies, yes, but that does not mean that I raise the dead. I have a staff that allows me to control undead already raised, but I would not create some abominations myself and would destroy any once my immediate purpose was done. But al-Hiraj has never been known for his flexibility or willingness to tolerate unorthodoxy from his particular interpretation of the Raven Queen’s dictates. His acolytes attacked us, and again that rage burst from within me. Honed by anger, I unleashed a massive energy burst, tinted with the necrotic energy imbued within the Shadowfell gloves I wear. If he wanted to speak of necromancy, I would be happy to give him a taste of necrotic energy.

The battle raged in the street, and civilians ran and cowered as energy and steel wildly flailed in the streets. Snipers fired crossbow bolts from the roof; one hit me, but was not able to get through my armor. I pulled it out, and noticed that they were using poison-tipped bolts. Amidst the screaming and the terror, it was difficult for any of us to really focus our concentration, but eventually Aislynn took down the acolytes’ leader. I told the rest to run lest they meet the Raven Queen themselves, and they took off. I went over to the acolyte and confirmed who sent him. Ever time I have ever been in the presence of al-Hiraj, he has filled me with nothing but terror. Seized up with that same terror, enraged at the sudden and unwarranted attack, I asked the acolyte leader whether the legends about al-Hiraj speaking to the dead were true. He claimed to not know…and I stabbed him in the gut, and as his eyes fluttered said to him, “Then you can find out for yourself.”

I stood, and my entire band looked at me with eyes that seemed mixed with fear and judgment. I simply asked, “What?” and went back into the inn to clean off and take some time to collect my thoughts, which I have poured into this journal. The acolyte leader was of no immediate threat to me anymore, and yet I killed him. Yes, it sends a message to al-Hiraj, but at what terrible cost? What have I become? Have I lost my mind?

I do not know. But this party looks to me for leadership and guidance. I cannot let them down. I cannot let them see these cracks. For their sake, for the sake of this continent, for my own sake, I must control myself and my emotions. Otherwise, what would it matter even if I gained the entire world, if I lost my mind to do so?

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 18
In which our wizard finds antipodal elements to be equally uncomfortable

Clearly the gods have a sense of wicked and cruel humor. No sooner do I complain about being out upon the water that I wind up in an incredibly hot, incredibly harsh desert. I trade feast for famine, and either way I end up with a sore stomach. Meros suggested that struggle built character; if so, then I must have the moral fiber of Pelor himself.

As we continued downriver toward the Crescent Harbor, we were set upon by our enemies. How they managed to evade notice all the way this deep into Lorutian territory is curious; later, checking my map of the portals of the Ebon Tower, it would appear that there is at least one opening to be found in Lorut, possibly two, that they may have traveled upon. No matter how they got there, however, they were upon us. The Doom Sisters struck again, the two that were left, anyway. One, Agony, we recognized from our run-in with her when we liberated Dunwich. The other, armed with a scythe, must have been the thus-far unknown third sister. But they were not the only foes. As we approached their ambush point, perfectly selected where the river channels narrowed due to an island in the center of the river, the sisters flanked us on either side as a dracolich erupted from the island.

The halflings reacted with the appropriate amount of panic. Frankly, I shared in their emotion. I had read about Dracoliches during my course of study with Meros. Dragons were bad enough alive, but resurrected they often were even more terrible in their rage, furious at the vitality they no longer felt. But even as my heart quickened at this terrible sight, the staff spoke to me, told me to take control of this creature, make its power my own. So compelling were these whispers, so sure were they of my success, I found myself storming to the bow of the boat I was on and forging the psychic link between myself and the Dracolich.

I felt its awful rage immediately upon contact, but having experienced a direct mental link with the undead before, I was prepared this time. I pushed aside its mind and took control of it myself, sure as a puppeteer. Hilde had jumped onto the riverbank to face Agony, who she had not yet forgiven for parting her and her sword, even for only a few minutes. I put my control to good use, using the dracolich to attack Agony. Clearly not expecting her ally to turn upon her, I snapped…well, our jaws, I suppose is the best way to put it…down hard on her shoulder. She screamed out in surprise, and I could see the pulsating webs of necrotic energy left behind from the toothmarks.

This was power. Unbelievable power. I could not believe the ease with which I subsumed its will. And the whispers further caressed me, told me that this power could be mine. Nations have slaughtered each other in wars of conquest, for less control than I could command with this mere piece of wood. Frankly, these whispers scared me. On one hand, I fear that these whispers come directly from within the Ebon Tower; perhaps the staff is a focusing point for those energies, a psychic antenna. On the other hand, and perhaps I fear this more, these whispers do not come from anywhere other than my own deepest desires.

My hesitation caused my attention to waver, which was enough for the dracolich to shunt me out of its mind. I returned to my senses just in time to hear the sound of a single die rolling against the bottom of the boat. The dragon, already disoriented from my mind control, flew even more unsteadily. Aislynn jumped into our boat, then teleported herself into Coronatum’s boat. The halfling crew of that ship was trying to get closer to shore, so that the full-plated paladin might disembarked without sinking to the bottom of the river. Hilde, out for blood and vengeance, went into that terrifying berzerker rage of hers and found plenty of blood as she brought the Valkyrie down upon her clearly staggering foe. Though we were caught in an ambush, you would think that we were the ones who had laid the trap.

Soon, though, the tide shifted. The dracolich, even angrier after having its mind stolen from it, vomited forth a spray of bone shrapnel that tore through anything in its path. I managed to surround myself in an energy shield mere moments before it shredded me, protecting our halfling helmsman directly behind me. Lahktar was less lucky; he managed to take cover using the sides of the boat, but the shrapnel still managed to go through his cover and cut into him. Least lucky of all was the halfling pilot of our ship. Coverless at the rudder, under the onslaught as hundreds of tiny pieces of bone, thin and sharp as razors, she was torn apart. She died quickly, of blood loss, but it was not a clean or painless death; as the battle raged, she cried out and moaned for several minutes until her body gave up. It was, frankly, horrible.

