The Chronicles of Hallowdwell

Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 13
In which our wizard finds himself surrounded in the strange

Things in this life are often much, much stranger than the books I read in Meros’ tower could have prepared me to encounter. I write this by campfire, surrounded by a paladin, a barbarian, a bard and a terror, on our way to infiltrate a tower to rescue an Elven ambassadora. That’s how this journey began, so long ago, around a campfire. But from here to there…how strange seems the tale.

Following my illness, we heard that an attempt was to be made on Prince Donovan’s life. Though I have my own opinions of the man, the success of such a plot would serve to greatly destabilize Allandria, thus undoing a great many things we have worked so hard to achieve. Thus, we decided to attend a banquet being held at Castle Hallowdwell to prevent the assassination.

The situation in Hallowdwell has grown increasingly tenuous. Refugees from Arktfar, and even southern Allandria, have come to seek the protection of the thus-far impregnable walls of Hallowdwell. However, food production has sharply decreased, since the farmers flee the Deathwind and crops fail under its pestilence. Tent cities of people with no more than the clothes upon their back have sprung up around the city, resources have grown scarce, outbreaks of disease have arisen more frequently. In this scenario, it is unsurprising that there is a palpable tension brewing. To host a feast, in the midst of this misery, is a poor tactical choice. But as my dealings with these Allandrians have shown, clearheaded thinking is not one of their strong suits.

Thus, Coronatum loaned himself out to the Royal Guard to help keep the rabble protesting at the gates from erupting into a full-scale riot. I made plans with the dwarf Ironstone, to coordinate security. Hilde infiltrated the kitchen to be on the lookout for poisons, a method for the deed we deemed most likely. Aislynn, unsurprisingly, took to the shadows to watch the banquet hall unobserved. Lahktar and I decided to impersonate ambassadors from Lorut and Protence; we hoped that our presence might find its way to the heart of the Deathwind and make it appear that Allandria had more allies that it truly had, as well as giving us a clear view of the hall should an attacker make a brazen move.

I spoke with the Arktfarians, those ancient enemies of Allandria, my most likely suspect to want to destabilize the nation. The Arktfarian noble I spoke with was a proud man, and abject in his misery over his fallen homeland, but he held no guile. I took the opportunity to warn the ambassadora that there was a plot that might affect her too; she has proven a capable warrior and might be able to fend off an attack, given warning of it. I sat back at the table, only to be bothered by Lahktar, who noticed that the ambassadora was wandering off with the prince. We followed, mainly because Lahktar swore something was amiss.

And I will be damned to the many hells if he wasn’t right. As we entered the garden, we discovered the prince not in a passionate embrace, but being attacked by a shapeshifter. Allies that had managed to slip through ambushed us, and battle was joined. Coronatum and the Royal Guard prevented the assassins from escaping, and we dispatched the ground with great efficiency. After winning the battle, we tried to get some information from the shapeshifter, but only learned that the Crimson Brotherhood, that infamous guild of assassins, was behind it. Having no use for him and knowing that an attack on the royal family was a capital offense anyway, I let Aislynn dispatch him. One less mouth in the dungeon to feed, and one less ally of the Deathwind to focus upon.

Upon the assassins, we found a few useful items. The shifter wore a black cloak that not only fit my wardrobe but contained many pockets. Even better, these pockets were actually portals to quite literal “pocket dimensions”, that would allow secure storage of items without weighing me down. Lahktar found an unusual die, with pictograms upon its six sides. The very idea of chaotic magic disturbs and distresses me. The path of magical study that I find appealing is orderly magic, reliable magic. Magic that requires great focus and willpower to shape the world around you, to bend the laws of nature to your command. I know that there are those, particularly in Greenwood, that practice the magic of the feywild, and those that would act as mere conduits for the power of the Elemental Chaos. But I am no mere conduit, and I prefer to know exactly what my powers are and what I can do with them.

Unsurprisingly, Lahktar has become mildly obsessed with the die.

Once we were done with the shifter, we placed the prince in the care of Bohm and the clerics of Pelor. The assassins had poisoned him, proving one of our predictions to be true. The poison was a crafty one; too much would kill Donovan, but withholding it from him entirely would also kill him. The antidote would be difficult to create, and without a full understanding of the poison we might do more harm than good. We decided to leave the prince at the temple, and hoped we might discover the poison’s origin by discovering the origin of the poisoners.

We spent the rest of the day acquiring information on the whereabouts of the ambassadora; the Crimson Brotherhood may be a tightly-run organization, but even the tightest ships have leaks. It took a few hours, and a parade of savage, wholly unexpected beatings from Hilde, Aislynn and Coronatum, but eventually we found that leak. Turns out that the Brotherhood had already delivered the ambassadora to Arktfar; they may have planned on placing the shapeshifter in her place to even further infiltrate Allandria once the ransom had been paid. In an overall bad mood, we decided that we were going to take her back; we had escorted her to safety once, and I daresay it was a point of pride that we were going to take her back once again.

Before we left for Arktfar in the morning, I indulged Lahktar’s fascination with his new little bauble. I had made him swear to not roll the die until we discovered more about it, lest he wind up destroying half of Hallowdwell with the thing. We used the library of the Order of the Nightshade to try and find the history of this die. Though we did not find anything on this particular die, my personal curiosity was piqued by finding mention of Lilandra, one of Meros’ first two apprentices, who it has been rumored disappeared into the feywild. It mentioned her having one of these items in her possession. Needless to say, I was not comforted by this discovery, and made Lahktar swear to wait until we had left a populated area to try the damned thing out.

