This trip just gets better and better.
As we left the Valley of Bone, our party entered the desert waste that cradles the Crescent on each side; the main road was too dangerous for Blackheart and his liberators, I was convinced. Too quickly had rumor spread from Brea Halak, and I am upset to find that there are those who connect that Bellock and Gannon are the same man… at least, in body.
The dry, hard ground was rough going, but we were not unaccustomed to such harshness, most of us having lived lives harder than any dead earth could compare. Only Festus had any real trouble, and that was because (as I later found) he took not a moments rest. He had sensed on our persons, on each of us, the taint of the Stone; a magical aura that seemed to come from nowhere. The only logical conclusion is that we received it while we were in the Khajas Valley. My thoughts on this matter are dark, and I will not write them down here, as I pray they are wrong.
As is often the case in this land, even in the most unlikely places life thrives. We found a small oasis that a few traders were camped at; they had some food, wine and tobacco, and I had some ornate jewelry from their long dead sires. That worked out for us both. After stocking up on fresh supplies, I scouted well ahead of the main party, my sharp eyes and silent nature better suited for solitude on the trail. Gods, better suited to my life in general I think.
We were no more than a quarter nights ride from the watering hole when I found a shallow ravine. I knew it was perfect for stealth, and so I advise we follow it; our movements inside the fissure would go unnoticed by anyone who was not standing on the edge to look down at us. I continued an hour or so ahead of the rest, and my heart sank when the fissure opened, and welcomed the open desert; on the horizon I saw a rider in black. As soon as I emerged from the rocks, he disappeared.
I rode back, and informed the party. By now, Festus was so busy trying to mask our magical aura, the man was exhausted and half awake, looking twice his years in age. Having out wodin nearly incapacitated made for a less easy fight should it come to it, but I rather prefer steel to Stone.
We continued to follow the ravine, staying together now, and when we came to its end, there was that black rider, with 9 men on foot; 6 of them flaking is on the higher walls of the small canyon. They gave us no information, and they demanded only that we leave; that we were on their territory. By their dress, I marked them soldiers of his highness in this land, but they would not use his name, and that was strange to me. The man on horseback was no fool; he was calm and collected; told us to leave or to die with no amount of cruelty in his voice. A veteran, I knew.
Leave we did, but Belkin gods save him wanted to get to the bottom of their mystery. We doubled back, out of the entrance of the ravine, then took the same back towards those forbidden lands only this time on the desert floor, not hidden in the rocks. The sun was rising when we got back to the same place those soldiers had bade us retreat, and we wandered into the lands we were not to go. When we saw a small tent on a dune, we rode to the man, who tried to flee on foot. He was overtaken, and then refused questioning, but Festus and his Stone helped us read the man’s thoughts; he dwelled on his two Magi masters, and a quarry not far from where we were that was populated by Imperial slaves. I was not looking forward to this…
Belkin was right, I knew in my heart; slavers were bad business. Even Blackheart, a cruelty I can scarcely believe I fostered would not suffer a slave. In the distance, we could see the smoke line coming from the quarry.
Our Sahmu guide took us around the quarry and into the mountains behind it, that we may enter the camp from ‘behind’ and remain undetected, not having to cross the open desert. We rested in a small cropping of rocks for a while, but were interrupted when Ifram was attacked while on watch. It was a Zhûrascan soldier, a member of the quarry guard, and we dispatched the man swiftly.
After the attack, we decided it was too dangerous to keep the horses hidden in the rocks, and so Scace, Ifram and Kwuagaa mounted up and traveled away from us, that any outriders would follow their tracks and think us gone, rather than snaking our way through the jagged mountains.
And so, in the hot sun we scrambled over the stony walls of the Crescent; ancient and massive, they loomed over us as gods looking upon the evils of their subjects. And evils indeed we found.
The Quarry was quite deep, nestled in its protective arms of rock. At the entrance were two wooden buildings that swarmed with the dark clad soldiers of Zhûrasca. Farther back, three smaller cottages were home to the two Magi, as Festus could feel their power in the Aeither. And there, in the center of the sand pit were two hovels; the broken and squalid huts built for Imperial Slaves.