Coronatum and Aislynn found that the other sister was no pushover. Beyond her scythe, they would later tell me that she also seemed to be able to summon incredible emotional storms within a victim, robbing them of their will to even move, much less fight. Even the steely will of the Knight of Avandra could not totally throw off such a mental assault, though the paladin bravely fought on. Hilde dropped her nemesis, and Agony faded away just as her sister at the towers of Ceremoor did. But that only drew the attention of the Dracolich, who saw now saw her as an even more immediate threat that either myself or Lahktar. Even still, that did not protect us. The dracolich swept its bony, leathery wings at us, knocking myself and the helmsman overboard. For a few moments, I panicked, but I soon found enough footing to right myself. I was thankful to have been thrown not too far from the island. The helmsman was hit hard by the wings and sent into the deepest part in the middle of the river. He never surfaced. I can only hope he was fully unconscious through it all.

Lahktar, to his credit, extended his hand to help me get out of the river. But as soon as I got back in, I found myself face first on the bottom of the boat. Our pilotless boat crashed directly into the center of the island. I heard the timber crack, and knew that this boat was no longer seaworthy. Hilde continued to valiantly fight the dracolich, but the beast would be too much for even the strongest fighter in a one-on-one battle. The dracolich spat forth another burst of bone, and Hilde dropped to her knees, then all the way down. To see such a fearsome woman taken down…it is demoralizing. But Lahktar, proving that he actually did learn something from his time with Meros, forged a link with her unconscious mind. He has explained the process of “healing” a person as actually taking momentary control of their mind to make the body “repair” damage much, much faster than any natural process would work. However he does it, which is far beyond my understanding of the mind/body connection, it worked. Hilde got back to her feet, her vigor renewed, still ready to fight the unnatural beast.

The end of the battle came soon after, to the relief of all. The staff has curious properties, one of which is the ability to cast radiant energy, odd for something born of the Shadowfell but perhaps very powerful in such a place. With nearly my entire stamina exhausted, I managed to get a direct blow to the dracolich, and the animating spirit was exorcised from its bones. Like a puppet whose strings were cut, it fell apart and into the river. On the other bank of the river, Coronatum and Aislynn were able to finally end their slugfest with the last of the Doom Sisters, Aislynn taking the soul of the sister as she struck her down. She also took her scythe, for good measure.

We made a quick burial for the pilot of our ship and abandoned the damaged boat on the island, using some of it to repair damage to the other two ships. We continued to sail downriver in two boats. I noticed that Aislynn’s cat had survived the encounter; I wondered if it used any of its lives to do so. Further down the river, we noticed a merchant caravan along the riverbank that had been attacked. We moored our boats, as Coronatum seemed obligated to investigate what had happened. Aislynn’s cat explored the wreckage and came bounding back; we decided to investigate ourselves. A wounded Dragonborn, his guts nearly ready to spill out, was the only survivor. The blood and fire were fresh; whoever did this was not far. Coronatum asked for and received the blessing of his goddess, who knit shut the wounds of the merchant. The merchant revealed that a dragon-worshipping cult had waylaided the caravan, and that this group had some kind of large lizard with them as an attack animal…or perhaps like a siege weapon. Confronted with this blasphemy, Coronatum asked us to venture forth into the sands of Lorut after the cultists. We agreed; we did not want to end up as the next ambushed group of travelers.

Nothing could have prepared me for the heat of the desert. As a tiefling, yes, I am comfortable around fire. But what needs to be understood is that I do not perceive the heat of fire in the same way as other races do, and that once a fire gets hot enough, yes, I can be burnt. Quite badly, in fact. But this is no defense from the heat of the open sun, which seemed to burn as if filtered through a magnifying glass. As we followed what I was assured was “the trail”, I felt lost in the great desert. I would look behind me and the wind would blow our fresh footsteps away. We eventually found some ruins, but our attempt to enter into what appeared to be passageways under the dunes met with failure, as we did not have the strength among us to lift the great stone slab blocking the entrance.

And so, here I am, deep in the middle of the burning desert. I said I never wanted to be on a boat again. I have reconsidered that, even with dracolich ambushes, that perhaps the water isn’t so bad after all.

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...a little peace?
Aislynn's Contemplations

It is always nice when one succeeds at an endeavor. We rescued the elven ambassadora, cleaning up the area around the towers in the process. Not only that, but we layed low one of the sisters with relative ease…I fought the wench myself and she did not seem so tough! Hilde sent her off the tower in pieces…

Afterward in camp I had a strange experience…

As promised the shifter Julius met me in one on one combat…and I had no doubt that I would win a victory no matter the cost in blood and pain. I also fully intended to snuff him out like a candleflame and be done with it…spitting on his grave as I went.

This is the odd thing…when I had him there on the bloody ground he seemed so small and inconsiquential. It felt like there was no worth in killing him now that he knew that I defeated him…that he had to admit his guilt in the choices he had made. That he had to understand that saying one is a changed and better being does not erase past deeds without proper penance! I felt like my walking away leaving him on the ground somehow diminshed him more…so that is what I did. 

He gave us some information…to lead to the next link in my chain.

It also seems that the dark one has sent someone to keep me following her path…I have gained a small shadow. A clouded leopard cat to watch and report my moves. 

Even knowing that the little one is a spy in a way…I can not help feel annoyed with the bard's intention of snacking on her…He best had keep his enormous paws to himself!

We are off to Lorut…on a boat along the river. This means we are forced together at close quaters over a more extended period of time…this should prove interesting/entertaining/exasperating?!

 

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 17
Wherein our wizard finds no comfort in dreams

I have managed to get through my life to this point without having stepped on a boat. I will make every effort beyond this point to never again step on a boat. Once again I find myself in an unexpected and uncomfortable situation, as a chain of events that often feels beyond my control leads me and my companions toward some unknown fate. My only hope is that our destiny does not lead us deep into the hot, harsh sands of Lorut, where sudden eruptions of chaotic, elemental magic lay as traps underfoot the unwary traveler. If I were not so tired, I do not think my mind would be so clouded as it is now, nor my stomach so queasy. But these have been a tiring few days, and I doubt rest will find me in the near future.

After rescuing the ambassadora from atop the crumbling towers of Ceremoor, we returned triumphant to the Allandria base camp. To see the Deathwind turned away, for the first time, it filled the soldiers’ with an immense hope. They knew know that they were not fighting for a doomed cause. Now they knew this battle could be won. The excitement was infectious. The commander gifted us with a soldier’s share of pay for each of us, but none of our minds were on trinkets and baubles. As both Aislynn and the leader of the Dark Legion, the shifter called “Crusher”, survived the foray into the towers, they would fulfill their promise to do battle one-on-one, to the death.