And so I find myself sitting by a campfire in a forest clearing, on the way to rescue an Elven ambassadora, itself highly unlikely, with four of the strangest people I could have met along the way. Perhaps some kind of feywild hex has been placed upon me after all. That would explain…hmpf. Some kind of shadow just passed over our campfire. Something tells me that things are about to get even stranger very soon.

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Can you imagine?

Who would ever think that I would help foil an assassination plot. Most would think me to be the one that is doing the assassinating.

And yet that is just what happened. My new companions and I were in attendance of a royal banquet to prevent one of the members of the royal family from being forced to check out of this life prematurely.

We succeeded…now to wring some details from the would-be killer. Such as the whereabouts of the elven ambassadora for example…and the name and location of the instigating parties.

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What fresh new hell is this?
Aislynn's Contemplations

So I now find myself in strange company. In my search to find information and truth to help me complete my personal ambitions I end up tangled in a new social web somehow, after accepting what seemed a simple enough offer of help to follow up on a tidbit wrung from a shallow source.

The very idea of companions is one that is foreign to me now. After all had I not sworn to forgo such bonds? People weigh you down. Worry about other's safety, about whether or not someone else is trustworthy…it wastes time and divides the attention.

Already the differences betwix us have caused friction. The sour one seems to think that he always knows best. He really gives little thought to what any of the rest may think or want. In doing so he elects himself not merely leader…but more like dictator of the group. Opinions that diverge from his own he has difficulty swallowing.

All the same he cares more than he likes to admit, that one…

The bard is an odd one…one wonders how he has managed to survive. However, he seems to have his uses. He is a superior alchemist (imagine my surprise). I wonder if it is even possible to have a serious discussion with him on matters alchemical?

The Paladin does not say much…he is quite powerful and good to have in a fight. 

The woman is impressive as well. Such raw power! I would not want her an enemy in a fight.

I will follow this awhile…maybe they will be of help after all. It seems that my line of inquiry is going to take me places where I will require assistance and strong allies. If not I can simply go my own way again…

 

 

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 12
In which the wizard contemplates walking away from it all

After clearing out the tower, we made our way to liberate the villagers of Dorwich, right across the border of Allandria and Arktfar. Upon arriving on the outskirts of town, we saw that a group of were-rats were guarding what was, essentially, a corral. Hoping that these creatures were barely more than beasts, we decided that we would impersonate operatives of the Deathwind. After all, we look the part—a wizard, a short-tempered tiefling warlock, two dragonborn and one immensely deadly human barbarian. The leader of the group, who seemed brighter than the rest, send a messenger off, not willing to believe us but not willing to call our bluff, either. We used the opportunity to get the drop on our opponents, but like their less-advanced brethern, their ability to swarm us meant that the fight would not be easy. However, our team, showing a newfound ferocity, had managed to gain the upper hand when the messenger arrived with a commander. The rats referred to her as “Agony”, which I can only assume is some kind of code name…or, more dangerously, indicative that there is some kind of cultic hierarchy amongst the forces of the Deathwind. She managed to surround a group of villagers with spirits under her thrall, and brought the battle to a sudden halt by declaring we surrender, or they die.

In every adverse situation, there is an opportunity. Though we were at a disadvantage, I keenly understood that our band were much more capable than these villagers. We had managed to overwhelm superior numbers, handily. Many of our powers, such as those possessed by myself and Lahktar, do not require anything but our own body and mind to unleash. Despite having had several skirmishes, we have precious little knowledge of the grand, sweeping intentions of those that would serve the Deathwind. These dozen or so villagers, whether they lived or died, would have little to no impact upon the larger battle. But it would also gain us little to continue the battle, slaying both the villagers and our enemies.

However, we would gain much by allowing ourselves to surrender to this woman, to keep our cards close to our chests. We would be able to examine the inner workings of the forces of the Deathwind. We would be able to see at least some of their command structure, and their commanders. We might learn what their intentions are, beyond mere death and destruction. We might learn what their connection to the Ebon Tower is, and how it figures into their plans. And finally, we might be able to hamstring their operations in this area by doing as much damage in our inevitable escape, inflicting material destruction and personnel attrition.

However, this plan would require subtlety of mind and a deep cunning. Our band, for better or for worse, and in this case worse, eshews that kind of thinking. They are reactive, not proactive. They only plan out the next step, or worse, simply react to situations as they unfold. Though it is true that even the best-laid plans can be ruined by sheer bad luck, our current approach is nothing more than a child whacking at the shins of a knight wearing full plate armor, armed with nothing more than a toy sword. We may make a dent or two, true, but we inflict no true damage.

After convincing Hilde to drop her sword, which was no easy thing to do, I thought our plan would work. I offered a trade—us for the villagers, which was accepted. The enemy commander led us into the same corral the villagers had just left, made her speeches, the usual dark bluster about pain and torture. For my part, I tried to plant a seed in her mind that we were out for ourselves, no more than a highly-capable mercenary band who could be convinced to switch our allegience for the right price. Here we may have even been recruited as double-agents, able to use our inside knowledge to strike the Deathwind at its most crucial points. She lashed out with some kind of pain-inducing wave, which was agonizing, but for this plan to work, I could not allow myself to be seen as weak. Coranatum remained on his feet, but Hilde remained on the floor; no doubt, her mind was scattered by not having that fetishistic sword on her person.