In my life I have committed many evils, to a point that I cannot remember them all. My wickedness runs deep, and is nearly uncontrollable; I cannot even recall why I committed the heinous acts for which I am sullied. But even my black soul would not sink to the depth of human bondage. I was for once too glad to be helping Belkin. I snuck into the camp alone, intent on ambushing the Magi, which turned out to be Greenhoods. I was remise in my approach, however and triggered some kind of magical ward; a fiend from the Aeither in the form of a tiger suddenly attacked me, and I found myself being savaged by the creature. I fought and managed to escape his grasp, then noticing the two Greenhoods emerging from one of the small wooden houses. As suddenly as I saw them, Belkin was upon them.
I have always had great respect for Belkin, he is no dullard and posses a sharp mind. Still, he feels like he owes everyone some small form of justice, and I am always finding myself tromping off on some kind of adventure to satisfy what I would call a mad whim. The man turns honor into a vice. I often wonder how it is this truly good person has survived this long in so cruel a world, but I instantly reminded when the man has his blood up, and violence in his eyes; there is nothing under the gods sky as dangerous as Belkin Brinx. He bashed one of the greenhood through the door of the cottage even as he cast a mist from the Aether to hide himself, and Belkin was on them both in a moment, hacking with precise speed and agility, all the while hidden in the grey haze.
I entered into the house to find the Captain who had confronted us at the ravine, and engaged him in small combat. But I was not done with this man yet when Belkin had killed the wodin and finished off the captain. My simple tricks will be hard pressed if I ever find myself against his fighting might. Killing Festus and Kondle would be a shame and Killing Kwagaa would be a chore; but killing Brinx would be a bloody trial that I fear I would not survive.
When we were done, the captain was unconscious and the house was on fire, stray flame spells having ignited the wood. With the guard outside, we fled quickly back into the dark hills, leaving them to put out the fire.
While we gathered ourselves, Belkin brought the captain with him, having had knocked him out only. In a moment, we had a plan; I descended to the front of the quarry to ignite the now deserted guardhouses, while Belkin and Festus made their way into the pit to free the slaves, and also to find a way to seal the mine with its Runestone pillar guarding it; just like in Fallen Oak.
The plan worked perfectly, in the confusion no one saw me shadow into the wooden guardhouse and break open lanterns of oil, and in moment its dry kindling was ablaze and the buildings all but lost. Belkin and Festus slew the few guards in the quarry, and in moments had freed some many of the slaves and majicked and earthquake to seal the mouth of the great Stone mine. At this, they all ran, abandoning the camp and it’s slaves.
It is late, and I am tired; I must admit that I feel good for the first time in a long time; I have contributed to freeing these salves, who would imagine that? The sins of Blackheart seem almost unreal; perhaps I am finally extinguishing that rage. Just to make sure justice is done, we are going to hand the captain of the guard over to the slaves, and let them dispense with his punishment. I wonder how slow his death will be?
- end of entry -
We left the imprisoned slaves to their own fate after they killed their captor. His death was swift.
As it turns out, Belkin knew them from the War, as they were all falchioners like him. Still, the man remained tight lipped about his charge, and even under the hot desert sun, their reunion was bitter cold. They marched off to the nearest town and Kwuagaa declared them all dead men. I hope they survived the journey.
The next leg of our journey was just as hot and dry as the last; we crossed open sand and skipped from oasis to oasis. As we neared the capitol, I had a hard, tight feeling in my gut. The last time I crossed through the gates of the metropolis, I was opening them for the enemy, and while there were those who loved Gannon in the city, there were those who also hated him with a burning rage. I pray time has withered their memories.
We were not able to finish our desert adventures so easily, however. Not a day’s ride from Bagalon, we came upon the ancient fortress of Kelkana*, and were questioned about our obviously subversive path through the wastelands, off of the main road. The captain who greeted us bayed us welcome and insisted we dine with the old lord of the fortress. We agreed, hoping to spend a night indoors for the first time in almost ten days. We rode the winding path that led to the ancient structure, built into the living rock of the Crescent itself.