We took ourselves and the Legion north of the camp, where the fighting would not disturb the celebratory troops. The combatants took positions on either side of a crossroad, and I made clear that any attempt by the Legion to influence the outcome of the battle would result in all-out combat. They grumblingly agreed…as did the rest of my travelling band when I made them promise the same thing. The fighters stared each other down, dark energy swirling around the white-heat rage of Aislynn and a raw, bestial power tensing within Crusher, waiting to explode in a bloodlust fury. The sheer energy of the moment seemed to soak into the very landscape, and it attracted even the fickle attention of a stray cat that took perch atop the boulder I leaned against.

Aislynn struck first, and hard. A blast of inky energy burst forth from her hands, catching Crusher off guard. But the advantage was not gained for long, as the massively powerful shifter struck back with enough ferocity to draw blood on a single swipe of his gauntleted fist. Back and forth they fought, unbalanced blast of energy followed by over-swung swipe, until Aislynn drew blood herself. The shifter, crying out in anger and in pain, devolved even more into a beast. And yet, it would not be enough, for Aislynn’s titanic furor would not be denied. With a hacking slash of her scythe, she tore a long, bloody gash across Crusher’s face. He wobbled, only his pride keeping him upright, before crumpling to the ground in a pile.

And then something unexpected happened. I would have wholly expected Aislynn to tear into Crusher with her bare hands; instead, she walked away. This woman who might have torn his very eyes out of his sockets when she first saw him simply left him wounded. Perhaps she merely needs to defeat her own demons, and in having overcome this man who once had power over her, maybe that sated her desire for vengeance. Maybe she was tired from being surrounded by blood and death after the battle at the towers. Aislynn is a cipher; I have only the barest knowledge of her motivations, even as her intentions are made viciously clear.

The cat, by the way, seemed to take a shine to Aislynn, who began talking to it. To the victor go the spoils, I guess. It’s still with us now, on this boat. As long as it stays out from underfoot, and doesn’t sap our provisions, I am neutral on the subject.

My own examination of Aislynn’s motivations may have something to do with my own state of mind. Even since picking up this gnome’s staff, my nightmares are coming back. They never really left, but the intensity and vividness has exponentially increased since we acquired this staff. I should have known things were going to get worse when I was able to “hear” the staff talking to me during the battle in the towers. That kind of psychic resonance with objects crafted in and of the Shadowfell has always presaged the worst of my nightmares. These I have been having over the past few days are the worst I have had in my life, only comparable to dreams I had while in possession of the black skull. But unlike the skull, whose power was inscrutable to me, this staff is powerful. Regardless of my discomfort, if we are to persevere, I must keep this staff with me…and the nightmares they bring.

These nightmares are insidious. They do not harass me with phantasms of the mind, with screams and shocks. No, my dreams are ones not of weakness and fear, but of power. Unimaginable power, the kind that even gods fear. These dreams caress my ego with dark insinuations; they offer me great returns for just a little piece of my soul, just the smallest part, and in my dreams I sell it piece by piece until I don’t even notice I have none left. With each piece comes a deed, each just one tiny step deeper into depravity. Like a frog in a pot full of water who doesn’t notice it’s heating until he’s been boiled to death, I don’t even notice the monster I have become until it’s too late for me to care. In my dreams I sacrifice my soul, my friends, entire nations of people, all for greater power. But to what end? With each death, a hole in the sky grows imperceptibly larger. As I continue to grow in power, power for its own sake, the void continues to eat the sky. Finally, I and the hole in the sky are all that remains, and when it is but us left, it swallows me whole into the unimaginable nothingness.

But these dreams recently have been different. There’s a voice—a girl, about ten, perhaps? She’s tiefling, and she looks like me. She’s singing, an old song of my people, a song of comfort. I barely even know anything of Protence; this song I know. She smiles and here I feel an antidote for the all-consuming selfishness, the obsessive lust for power. And then the dream itself rears its ugliness. The hole in the sky tears her away from me, and the dream continues. But still…this part, this aspect of the dream, it’s new. And though the darkness of the dream continues to grow in power, there’s a sweet, low voice of hope in there. Even if it too is devoured, it is there now where it once was not. That is something.

When we returned to Hallowdwell, we returned the ambassadora to the castle. She pledged what help she could personally give, and said that she would help in trying to convince Greenwood to send more troops. She also stated that she would be more than happy to come with us to personally fight the Deathwind. We accepted her offer, but I doubt I would push for her to join us. We’ve saved her from getting killed, and I would hate to put her right back into the line of fire.

The group then split up to follow their own interests for the day, after which we would come back together to plan our next move. Lahktar and Beezra decided to check on Donovan’s condition; Lahktar asked for a sizable chunk of the company purse, “just in case” the clerics at the Temple of Pelor had concocted useful potions. Usually, I would never let Lahktar have any of the purse, for fear that he’d snatch up every shiny trinket in the marketplace, but I felt that I could trust Beezra to reign in his spendthrift tendencies.

As for myself, I went to go see Ironstone. Having heard what Beezra said about him employing Deftblade and the Twilight Wanderers to help in the attack on Ceremoor, I felt compelled to confront him about it, not from an indignant position but one of admiration. I hadn’t given much thought to Ironstone, save as a stalwart leader of the royal guard. It appeared I had underestimated the calculating mind he possessed, hidden by his stoic and taciturn demeanor. Appealing to his sense of fairness, I asked him to lift the bounty on Deftblade, which he agreed to do. I care little, personally, for Deftblade and his gang of thieves. But he is smitten with at least one or two of my companions, and he and his ilk could be useful. Being the man who lifted the bounty puts me in a strong bargaining position with them indeed.