And then it happened. A fire erupted and the party immediately sprung into action. In that instant, we lost it all. We would learn nothing from this experience save the name of one commander, and return having only gained the freedom of a few meaningless villagers. I began to scold the party, trying to explain to them what they had cost us. But instead, they sided with the newcomer Aislynn, who summoned her very best self-righteous rage, declaring her principle that she would never, ever allow herself to be a captive again. It was a fine speech, and a fine sentiment, but foolish. Her principles had blown our best chance to truly understand our enemy, and thus destroy it. What was worse was that the rest of our band actually agreed with this woman they had just barely met!

At this point, I wondered whether I should remain with this party. I am not a leader; until but a few months ago, I lived in almost total seclusion, under the supervision of my erstwhile master, Meros. However, I possess a natural cunning and have studied treatises not only on magic, but on subterfuge and war. For the first time, I had failed to convince these hardy adventurers of the wisdom of my actions. They are truly a capable company, and through them I have investigated several portals that relate to the Ebon Tower. Through them I build the credibility I need to get a royal charter to re-establish the Arcane University in its traditional home, Allandria. But if they no longer listen to me, if they make foolish and hasty choices that lessen our chances of success, perhaps it would be better for me to strike out on my own…or join a group that could see the wisdom in my actions.

Along the road back to Allandria, I felt a bit under the weather. I seemed to be having a mild fever, and a little bit of the chills, but it did not seem like much. I certainly did not want to complain to the rest of the group; I had already appeared weak once before them, and I did not wish to appear so again. Lahktar, of course, noticed, but I was able to summon enough will to give him his usual verbal chastisement, and he backed off, assuming I was perfectly fine. And I was sure that I would be so with some rest.

When we reached Allandria, I had no desire to socialize with everyone else, so I instead took this opportunity to petition King Xavier himself for a charter. Coronatum, lost in the city, accompanied me. I did not mind, as he keeps his council to himself and it never hurts to have a massive, armored man-dragon when making your points. I laid out my reasons, all very pragmatic, but the suspicions of my race exhibited by Prince Donovan seemed to come directly from his father. He turned me down, telling me he would reconsider if we freed up space for the ever-growing swarm of refugees in Hallowdwell. I could not believe this man; I petition him for something that would help save his throne and his people, and he sends me on yet another humanitarian mission because his own people cannot handle it themselves. Perhaps my growing illness made my will falter, perhaps his prejudices could not be overcome. Either way, I tersely thanked him and stormed out of the castle.

Leaving Coranatum behind, I went to the only place, and only person, I felt could understand where I was coming from—The Order of the Nightshade, and its esteemed leader, Elhazra. I felt that if anyone would understand, it would be her. Her vision is that of the long-term and the larger picture, her ways are subtle and precise. I came to her at her library, and she was quite happy to see me. I must admit, I was quite a rude guest, as I proceeded to rail against my traveling companions and promptly passed out, my sickness finally overcoming my will.

I woke up unsure how long I had been unconscious. Elhazra had got me into a bed and was trying to take care of me. The next few days were a blur. I simply wanted to rest, to overcome this “filth fever” that one of the wererats we had fought managed to infect me with. Instead, I dealt with Aislynn, who claimed to not care about me or the rest of the group, and yet sought me out and came to lobby me to return to the group. She did as all usurpers do, more than happy to upset the orders of thingss but wholly unable to reshape those broken pieces. I told her I needed to recover before I made any decisions. Lahktar came as well, and for all the well-deserved trouble that I give him, I must give him credit once again where it is due—the man is a master potion brewer. One swig of his potion, and I could feel the strength and energy returning to my bones, enough to tell him to get out of my room to let me sleep. He wisely took this as a sign that I was feeling better.

But it was Elhazra that made me best realize why I had to rejoin them after my convalescence. She made me realize that, on my own, I could never reach my goals. When I suggested that I could achieve my goals and further my causes by joining the Order, she said that our band’s strength was not that we were scholars, though that I am, but that we took action. Unsuprisingly, she was absolutely right. Before our hardy band joined together, Allandria was on its heels. They were in a state of constant defense, losing a war of attrition against an implacable foe. We are but five people, and cannot turn back armies, but our ability to strike out at the forces of the Deathwind represent something that the Allandrians have not had in a long time: Hope. Hope that this dark tide can be turned back, that it can be defeated, that we do not face the end of this land but that this may be its finest hour. Our band may not be the strongest, the most powerful, or the most virtuous. But we struggle, we suffer, we perservere and we succeed.

I got up from my sickbed, deeply thanked Elhazra for saving my life and taking care of me, and then returned to my party. They were there, waiting, worried about an assassination threat upon the life of Prince Donovan. I offered a plan, and they accepted it, even Aislynn. We were back together, back to work. It may be true that sometimes this motley group spoils my plans, but they are a fine crew to work with, and possibly the best in all the lands at what we do. I may not be their leader, but they need me, and I shall not abdicate that duty.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 11
Faces old and new greet our resident wizard

I sit on half of a broken table on the first floor of a formerly goblin-infested tower. The ceiling above is caved in, and rubble is scattered across the floor. Under the rubble, cold stew has begun to coagulate. Bits of goblin can be found around the room. And currently, a truly furious fellow Tiefling is having an animated “discussion” with the only survivor left standing.