Within we found a kindly, short and rather obese host who gave us soft silken pillows on wich to drink and to dine. I am not a trusting man, but since the ordeal in Fallen Oak, and the ocean of blood that was Blackheart, I hae given myself to caution almost completely; I did not ask questions, I simply drank the wine and ate the food. As Kwuagaa, Kondle and I fell deep into our cups, Festus and Ifram wandered the palace in order to learn its ancient histories. Belkin brooded, as usual, and soon we found ourselves ready for bed. I collapsed immediately, but thankfully Belkin was not reckless as I have become, and he noticed that Ifram and the wizard were gone.
He left to find them, and I (Gods know why) got up to go back down and watch young Scace try to bed a serving wench, and to drink more of the lords’ fine grape. When Kwuagaa and Kondle could take no more and passed out, I was about to go back to my chambers when Belkin informed me that he had uncovered a secret passage way as he looked for the missing duo. As usual, he had a bad feeling about it, and drunk as I was, I was at least conscious, and so went to investigate his findings.
There was indeed a passage, and I was able to silently subdue a guard who stood there. The secret hall split off in three directions; the first we checked was a small balcony that overlooked a huge chamber. There, some 40 zealots wore white robes and prayed to a strange god, its liking etched into a great statue of a twisted demon. Bellow the statue, chained and shackled were out two friends. Of course.
As we watched, the little round lord himself stood over them, chanting ad praying, leading the frenzied throng. We both knew that Ifram and Festus did not have long to live. We adorned two while robes we discovered in the hall, and made our way down the right passage. There, we found two guards, but they thought us members of the cult, and left us alone with the only structure in the room; an elaborate golden idol adorned with jewels. Naturally, I ransacked the thing; my small form of vengeance for these fools inconveniencing what was supposed to be a good, drunken slumber.
We both continued down the same hall, and came soon to a lavish bedchamber, presumably for the little lord. Again, I pillaged as Belkin looked out over the throng of worshipers, visible from the room, carved deep in the mountains stone. My thieving done, we walked back to the left branch of the passage, and came to a small guardroom. There we found 4 guards, and 3 unfortunate souls, bound and ready for sacrifice. Still adorned as members, we got in close to the guards, and Belkin and I moved swiftly, killing them before an alarm could be raised. Beyong was a higher vantage point above the huge room, and we were near the lord.
Here, we lingered too long. As we pondered our attack, the religious leader plunged a curved blade into Iframs heart, killing him instantly. That was it, we moved without thought and Belkin entered into the room swinging his steel. Of course, this is where things got worse.
Evidently, interrupting this ancient ritual freed some demonic spirit trapped inside the statue; it came to life, I swear on the gods of all lands; it turned into a living thing, hideous and deadly, a foe from beyond the Aether.
The little lord was killed instantly, devoured by the creature, and Belkin and I made a long fight of killing him. The zealots fled instantly, leaving us to the bloody work. The thing nearly swallowed Belkin twice, but his strength was too much, and in the end we freed Festus, and cut the thing down, with great difficulty.
Its death broke some kind of spell, and the castle began to crumble. We ran, through the passage, back to the mail hall where our companions were still passed out, and woke them up before it collapsed. As we rode down the winding path, the whole mountain seemed to fall behind us; we had tried to do some good for these people, but the fortress, the village, and all but a very few died in the collapse. I managed to save one man on my horse; the single good deed done that day.
Ifram was dead, and Festus entered into the Aether to inform Lokar. Soon after, for just a moment, the wodin took his possessed form once more; his eyes blackened and his voice deepened to the tome of whoever was trying to contact me. I had had enough. I used one of Belkins vessel stones to enter the Aether and inform Lokar of Festus’ random possessions by some unknown force. He found the news grim, and I informed him I would not hesitate to kill the wodin, indeed any of them should it come to it. He agreed, but then decided that until the magical taint that clung to us all was gone, we should no longer communicate with Lokar in the Aether. He told us where to go in Bagalon, and then was gone, his eyes betrayed in his calm demeanor worry that I am ashamed to say made me grin; that man is going to get strangled in his own web.
We will camp tonight in the shadow of the ruined fortress, and will arrive in Bagalon on the morrow; I pray my return to the city is uneventful, but worry lingers on the edge of my thoughts like storm clouds on a dark horizon.