Later, Coranatum asked me to accompany him to the library of the Order of the Nightshade. I had intended on going anyway, so I was happy to provide an introduction for him. I browsed the stacks after we made introductions, and waited for Elhazra to come find me. She immediately recognized the gnome’s staff, and explained to me fully what it was. I could see that she wanted it back, but I told her that I must keep it. There was a surge of anxiety in my gut when she said she wanted to take it back, as it the staff itself was against this course of action. For a moment I was afraid it would turn into a fight, but with a heavy sigh, she agreed to let me keep it. She said she considered me, in a way, the most decorated member of the Order, and that I would need it out the in the field far more than she would need it at the library. She also gave me a circlet, ancient in origin from a ruined crypt in Protence. Armed with such mystic artifacts and with the full backing of the Order of the Nightshade, I felt ready to truly tackle whatever the Deathwind might throw at me.

We all met back at a tavern to go over the day. Lahktar did go on a spending spree, as I had feared, but at least what he bought were all potions. Many of them were brewed to defend against harsh and unforgiving elements, which we would surely face in Lorut. Clearly, the clerics had heard where we were going and loaded him up with the right stock of potions. Aislynn seemed to have gotten yet another tattoo in her spare time, and also acquired a braclet of some sort. Hilde kept to herself, which was not unusual, but seemed like she was harboring some secret, which was unusual for her. Coronatum seemed pleased to be heading to a land where everyone didn’t seem to want to kill him on sight. Beezra was looking under the weather still, from the plague she caught in Ceremoor; she decided to remain in Hallowdwell until she is able to beat it.

In the morning, we headed for the docks on the Snake River and boarded a boat to take us to the great port of Lorut. And that is how I find myself where I am now, tired, slightly queasy and heading into unknown danger. You’d think I’d have gotten used to that by now.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 16
In which victory comes at a high price for our wizard and his companions

Victory rarely comes easy, and it has never been easy for myself and my companions as we attempt to turn back the very Deathwind itself. And thus, when victory comes, it is only after much suffering, much struggle, much pain. Ah, but when it comes, victory is indeed sweet.

After regrouping following Aislynn’s to-do with the Dark Legion, we prepared to take back the Towers of Ceremoor. The Dark Legion would take one tower, and we would take the other. To get there, we would have to cross through the plague clouds and into the marshes around the towers. I was glad to have the gnome’s staff; though the area that it kept clear was none too large, it was enough that we could travel in formation. Still, bunched together and with low visibility, we were at a distinct disadvantage against the undead that awaited us.

It was therefore unsurprising, or at least as unsurprising as an ambush can be, when we were attacked. This time, the creatures were some kind of abominations that appeared humanoid, but with leathery wings of decaying flesh. Looking back upon it, I shudder to remember them, not due to their simple hideousness, but because of what they represent. Such creatures do not naturally exist; they are not simply reanimated corpses. These abominations were constructs, and the necromantic skill required to do such a thing is unsettling. At the time, however, my thoughts were more immediately focused on our survival, and though I might gain some insight from studying these horrors, I had no complaints when Hilde slashed them to bits.

Between having to stay tight around me and the unsure footing in the muck of the swamp, the battle proved to be difficult going. Beside the winged creatures, we also had some undead dogs to deal with, as well as a flaming, disembodied skull. The skull cackled madly, and its fire mastery caused some amount of problems with my non-Tiefling companions, but I found that my ray of frost, one of the very first I mastered under Meros, changed its tune considerably. Still, the tide of the battle refused to turn so easily; just when we seemed to have the upper hand, more undead erupted from the swamp below, no doubt the corpses of those who had fallen in the recent futile attempts to take back the tower. We had no such plans to join them, and so we fought back hard as we could. Hilde’s Valkyrie cleaved through their ranks, and Coronatum’s axe beheaded the mindless beasts that dared confront a Knight of Avandra. Myself, Aislynn and Lahktar tried to pace ourselves, not wanting to exhaust our willpower and mental focus before we even reached the tower, but we were anything but passive. When all but the skull laid wasted at our feet, it decided to retreat, no doubt to report to its master whatever weaknesses it may have observed. We tried to chase the skull down, but the swamp made it all but impossible to catch up with it. Hilde tried to hit it with her axes, but it was Lahktar, unbelievably, who was able to drop it with a psionic blast.

I’ve always felt that any sort of link with Lahktar is painful, much less a direct mind-to-mind one. I pity any creature that has Lahktar in its brain, undead or not.

We took a moment to catch our breaths, when out of the fog came a short, familiar figure. Coronatum and Aislynn prepared to strike, but the rest of us called them off. It was Beezra, the halfling swordmage, bounding up to us like no time had passed, like she hadn’t gone into hiding with Deftblade, as if it were old times. She said that she and Deftblade had been hired to help with the storming of the towers, which seemed suspicious, because Ironstone would had to have approved their services…and from the bounty on Deftblade’s head, I couldn’t imagine he would have simply not noticed, much less changed his mind. However, we were in no position to turn down an extra sword, especially one that we knew had been so effective in the past.

Hilde charged into the tower, only to find an empty room. The tower was decrepit, and it appeared that the Deathwind affected not only flora and fauna, but even structures…the tower had only been swallowed up within the year, and yet it looked as if it had been abandoned for a decade. The wood was rotting, and the stone was eroding. There was, however, a chest sitting in the middle of the floor that looked new and unaffected by the entropic powers of the Deathwind. Hilde walked up to the chest, ready to reclaim whatever was inside to assist our cause, when the damned thing came to life! We had walked into an ambush. Undead hobgoblins clambered down the inside of the tower walls, and more closed in from behind wielding chains. A flaming, headless skeleton came down the stairs, no doubt the other half of the head we had defeated earlier.

Lahktar, taking up the rear as is his custom, immediately began to get whipped by the chain-wielding zombies. When things settle down and we can talk for a moment, I may need to suggest a change to our usual tactical plan, and put him in the middle, where he is less of an easy target in a sneak attack. Unsurprisingly, the battered and bloodied bard retreated forward, into the castle. Aislynn was set on fire by the skeleton, but as a fellow Tiefling, she merely cackled madly and claimed “it tickles”. I cannot imagine that she thinks that these undead can actually comprehend a statement like that, so I am forced to believe that her comment was for our benefit, to instill fear, or perhaps a perverse respect, in us. She is a difficult one. She guards herself very closely, her history. She will not willingly show any weakness, or much beyond her own aggression. Her rage consumes her at times. But I will not deny her combat abilities. Her anger seems to make her strong, for now. But anger is easily exploitable, and I fear the day when someone with a thimble of cleverness does so.