This is why we don’t really do espionage missions.

After the truly taxing battle I wrote about in my prior entry, we needed a rest. The goblins upstairs seemed ready to wait us out, so we barred the door and took shifts resting; I wrote my entry while on “guard duty”. Bohm was tending to the wounded soldiers, the brave men who decided to assist us in retaking their old tower. Without his assistance, it would be but Coranatum, the stout Knight of Avandra, and the ever-trusty (and ever-deadly) barbarian Hilde. This was a group I could get along with very well; neither are particularly conversationalists, outside of necessary information, and having Lahktar’s constant warbling in my ear for the past dozen years or so, it was nice to be around people who tended to only speak when necessary. And then I heard it.

That familiar singing voice, somewhat nasal in tone and surprisingly high for what is essentially a giant lizard. Unbelievably, despite tearful goodbyes, despite the “heavy heart” with which he struck out on his own looking for his prized Golden Lyre, Lahktar had managed to find us. Doing the math, he must have started following us no later than a half day after we split up. I confronted him about it; my suspicion is that he was lonely after 12 hours of solitude. He was his normal, cheery self, and so I decided to utilize that energy by having him scout the top floor once everyone was awake. He quickly scampered back down and I knew that we were going to have one more brutal battle before we could retake the tower.

Having had time to review previous battles in my mind, I decided that the most important element in battle was to put an enemy on their heels as soon as possible by initiating a massive attack at the beginning of the skirmish. The expenditure of such large amounts of will so quickly would certainly tire me, but with the physical might of Coranatum and Hilde supporting me, they could then mop up whatever was left. I burst through the door, drew deep within myself and cleared my head, with only the word “sleep” focused within my mind. My enemies grew sluggish, and I followed that with a blast of energy against our slowed foes. Hilde and Coronatum burst into the room, their massive weapons seeming to cut the air itself, and Lahktar used his subtle arcane powers of suggestion and psionic energy (the only subtle thing about it) to limit their ability to regroup.

Things were going according to plan when something exceptionally strange occured. A tiefling warrior, a striking and apparently furious woman, suddenly teleported into the room and began firing off eldrich blasts of necrotic energy. For a moment, I questioned whether Elhazra had somehow been hiding her Tiefling heritage using some kind of high-powered glamour. But this one had a different kind of energy to her; where Elhazra was cool, this one was hot. Where Elhazra was calculating, this one was devastating. Still, she seemed to be attacking our enemies, and in these dire times the enemy of my enemy is indeed my friend, at least for now.

As the battle raged, I noticed that the gnome we first spotted in Black Hearth was here, his magic staff in hand. Hilde chased after him, but he proved elusive as ever. In a turn of events that bodes rather ominously, he called out in some kind of draconic tongue and was spirited away from the battle by a white dragon, small but still powerful, and one I recognized from our battle at Coppernight Hold. The only thing these two have in common is their mutual enmity of us, and I shudder to think what plots they might hatch against us.

Then again, we soundly beat them both, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so worried.

We mopped up the last of the resistance, capturing the leader of the goblins in the tower. Aisylnn, the Tiefling, had business about slave rings with the goblin. Our job done, I saw no reason to concern myself with her business, so we left him with her.

...and it seems that she just dropped him from the top of the tower. Not really my concern, either. But it would mean that Aislynn will most likely be rejoining us soon, and we have much to plan. Hopefully we can convince her to join us in our quest to free the villagers from the clutches of the Deathwind. Perhaps if we frame it as a strike against slavery, we can retain her rather impressive services…

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 10
Transitions abound for our wizard and those he calls companions

I write this entry during a moment of rest, sore and bruised after battling through two levels of a forsaken tower on the border of Lorut, finding myself not just in a new place but in a wholly new situation. My band of stalwart companions over the past few months has splintered, and though I press onward I find myself wondering what they may be doing, and whether they are keeping safe.

Beezra, emotional as she is, has chosen to accompany Deftblade into exile. Ironstone’s reach may be limited, considering the grave dangers posed by the Deathwind, but the reward he’s offered for apprehension of Deftblade is more than enough to spur all manner of unpleasant mercenaries to attempt to bring him in. He made us promise not to follow him, not to even know where he was, which was too much for Beezra. Having found what her heart desired, she chose to leave us and join him in exile. Indeed, even were she not in love with him, Beezra is an incredibly able bodyguard. Considering how deeply devoted she is…I wonder if even the gods could harm him.

I’m not sure how I feel about Lahktar leaving to pursue his own absurd quest for some kind of enchanted lyre. On one hand, I find that I am having far less headaches, and I am able to think clearer. But for all of his annoyances, of which there were many, he was very skilled and clever. He was far better at alchemy than I ever will be, and his command of the healing arts complemented my more offensive arcane mastery. And though I often considered using that mastery to shut him up in a permanent manner, I admit that I will miss his skillfulness, and hold onto the hope that his investigation into portals through the feywild do not turn tragic.

Though depleted, our band, now consisting of only the ever-sturdy Hilde and myself, did promise to liberate innocents from the forces that imperil them. Considering the humanitarian nature of our quest, the cleric Bohm asked to accompany us. Beezra’s taught me not to underestimate the combat prowess of a Halfling, but I must admit that I was quite concerned that the pudgy cleric of Palor would be able to hold his own in combat. He insisted that he come, if only to help take care of the sick and wounded. Seeing as how Hilde and I specialize in causing those particular statuses, we say the benefit of having him along.

Ironstone also told us that he had sent a messenger to the Lorutians, asking for assistance in our retaking of Duros Keep. The defensive outpost, on the border of Lorut and Allandria, was serving as nothing more than a glorified toll booth, sorely undermanned in light of the need for defensives to the south. A goblin horde attacked in the middle of the night and killed 6 of the 10 soldiers who were stationed there. As a point of pride, and to prevent the goblins from using it as a staging point for raids on outlying farms and villages, Ironstone asked us to clear it out. Since the threat affected both Allandrians and Lorutians, he hoped that they would send aid to help us, and the four survivors who bravely chose to accompany us in our quest to take back the Keep.

And they did, though I was both underwhelmed and overwhelmed by who they sent. I was underwhelmed as only one being waited for us at the base of the tower, but I was overwhelmed by exactly what that one being was. His name was Coronatum, and he was one of the legendary Knights of Avandra. Seeing a Dragonborn clad in full plate is an impressive sight, and though he said little it was clear that here was a warrior. I must admit, I relish the tactical possibilities our group now possesses. Between my arcane power, Hilde’s warrior fury and Coronatum’s measured might, we are an offensive juggernaut to be reckoned with. The goblins on the first floor of the tower quickly found that out, as we tore through them like a thresher wind. They alerted the rest of the tower, but it seemed hardly necessary, as our tactics are not that of stealth but of overwhelming, brutal force.

But as we ascended to the second floor, a lesson was learned. Faced with a goblin armed with no more than garden-variety hedge magicks, our group struggled mightily through a thick, choking fog that rendered our blows wildly inaccurate. Though we finally managed to best this floor, we found ourselves all licking wounds, and the four survivors injured enough that they could go no further.

We prepare to take the next floor, wiser for the experience and much more ready to bring our wrath down upon these persistently annoying creatures.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 9
Wherein the party finds itself at a crossroads

The ritual at the crossroad complete, we headed back to Allandria with the Elven advance party. Before we left, some of the Eladrin of the High Council presented me with an imposing set of black leather armor, into which is crafted skull designs. They would not say where they had obtained it, but whatever the case may be, I believe it will be of much use as we fight the very darkness whose power flows through the armor. We also picked up an extra companion – the initiate warlock Sariah. What is strange is that I felt her far before I saw or heard her…or Hilde detected her, which is very strange. Realizing that Elhazra may want to speak to her new initiate, we took her along with us. After a short detour to the Great Greenwood Temple of Corellean, where Lahktar discovered that his famed lyre was indeed real but was also indeed missing having been sucked through a feywild portal storm, we returned to Allandria.

After a brief but exceeding unpleasant meeting, not of my own free will, with that ancient mage al-Hiraj, I was left unsettled. He claimed he felt some kind of weight, some manner of obligation upon me. Frankly, it is possible that even al-Hiraj may lose his senses to senility, for I have made no pact, magical or not. I may profess allegiance to Ioun, but this because our goals happen to align. His demeanor suggested something dark and duplicitous had a grip upon me, but I am not so foolish to believe that any sort of bargain with angels or demons won’t eventually come with a great reckoning.

I later had a chance to meet with Donovan, who seemed quite pleased with himself. In such a good mood, and following our great success in Greenwood, I took my chance to petition for a royal charter to organize a renewed Arcane University, organized in time to bring a trained and organized mage force to bear when the final battle of the campaign against the Deathwind comes. Instead, as I began to explain the necessity of such an organization, the young prince’s eyes began to get glassy. Instead of being eager to add such an advantage to the forces of his nation, he instead gave me a few kind words and sent me off.

Prince Donovan is as stupid as he is naive. No matter. Whether the royal charter is granted or not, I will begin my incorporation of a new Arcane University, one that eventually will not need the whims and limited vision of temporal rulers but one that these rulers will come to for succor and aid. However, because the Prince could, with but a thought in his head and a stroke of a pen, establish a physical campus and a treasury to fund it. With this being the case, I made my case to Bohm that he should speak to his truant former pupil to take up his magical studies once again – perhaps if he struggles with learning himself, he will see the wisdom of my proposal.

All this time, Sariah followed me, as if I were iron and she were a lodestone. It could have been that being in a new city kept her near me, but there seemed to be more, some kind of fundamental pull so that I felt an odd discomfort when there was distance between us. I spoke to Elhazra about various enchantments and, more likely, curses that would cause such an effect. I made an effort, a successful one I believe, to hide that it was me that I spoke of; the last thing I want to reveal to a woman such as her is that I may be under the thrall of a magic that I cannot diagnose, much less dispel. She said she would set her colleagues to work on the question, for which I am thankful. I left Sariah in the care of Elhazra, but as I walked back out the door I could not help but notice a pull inside of me, so powerfully metaphysical that I felt it jolt through my body. The feeling has continued to linger.