But for now, she is a very impressive force to be reckoned with. She has one very disquieting trick, where she absorbs some spiritual energy from those who fall against her in battle. She then is able to store this energy, as a kind of battery, and woe betide any creature that attacks her after she has built up a significant charge. She unleashed one such attack, and it was unnerving. Screams of the dead echoed in the tower, and black tendrils of necrotic energy lashed out from her fingers.

There is a reason that even our allies don’t exactly feel completely at ease when around our group.

Meanwhile, the gnome’s staff spoke to me. Not literally, of course; it is an inanimate piece of wood. But it spoke to me in the dark corners of my mind, a gentle caress, a lover’s whisper. It told me that I could command the undead with this staff. A brief vision fluttered in my head, and for a moment I saw myself at the head of a terrible conquering army, the world prostrate at my feet. There was no time to for this thought to take root, as I was being attacked from many angles, but the vision had given me an insight. Focusing my will through the staff, I made a connection with the nearly blank slate of one of the chain-wielders. A wave of incredible hunger rolled through my mind, unreasoning, voracious, all-consuming hunger. It would be difficult to imprint anything on this kind of single-mindedness. But I focused that hunger against one of his fellow undead, and for a moment I controlled the zombie as sure as a puppeteer. But another wave of that hunger crashed, and I lost the connection. But here was a new trick of mine, and with practice, it could be a very powerful trick indeed.

Coranatum destroyed some of the undead assailants with a blast of holy lightning, while Hilde smashed the mimic chest to splinters. Beezra channeled her sword magics while Aislynn, Lahktar and I sniped the rest. Soon, only we remained standing. The chest must have, at one time, been a simple chest, as we found quite a bit of treasure in its innards. While the rest of the group celebrated our windfall, I worried. Again, the power it would take to creature such a horrid thing is not a power I would take likely. However, I kept my fears to myself, as there was no sense in worrying the rest of our band when our job here was not finished.

We ascended the stairs to the top of the tower. There was a makeshift bridge that spanned from the tower we climbed to the tower that the Dark Legion was supposed to take. However, through the sickly mist, we could see that the Dark Legion was bogged down in the swamps outside the tower, and that its defenders had decided to face the Legion head on. We would not be receiving any help in this battle. Atop the tower across the bridge, one of the Doom Sisters stood guard over a young elven woman, no doubt the missing ambassadora. Two large skeletal bodyguards blocked the way across the tower. Without hesitation, I shot a blast of arcane energy at one of the skeletons. It hit true, right in the abomination’s chest, staggering it off balance and down to the ground far below. It would have most likely killed a living creature, but being simply a skeletal conduit of necromantic energies, it got back up again, somehow continuing to move despite having several cracked bones.

Inspired by the quick start, the rest of the party prepared to charge forward and save the ambassadora. The skeleton still remaining on the bridge charged forward to attack our elusive swordmage, who was able to dodge with ease. Aislynn charged forward to meet the Doom Sister directly, two female conduits of rage crashing together. However, even as the advantage seemed to swing our way, the Deathwind itself coalesced into solid forms, which attacked us immediately, shifting the momentum once again. The other skeleton, the one that had fallen, was elevated back atop the tower by these motes of Deathwind, and set about getting its revenge.

The bridge upon which Aislynn and the Doom Sister fought was makeshift, and began swaying with the back and forth attacks. Aislynn nearly toppled over the side, but caught herself; unfortunately, so did the Doom Sister. After clearing several motes out with a swirling blast of flame, I began to venture upon the bridge. Lahktar, bruised and bloodied by his tangles with the undead this day, tried to follow along, only to drop unconscious at the worst possible point, in the middle of the bridge. I fished into my cloak and found a potion of healing to give to him. The rest of the group finished off the skeletons while Hilde charged at the Doom Sister. She knocked her to the side of the bridge, and then with a mighty, cleaving blow, took the Sister’s head right off her neck. Her body faded to mist, and her head dropped ungraciously into the marshes below.

It was not easy, but it was victory. For once in this war, the Deathwind would be turned back. The cost was high; the entire party sported wounds in the attack, and were it not for my healing attentions, Lahktar might have bled out on that bridge. But it was victory, unambiguous victory, someone we found to be in short supply in this war. But there would be a price, as there always is. What happened with the ambassadora, and the sickness Beezra contracted from the foul air, I shall speak of in my next entry, for I wish to end this entry on a note of sweet, hard-earned success.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 15
Wherein the wizard attempts to dispel some clouds of doubt

There has been too much blood spilled, and I grow weary of it. I do not hesitate to defend myself or others, or when there is no choice, but there has been too much of that recently. And yet I know that there will be only more as we continue, as we press harder against the Deathwind. I know it is inevitable, but that does not mean that I have to find it acceptable.

After defeating the white dragon, Lahktar wished to spare it. Coronatum, following the strictures of his faith, wanted to destroy it. I did not have a vested interest in what happened to the creature, though as a white dragon and thus barely more intelligent than a pack animal, I recognized that such a thing loose upon the world might result in a great deal of destruction if it were allowed to simply go. Lahktar protested that the dragon most likely had begun to accumulate a treasure horde, one that we could retrieve were to let it live. Clearly, that argument meant little, as Coronatum threw Lahktar to the ground and hacked the dragon’s head off. Riches mean little to the zealot. I felt a sense of shame, though, at the killing of a creature that could not defend itself, one that might have been turned against the Deathwind or trained as a mount, and thus made a powerful ally. That said, I harvested ritual components from the dragon, as it would have been a bigger shame to simply let such a creature’s death have no value at all.

Hilde and I decided to handle the gnome that had seemingly been one step ahead of us for months. After seeing the dragon being disposed of so casually, I did not have any desire to kill this meddlesome but not overly dangerous gnome. I informed him that the staff was now mine, and that he was to take the first boat to another continent if he wished to remain alive, and that if we ever saw him again, it would be the last thing he ever saw. The gnome tried to be obstinate, but Hilde was able to break down any remaining pride he had by dunking him headfirst into a nearby stream until he got the message. He took off, and I think we got our message cross about as clearly as we could.