The next day we spoke with Ironstone the Dwarf about the Allandrian counter-attacks against the forces of the Deathwind. One plan was a frontal assault on what is believed to be a vulnerable waypoint, but that is a task better left to a fully armed regiment. Another was to slip in unnoticed and kidnap an Arktfarian noble who has been collaborating with the armies of the undead, but our prior forays have shown us to be somewhat less than stealthy, and something more than noticeable. Thus it has fallen to us to liberate the town of Dorwich from the undead siege and rescue its inhabitants. Along the way we have also been tasked to stop at an abandoned tower along the border with Lorut and clear it of its current unwelcome inhabitants, who have grown so bold as to raid small villages and travelers on both sides of the border.

We shall accomplish both of these tasks, and perhaps it will give the Prince time to realize the error of his ways.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 8
Wherein the mage imagines himself battle-tested

It has been a long time since I last wrote in this journal, and no wonder! Ever since leaving Allandria with Prince Donovan, our journey has been beset by intense and almost unrelenting combat. When we signed on to accompany the crown prince into the untamed forests of Greenwood, we knew that the path into the Elven Kingdoms would be perilous and it has lived up to expectations. Even as I write this journal, I am tending to a few minor wounds – bruises, really – earned in a particularly nasty fight that nearly ended the adventuring career of one of my companions. But I get ahead of myself!

Our travels through Allandria were uneventful. I suspect the roads were heavily patrolled by the king’s men ahead of our journey; there were no signs of the undead terror that is often found in the outer reaches of the kingdom. Greenwood was a different story. We had not gone far into the deep woods when we stumbled upon that old archenemy of the barbarian, the shifting fiend called The Woodwalker. I believe we caught him unawares and unprepared, and certainly not ready to face an entire band of adventurers. Perhaps one-on-one he would have been a match for Hilde, but against us as a cohesive party, the Woodwalker came to know mortal terror. He was beaten, slashed and set aflame, and I could swear that an audible hum emanated from Hilde’s Valkyrie as she landed blow upon blow. The mangy cur slipped away before Hilde could fell him, but he will no doubt remember this battle – the eye lost to one of Hilde’s more devastating strokes will serve as constant reminder.

Pressing further, we were joined by the enigmatic tracker Brook, who was no doubt able to follow us easily considering the constant prattle between our resident bard Lahktar and the Prince. Lahktar was feeding the boy stories of beautiful Elven princesses, which may or may not be true but is certainly outside the province of Lahktar’s experience. He lived in a tower on the other side of the continent, seeing all of two people most days, and having been one of those two I can say that the other was certainly not an unearthly beautiful Elven princess.

After a bit of a struggle to get across a river gap (well, a struggle for me – Hilde and Beezra handled it like a couple of circus acrobats), we came upon some Elven sentries. Just as they began to question our business, we were set upon by a curious and terrifying menagerie of beasts – spiders, fire bugs and crocodiles of all things. They attacked with an unnatural ferocity, or leastwise it seemed so to me – I’ve always prefered to deal with animals in a more controlled environment. The prince foolishly charged the crocodiles, which swiftly knocked our good prince prone. With the help of Brook’s volley of arrows, we slew the beasts and managed to even save the sentries, who were surprised as we at the sudden attack.

The sentries accompanied us into the elven capitol, and unusual conglomeration of the mystic architecture of the Eldarin and the arboreal crafting of their nature-worshipping Elven kin. We received our fair share of stares, particularly Lahktar and myself. I doubt that there’s even a single Tiefling or Dragonblood in the city, and possibly the entire kingdom. The Elves are a xenophobic people in my experience, and our presence must have been whispered across the entire city fore long. Our warriors sought out merchants, and Lahktar and Donovan toured the city. I had a task of my own.

I found Saraiah in the Elven section of the city, a woman who matched Bohm in both sincerity and awkwardness. This was the initiate that Elhazra had spoken of, then, a half-elf possessed of genuine curiousity but perhaps not much actual experience. To complete her ritual, she would need to sacrifice a magical beast. In this I sensed Elhazra’s hand. Surely she meant for me to know that this girl would require such a task, one that the girl was not suited for but a group of adventurers would. I admit to being curious about the ritual myself, and as such agreed to assist the girl in her hunt. The party agreed and soon we set out into the woods.

In a cave near a crossroads, we found our quarry – a gouth – and several bugbears and a goblin protecting it (or as they thought, vice versa). Brook was felled by the arcane might of the gouth, but we managed to struggle forward and defeat the foul beast before it could escape. It awaits the ritual now as our party heals itself after the brutal battle. I am, to say the least, very interested in the workings of this ritual – I shall have my answers soon enough.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 7
Wherein some quests come to an end and some begin

We closed up the portal under Coppernight Hold without much problem. Concerningly, our very shadows seemed to gain substance and sentience, attempting to prevent us from sealing shut this crack into the Shadowfell, but we persevered and closed another path to the Ebon Tower. Interestingly enough, Hilde’s sword, the Valkyrie, gleamed with a bright light as we closed the portal, dispelling the living shadows that sought to stop our task. That sword continues to fascinate me, and were Hilde more forthcoming in letting me examine it, I’m certain there would be many fascinating things to learn from it.

Returning to Hallowdwell, we reported our success in freeing the captive dwarves to Ironstone, the leader of the Royal Guard. Rewarded with both praise and gold, we began to leave when the man we saved from the crypt in Col Fen was hauled in by guards, accusing him of being part of a group called the Crimson Brotherhood. Deftblade, befitting the sneak he was, gave no sign of knowing the man as he was hauled into dungeon. Deftblade slinked off before we could ask him about the charges of assassination against his group, but I am not so naive to believe that a group of theives wouldn’t branch off into other unsavory businesses as well.

The reward we received was perhaps a mixed blessing, as the party splurged not only what we had just earned, but also wound up spending over a thousand gold. A thousand gold. Just unbelievable. It is a good thing that I am the one who controls the purse-strings for this band, or we’d find ourselves begging for coin on the side of the road just for a piece of stale bread. Let them mutter that I am a penny-pincher; when circumstance puts us in a situation where we have the need for substantial funds, I will gladly accept their gratitude.

Later that night, I went to warn Bohm that Brook had spotted some unsavory characters lurking about the Temple of Pelor. Apparently, an outcast of his people belonging to a mercenary outfit called the Dark Legion had let it be known that there was some kind of job he was on involving the temple. Though I do not doubt Bohm’s mental resolve, I have far less confidence that he and his fellow monks could repel even a handful of hardened fighters. I urged him to keep a wary eye for anyone loitering around the temple, and to keep the skull in a location known only to himself, so a weaker-willed companion would not give up its hiding place.

Lahktar went to dig up some more on the Crimson Brotherhood. As he did most of his investigating in a tavern, his testimony was somewhat confused, but I believe we were able to tease the story out of him after some tortuous twists. It seems that this Crimson Brotherhood is a splinter faction of the Twilight Wanderers, and that the schism began when a member known as “Stiletto” broke away from the Wanderers because he didn’t care to take orders from a group he considered soft. Frankly, I don’t feel that this is any of our business, so long as we keep far away from Deftblade and his people. Last thing we need to have happen is us getting drawn into some kind of gang fight.

Meeting with Xavier was…interesting. And unpleasant. The lavishness of the palace bothered me; in such a cradle of comfort, was it surprising that Allandria’s leaders were too soft to lead an effective counter-attack? However, the very fact that we were allowed to enter the palace, much less be granted audience with the crown prince, proved that we are beginning to be noticed for our deeds of bravery. The favor of nobility would go a long way in establishing the kind of reputation and funds needed to establish a center of arcane learning in Allandria, whose central location and proximity to the site of the original Arcane University make it an ideal location.

However, the prince himself seemed very distant. He questioned whether our motley group would be able to negoiate with the monarchs of the forest realms. That he doubted his own eloquence to the point where he sought us to become diplomat soldiers raised doubts in my mind; however, I think I helped him to see the situation differently when I said that we would be the iron fist in his velvet glove. Whether this boy is up to the task I do not know. I do know that without us, his chances of even reaching the Elven kingdoms is slim, and that I expect the reward for our services to reflect this fact.

Tonight, before we leave in the morning, I traveled to Elhazra’s dwelling. I said that I wished to ask her questions about the Shadowfell Gloves I took off the witch of Coppernight Hold. As she told me how these gloves would allow me to channel necrotic energies, I realized that my feet had taken me to her without conscious effort. I cannot lie anymore – I am enthralled by this woman, whose beauty is as stunning as her knowledge is deep. This is no mere lass who preens and bounces along without a thought inside her head.

Against my desires, I steered the conversation to the skull. In love or not, I know that Elhazra was interested in the skull, for she is bold and believes that study of the relic may be worth any nightmares that would result. So I lied. I told her that I cast the skull into the Snake River that flows out into the Great Sea, unable to listen to the dark whispers in the night. She scolded me, but then her eyes turned soft and said she understood. At this point, knowing that the trip into the Western Forests would be perilous, I nearly asked to stay the night with her. But I am not brash like Beezra, charming like Lahktar nor courageous like Hilde. And so I bid Elhazra good night and skulked off into the night, thankful that my black cloak would allow me to disappear that much faster into the night.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 6
Wherein our intrepid wizard discovers the black heart of a mountain

I write this journal entry by the pulsating purple glow of a portal into the Shadowfell. I had been staring into the void for some time before my old colleague, our Dragonborn bard, snapped me out of a trance with the racket he fancies music. I suppose, for once, I’m glad that damned instrument exists. If I had stared at that portal long enough, surely I would have been swallowed by it.

We are resting after a series of battles retaking an ancient Dwarven fortress called Coppernight Hold, in the southern mountains of Northrock, near the border with Allandria. Beezra heard a call for adventurers from the Dwarf head of the palace guard to investigate why a Dwarven excavation team had suddenly gone silent. Upon returning from our various adventures in southern Allandria, our gregarious halfling swordmage happened upon an odd fellow with quite a quixotic quest. He was a ranger named Brook, and he sought to track down and slay nothing less than a storm giant. His travels had led him to Hallowdwell, and the trail led north. Being out of money and not adverse to companionship, he chose to accompany us on our rescue mission.

Also accompanying us would be Beezra’s beau, the thief called Deftblade. I say called because assuredly that is a pseudonym. I am glad that it is I that keeps an eye on our purse; left in the hands of the others, we would certainly be paupers and Deftblade would be enjoying our money several hundred miles from here. I do not think it is in any way wrong to not trust an avowed thief. Code of honor, bah! Wizarding history has had codes of honor for thousands of years, and not one has ever remained unbroken. However, Beezra insisted that he accompany us, and she can prove rather convincing, if only through persisting until she gets her way.