We then decided to rest. Hilde gathered us around the fire to tell us of how she came to be here in Centralia. It was an epic story, one of tragedy and triumph, and explained quite a bit of how she came to be who she was. And though she did not seem aware of it, her story confirmed my suspicions that her sword, the Valkyrie, was a very special sword. What enchantments were placed into that sword, I am unsure. But it seems unlikely that I will ever get a chance to examine it up close, outside of Hilde dying, which is the only circumstance I can possibly imagine her letting it out of her possession…and frankly, if something fells Hilde, I suspect that I would follow shortly. Or, even more likely, I would have already fallen.

Later that night, I used some of the ritual components taken from the dragon to learn more about my newly-acquired staff. I knew that it had the ability to temporarily dispel the clouds of the Deathwind; I had seen this in action at Black Hearth. But I wanted to know more about this artifact, and I did not trust that the gnome would have told me anything true. So I read into the staff’s history, finding the resonant memories within the object. I had read of such rituals in my studies with Meros, but this was my first time actually attempting such a feat. I saw first a vision of the gnome in Black Hearth, prior to our arrival, affixing the panpipes found on the staff. Clearly, this was an improvement he had made to the object. The second vision was of a cloaked figure obliterating a wraith in the Shadowfell and taking this object…though at the time of this vision, there was an amethyst atop the staff. It did not tell me much, but it suggested that this object had gone through plenty of hands, that it originated in the Shadowfell, and that it was broken. And yet, it still remained powerful enough to rid a small area of the Deathwind. I must research this artifact more in-depth when we return to Hallowdwell; surely, the Order of the Nightshade must have some reference upon this object.

The next day, we continued south toward the marshlands of Ceremoor, where an Allandrian force was laying siege to the two broken, yet still great guard towers full of undead, a curious and ultimately futile tactic. Our information suggested that the Elven ambassadora had been taken to Ceremoor, for purposes unknown but surely untoward. Having worked as hard as we did to forge an alliance between Allandria and Greenwood, I think we took it as a point of personal pride to return the ambassadora to Hallowdwell.

We came upon the Dark Legion, who had apparently offered their mercenary services to Allandria to help take the towers. Our newest comrade, Aislynn, went absolutely insane with rage upon seeing him. She attacked like some kind of rabid dog, and I tried to cast a spell of sleep to keep the peace. Caught off guard as I was, I did not focus enough and it had little effect, allowing one of the kobald members of the Legion to hit Aislynn full on with a crossbow bolt. Lahktar was able to restrain Aislynn, with great effort, and Hilde prevented the Legion from attacking. The ruckus brought over an Allandrian captain, and we were able to convince him that this was a personal matter. Finally, Coronatum was able to channel a measure of divine calm into Aislynn, who gave up her attack…though nothing, not even a god, could remove her anger. I exacted a promise from both Aislynn and the object of her rage, the shifter called Julius, that after the attack on the towers, if both still lived, they could meet one-on-one and settle their differences. They both agreed, and peace was temporarily achieved.

In the scuffle, I noticed a row of scars across Aislynn’s head. I recognized what they were. They were the scars from a Diadem of Obedience, a nasty little artifact from Protence used to keep slaves in line. From what I knew of Protence, slavery was restricted to non-Tieflings, except in cases of crimes against the state. Those scars made me wonder, very deeply, what exactly Aislynn had been involved in prior to joining our little band.

We had a little time to prepare ourselves before we made our sorties against the tower. We were to go into one tower, and the Legion into another. One of the Doom Sisters, possibly the one who had nearly captured us when we liberated the people of Dorwich, was in command of the forces, though which tower she was in was anyone’s guess. We would rescue the ambassadora, and once he we had her, we would use the staff’s power to dispel the thick plague clouds to let the heavy artillery batter the towers until they shattered, thus removing an undead stronghold along the Arktfarian border. My companions tried to impress the Legion, Lahktar with our magical pedigree, Hilde with her martial strength. Both failed to do so, but I could not care less. I simply asked the soldiers about them, and they told me what little they knew. They were capable; frankly, that was all I needed to know at this point.

And so I write this entry before our attack. More death is sure to be chronicled in this entry. But I let the gnome go, and I prevented unneeded and wasteful bloodshed in camp. It’s nothing, compared to the death that surrounds us. But it relieved my spirit to prevent harm, instead of inflicting it. One day, I will be able to teach and build, instead of destroying. I only hope that I will be around when such a day comes.

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Darkness walks with me...
Aislynn's Contemplations

I encountered a face that I remember…and not fondly. Rage and darkness consumed me and only my companions prevented the hot spill of blood (mine or his, both…does it matter?) that was about to follow.

The beast actually claims to be a"changed man"...is this supposed to relieve him of the responsibility for the actions that he took. The ones that left me a "changed being"?  I admit he is not the only one that over the course of the years tore my wounds and summoned my demons…but he is still responsible in part for the shadow that consumes me a little more each day.

My path, my actions often only further the dark in my heart…but I need to bring justice to my family, because for all I know I am the only one that is left to do so.

For better or for worse Ouroboros has arranged to me to face him one on one when our work here is completed…What will come of it? What path other than one leading to more darkness can I follow?

How does one choose between justice and redemption?

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Hilde's Saga
Around the fire, Hilde speaks

“You know my name is Hilde. You know little else. I shared little else. But having slain the Woodwalker with you, I feel it is time that I share more. What I share with you is the history of my people. Through that, you may come to know me.

My people live across the ocean, in Ostlund. It is a much smaller land than Centralia. There are only two great peoples in Ostlund. One are the Sangocor Dwarves, who live in a great underground nation burrowed under the Sangocor Mountains. The other are my people, the Wen. Our people are divided into eight tribes. Each tribe was founded by a great leader of our people, and each tribe adopted a color to represent them. My tribe is the Red Wen, and so, my full name is Hilde of the Red Wen. Feel free to continue calling me simply Hilde.

The mother of our tribe was the warrior Brunhilde, for whom I am named. Before our tribes were divided, there were no women warriors. Brunhilde challenged any man to defeat her, and no man did. She risked exile or worse, but she was favored of Kord and stood firm. Eventually, she founded her own tribe, of those whose minds she had manage to change. Favored of Kord, she chose the color red to represent her tribe. And so today we are known as the Red Wen, and even today, we venerate warriors both male and female.