With our new companions, we set north on the several days trek to Northrock. As we began approaching the border, I could already detect the cold north winds that make Northrock such an inhospitable place for those who do not know the tunnels and warrens carved out by the Dwarves over the centuries. Rumors claim all manner of Centralian-era artifacts are buried under the deep snow drifts, or in some long-forgotten cavern seemingly deep as the center of the earth, far from the light of day. Some legends even claim that an entire Centralian city stands intact, lost somewhere amongst the peaks. To me, that sounds like the kind of mirage that would lead a man to his death, frozen solid, he himself becoming a relic to be found by another, more hardy soul.

Arriving at Coppernight, we heard the unmistakable chattering of kobolds. Lahktar actually understood what they were saying, and he intimated that apparently the kobolds were in service to some manner of dragon. Undeterred, we got the drop on the bunch and dispatched the lot of them without too much effort. Entering down into the excavation site, we found ourselves in what must have been a centuries-old Dwarven keep, though it looked as if it had been abandoned for a very long time. More kobolds attacked, and though these proved to be tricky, pulling down tapestries to trap us under them, we pressed forward and routed them. The tide quickly turned when Hilde gave a mighty heave and pushed over an eight-foot tall statue of some forgotten hero, crushing kobolds under the rubble. One escaped, and we knew that the element of surprise would not be ours when facing the dragon.

Upon entering the keep’s throne room, we were almost immediately greeted by a young white dragon. Despite the (relative) youth of our foe, he was not any manner of pushover – upon seeing us, he unleashed his frozen breath at us. In the split second I had to react, I found myself throwing up my arms. As I did, the frozen daggers went around me. Opening my eyes, I saw a blue orb surrounding me, a bubble of protective energy. How many times did Meros try to teach me to create an energy shield, and how many times did I achieve but a flicker? Obviously, all I needed was to face down a dragon, to give me the right frame of mind to finally succeed in creating a shield. I believe that the next time I need it, I will not have problems creating a shield…the memory of that first time is clear to me as if it were happening now.

Seeing the damage the dragon could inflict upon my companions, I drew upon an old spell that had proven exceptionally effective on Lahktar during our apprenticeship when I needed him unconscious, which was the only way to keep him quiet enough for me to finish that night’s spellwork. It worked on the Dragonborn, and it worked again on the dragon. Lulling the beast to sleep allowed our band to inflict many wounds upon it. Waking from its magic slumber, it cursed at us as it flew out of the keep, leaving its kobold followers behind. After securing the keys to free their Dwarf prisoners, we let them go. Without their master, they would be of little trouble to anyone coming upon them.

The thief earned his keep as he disarmed a trap the kobolds had set, using the prisoners as bait. After freeing the captives who survived their imprisonment, we headed deeper into the keep, past the Dwarven construction and deep into the heart of the mountain. There we found three shadow-kai, including one who was trying to open a portal just like we had seen in the tombs. In the darkness, they detected us first. After a thunderous force orb shot to the kobold bodyguards that had accompanied them, I noticed that the witch stood upon the lip of a pit. I fired an energy bolt (I refuse to call it “magic missile”, that vulgar name Lahktar calls it) which nearly knocked her in, but she clung to the edge. She seemed pleased with herself until my second volley hit her, casting her down into the pit.

My veins ran hot with courage, and I jumped down into the fray. Coming near to the shadow-kai warriors who were giving Beezra and Hilde difficulty, I found the mixture of fresh blood, excitement and rage a potent mix. I have heard plenty enough from ignorant beings, especially humans, of our cursed bloodline. But privately, I wonder whether we Tieflings who claim that it is not so are the fools. Because finding myself in that situation, that heady mix of emotions found physical form. Flames surrounded my body; I could feel the heat upon my skin but they did not burn me. Then the flames erupted from around me, catching one of the warriors on fire. I was repaid for my brashness with a sword blow that struck me blind with some manner of enchantment, but I cannot help but feel that my comfort with the arcane seems to increase every day, and usually under stress, when I need it the most.

Though they put up a good fight, it was over soon enough, with Hilde cleaving the witch’s head clean off. From her beheaded corpse Beezra took a pair of gloves. Without seeing them clearly, I told her, “Give them to me.” Surely enough, the gloves were enchanted. There was a chill upon my hands as I slipped them on, and they pulsed with the same purple energy as the portal as they stretched to fit my hands. Surely these gloves were forged within the Shadowfell, and with that, I found myself thinking of her again, and the poor terms on which we last parted. Having spent time with that awful skull, I knew that she should not have it, lest it drive her mad. But how to explain that to her? It was better, I suppose, to simply endure her wrath…though it certainly does not feel better.

I will close my entry with an observation upon these portals that I do not wish to share with my companions. This portal leads to the Shadowfell, which has similar dimensions to our realm but not exact. It would seem that these portals somehow bend the geography of the Shadowfell itself to allow faster passage through the Shadowfell to what surely is the Ebon Tower. Doubtless, Coppernight Hold was built to seal this passage from being used again…or to defend against things arriving from the Ebon Tower from escaping this place. Though each time a part of my very soul cries out to stop, I must seal this portal shut. Though a voice inside of my mind, a voice both mine and not mine, begs for me to step through, I know I am not yet ready to face what it in that tower. And I worry that no matter how powerful in the arcane arts I may become, my heart will never be ready to face what lies inside that cursed spire.

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