My mother was named Sigrid. She was of the direct line of Brunhilde, and was renowned as the fiercest warrior of the Red Wen. Some said she was possessed by the spirit of Brunhilde in battle, for none could best her. My father was Nyjal. He was not of the Red Wen, but of the Purple Wen. The Purple Wen favor the martial arts of stealth and silent death. Their weapons are not that of the greatsword and armor, but the dagger and nightfall. Among my tribe, the Purple Wen are often looked down upon as cowards that shy from battle. And yet, my mother, the greatest warrior of our tribe, fell in love with Nyjal of the Purple Wen at an Allsmeet, when all the tribes come together as one nation. And so it is from this parentage I am born.

Nyjal left the Purple Wen to join my mother. I am told that my father had trouble adapting to his new circumstances. The lingering dislikes of the Red Wen toward the Purple Wen meant that he was often shunned or ignored, even though he gave up the heraldry of the Purple and now wore that of the Red. They dared not insult or abuse him, though, as they feared the wrath of my mother. So they whispered their daggers in the night, much the same as those they looked down upon.

When I was young, barely able to walk on my own, the Sangocor Dwarves fled their tunnels and swarmed onto the surface. They had little to do with us topsiders, save for some trading, before then. They fled before the armies of a lich, who had lain dormant within the deepest recesses of the mountains and had awoken. He was incredibly powerful, and had no name, only titles. The Feared One. The Walking Death. It was said that he had no name, that he had used terrible magic to remove his name from this realm. His armies ambushed the complacent dwarves and drove them from their homes. Now the dwarves asked the Wen for their assistance in retaking Sangocor from the lich.

My mother knew that the lich would not stop within the mountains, and urged at the Allsmeet for the Wen to take up arms against the darkness. The other tribes felt that the lich was a dwarven matter, and took no action. My mother was furious, but she obeyed the decision of the Allsmeet. Yet she began to train herself and her people, knowing that the battle was only delayed.

Soon, the lich’s dark magic began to poison the lands of the Wen. The earth bore less fruits. Animals died of starvation. And undead minions of the lich began to erupt from holes in the ground, attacking isolated encampments. The Allsmeet had only allowed the lich time to entrench himself in the fortress mountains. But my mother was ready. The Red Wen were ready. And when the Allsmeet met again, this time to take the battle to the lich, my mother was ready to lead our best forces into the darkness. In gratitude for her support from the beginning of their forced exile, the dwarves forged my mother a sword. The master blacksmith who created it prayed to Kord for five days, taking no food and only a single tankard of water a day, for him to grant his blessings to this weapon. They called it the Valkyrie and presented it to her. It is her sword that I carry today.

My father was not a warrior. He could handle a blade, as all Wen can, but he was far better at planning, of making strategy, of managing the resources of battle. And so his role was not to fight. He was to remain behind, managing the battle. And so once again he was looked down upon, as a cowardly Purple Wen. But my father ignored their chattering. He knew how valuable his role was. In this way, facing their ignorance, he was as brave as my mother.

The tunnels and warrens of the Sangocor Mountains were deep, dark and twisting. Even the dwarves had trouble navigating some of the more remote routes, even with the aid of a map. It was from within these remote routes that the lich commanded his armies, and so it was in these routes my mother and her warband fought. For every warrior my mother lost, the lich lost a hundred or more. And yet, there were thousands under the command of the lich, and soon my mother’s warband was down to less than a dozen. When an ambush struck, the warband was split. The half without my mother returned to the surface for reinforcements, but there were none to be had. The lich had stretched the Wen thin, like a taut skin of a drum, ready to be torn apart with the slightest blow. My mother and her warband would have to be left for dead.

And yet, my father could not accept this. He loved my mother, and with desperation in his heart, he delved into the dark tunnels. Here, in the shadows, he felt at home as a Purple Wen. He avoided the marauding bands of undead, stealthily cutting a throat when needed and laying traps behind him to wreak havoc on the enemy. He continued into the dark belly of the mountains for five days, a single man able to cover the same amount of ground a warband would have taken five weeks to cover. He followed the trail of my mother, noting a makeshift memorial for each of the remaining warriors my mother had with her. Each body he checked; none were my mother. He continued on.

Finally, he came upon the lair of the lich, and found my mother in battle with the evil thing. My mother had been severely wounded. Her body was battered. She had no companions left alive. And yet she was still upon her feet. She still stood, even as she barely had the strength to lift her sword. But in the moment he saw her, my father felt the greatest joy, and then the greatest sorrow. For as he beheld his wife, the lich struck a blow that brought my mother to her knees, and then to the floor. My mother was dead.

My father flew into a rage. He picked up the Valkyrie, my fallen mother’s sword, and swung with a might unknown to his body. The sword glowed with a white light as he brought the sword down upon the neck of the lich and severed it from his body. My father had finished my mother’s battle. My father was the hero of the Relief of Sangocor.

My father was not alone in his loss, he knew this. And though he experienced a great sorrow, he knew that the Wen needed their hero. So reluctantly, he became one, along side my mother. Stories were told of their exploits, sagas that rivaled those of the ancient founders of the Wen. My father took a position of leadership among the Red Wen, who could not remember ever saying anything against him. The dwarves became our cherished partners, and a yearly feast was held to commemorate the end of the Siege of Sangocor.

And yet, my father knew something that the others did not. He knew that the spirit of the lich had not died with its body. He knew that it left, seeking another body. It found it in a dire wolf. The loss of its body had greatly weakened the lich, and sharing the mind and body of a wolf changed the lich into a more beastial foe. It may not command an army, but it would seek its revenge. So my father kept the Valkyrie ready, in case the Woodwalker should return. He trained me to be ready as well. But when the time came, my father was an older man, and though he was a hero, he was still not a great warrior. The Woodwalker slew him, and nearly slew me before I drove it away.

The poison that the lich had put into the earth of Ostlund did not subside, either. It existed independent of him, long after he lost his power. It was for this reason that the eight tribes of the Wen decided to send one of their best to Centralia, to search amongst the peoples of this continent for a cure for our land. On the eve of the Allsmeet, I had a dream that the Woodwalker would be found in Centralia as well, searching for a way to restore himself to his former power. At the Allsmeet, I was the first warrior to volunteer, like my mother had done so before. And that is how I find myself with you today.”

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Dragons, woves, and gnomes...oh my!
Aislynn's Contemplations

I have to admit I am having fun…It has been too long that I have enjoyed myself. I was not even sure I could find joy any longer. Like the capability to feel that emotion had been carved or ripped from me at some point during the passing years.

No…I discover it in some strange and to some frightening places these days.

I wonder if it is a good thing to allow myself to enjoy the company I am keeping. Are they going to lead me in the directions that I need to travel in? Will I find the things that I am searching for at the end of this path? Should I not be walking in these dark places alone?

I find myself unsure…

We had some odd encounter this night. A Dragon…the same one that made an appearance when I first met this group. The gnome that got away, and an enormous  direwolf that Hilde seemed to have it in for…

It was a glorious fight…it ended on a rather odd note…it seems that the dragon is sweet on the bard. No good can come of this, but it might be entertaining to watch.

 

 

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 14
In which our wizard and company are tied up in previous entanglements

Just when I thought things had gotten their strangest, the world sends something to make me question whether the gods feast on absurdity.

As it turned out, the shadow overhead was a dragon. And not just any dragon, either. This was the very same white dragon we had encountered as a wyrm in Coppernight Hold. The same one that had snatched our gnomish quarry from Duros Keep. And sure enough, the gnome was with him. But most disturbingly, accompanying them was the Woodwalker, that horrid bogeyman of Hilde’s tribe. The appearance of him, one-eared and one-eyed, chilled me. What foul machinations had come into play that resulted in three of our most hated enemies banding together? Though in many ways, it was no great surprise that they would team together; certainly, it has helped our band plenty of times to have pooled our unique abilities.

The gnome made his threats, the same empty threats and boasts we’d heard before. We had no real quarrel with this band, except for Hilde and the Woodwalker, but it appeared that they would have no other way than to have at it in battle. The gnome revealed a tattoo on his arm as he wildly gesticulated…he was a member of the Order of the Nightshade, or at least a former member. He started going on about his quarrel with them, a frankly tedious litany of how they failed to see his genius. Whether it was intentional or not, his speech served as a kind of distraction. As soon as the Woodwalker disappeared into the shadows, I knew that the gauntlet had been dropped.

I immediately summoned a blast of fire into the area where the gnome and the Woodwalker had been. Soon the clearing would be filled with all manner of bright light and thunderous sound as the battle raged. The clamor of it all surely could be heard for a mile around, and seen even further. This is precisely why we don’t attempt subterfuge.

Unsurprisingly, Hilde’s attentions were entirely focused on the Woodwalker. Her sword, that massive greatsword called Valkyrie, took on an eerie, humming glow as she attacked her nemesis. It seemed that neither one of these savage warriors would be able to land more than a glancing blow upon each other. Hilde moved with grace and strength, and eventually she was able to bring down the flat part of her sword’s blade upon the werewolf’s head, crushing the orbit of his remaining eye. Howling in terror and rage, the Woodwalker clawed madly at the air, ineffectual in his flailing. With her quarry incapacitated, Hilde brought her blade down upon the accursed beast’s neck. In one swift, sure blow she decapitated her foe. The head rolled to her feet, and the body disappeared in a cloud, fading away upon the wind.

The gnome tried to make his escape amidst the chaos, still smarting from the initial blast I sent his way. I summoned a rolling ball of flame to try to cut him off, but as before, he proved to be very elusive. He was nearly out of my ability to maintain the spell when I heard a sound I’d been dreading…the sound of rolling dice. Lahktar had chosen this moment to try out his new toy. The die came to rest on a pictogram of a gauntleted fist, and suddenly my fire turned from orange to blue, which was more than enough to put down the gnome. As befits the roll of a die, we got lucky that it didn’t cause my flame to envelope the entire forest, or for it to suddenly become sentient fire or some other catastrophe. They say the gods look over children and fools…Lahktar’s continued existence proves that there is usually some truth in every hoary adage.

While we fought off the Woodwalker and the gnome, Aislynn and Coranatum faced off against a young white dragon, grown some from when we first encountered it in Coppernight Hold. Aislynn used her dark powers to restrain the beast, but even the hardiest of warriors could not hold even a small dragon for long. Once we had settled with the Woodwalker and the gnome, we all turned our attentions on the dragon. Together would be the only way we might defeat it.

Let it be said that the Knights of Avandra are incredibly durable. Though Coranatum could not seem to land a blow on the snaking creature, he took blow after blow from the beast and held his ground. I may question the wisdom of facing a dragon head on, but I cannot question the toughness to withstand its onslaught. Nevertheless, even the vaunted Knights of Avandra have their limits, and it became clear that a distraction would be necessary to prevent tragedy from befalling the paladin.

And that’s when it heard Lahktar’s voice.

It appears that the dragon was a she. Combine Lahktar’s draconic heritage, his…unique singing voice and the fact that white dragons are not too far removed in intelligence from a wild beast, and biology takes over. It would seem that Lahktar’s singing voice is similar to the mating call of the white dragon, which certainly drew the dragon’s attention away from fading Coranatum. Instead, the dragon swooped over to Lahktar and grabbed him in its talons, preparing to spirit him away. Though at times I may have fantasized about such fates befalling the lout, when faced with it actually happening, I knew I had to protect him as one of this band. Aislynn and I fired bolts of arcane energy at the creature, but it seemed intent upon taking its prize. Hilde, spattered with the blood of her father’s killer, challenged the dragon, and hovered for a moment…long enough for Lahktar to spit acid on the beast’s legs.

The sizzle of the acid could be heard even as the dragon roared in pain and betrayal. It let Lahktar go, who landed with a thud. The bard was able to roll out of the way in time to avoid getting landed upon by the dragon, and if Laktar landed with a thud, the white dragon landed with an earth tremor.

I will end this entry here. We dealt with the gnome and dragon, but that’s an entirely different set of troubles, and frankly I am tired of troubles right now and wish to sleep. Hilde says she wishes to tell a story; perhaps I shall end my chronicle and listen to hers. She so rarely speaks, so when she does, I tend to listen. Perhaps her taciturn style might rub off on garrulous Lahktar…though then again, perhaps water will begin to flow upward.

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