Border Strife (Border Kingdoms)


Steel Realms

A Heroes Ride; evil stirs on the coast of the Border Kingdoms – from the archives of the Hall of Heroes in Oerdney…
The following is written upon many scrolls, loose papers, and broken books; all in large script. It is believed to have been from an account around CY 9000.

The tale of Hormazhad Rajissi Urul

I was born Hormazhad Rajissi Bartok Urul. My clan, Urul, is among the oldest in the borderlands. We can trace our lineage back to the Sister of the last King of Synedcia. In the south, lineage is traced through the female side. My mother was a priestess of Ezrilus. Never have I known my father – my mother has never told me. I am a knight, I serve the Lords of Light. I serve the High King and am a champion of the realm. The realm and I are one, I feel it in my bones and blood and see it reflected in the eyes of those I protect.

Perhaps it would be better if I explain some first. I write this now, whilst I am nursed back to health from my wounds here in the Vale Evander. It seems so strange that the south lands are so close, and yet you of the north know so little about them. Today, a man asked me how many other men shared my wife. I was at first insulted, and nearly spent myself trying to rise in order that I may strike this ill mannered lout. In truth, the lord Afeneon, great spirits protect him, explained it to me when he visited my bedside. Because we trace our lineage through the female, as is the proper way of things, some of these northerners believe that women rule and have multiple husbands. Now, I have heard that in the Nakrian Empire, a man may have many wives, and that amongst the bandit lands, a harem is common, but I can assure you that nothing is farther from the truth in the Border Kingdoms. Because we honor the life givers, those that bear the blood, we trace our lineage from the mothers side. Women are accorded the proper respect in our lands, holding the highest position in any family. I do not understand the women of the north, so used to the responsibility yet a mother is not accorded proper standing, for all the work she does. In truth, many things are different here in the north. I digress however. Let me speak again upon the presence of King of the Elves. I use the human name that he has given me to use, it is much more beautiful in his native tongue. Lord Afeneon is King of Elves, the vast forest of which stretches from the mountains, nigh to the sea on the north side of the Cosheus Abyssal. His eyes do not hold the wisdom of an elder, although I am told he is thousands of years in age. My mind cannot take in such a great sum of years. His face and eyes are full of merriment and longing. I respect and esteem him greatly; he has done much for me and my friends. I miss them, but they have gone on to Umbak.

You will understand me better by knowing more of where and how I grew to manhood.
My family descended from great and noble blood. The Urul line is the last branch of the blood line which once ruled the great Kingdom of Synedcia . Our lineage extends back to eons. My mother is sister to the current Duchess of Urul. Here in the north, my uncle, Duke Tugath Urul, would not be more than perhaps some small governor, with the lands he has under his dominion. However, we have kept our hereditary title, as have many of the ancient noble families. My mother and the Duchess of Urul are descended not only of a single great blood line, but also of the Skaelgrim, or Skallgrim as it is oft called. Eirik; son of Ajhit and her, daughter of Mariska. Champion of the realm (like myself) and last of the Unknown Kings of Synedcia infuses our bloodline as well. This line extends from the Synedcian King’s cousin. This male head of the family had the hereditary honor of Master of the Loyal Order of Whelm the Protector. It was they that battled to the last man in the final defense of Synedcia, their fates unknown until their full tale resurfaces after adventurers plumb the depths of the Hobnail Plateau. There they found the remnant of the ancient civilization living underground, in a dark empire worshipping the demon Zaurut-Nephra as a god. They dispatched the foul beast and his minions, and brought forth Eirik from the city. The elven cavalier Arafel retires to raise and teach young Eirik, the last of the ancient blood’s rulers. It is here that you, as a reader, will likely choose to disbelieve my tale. I tell it true though, Erirk was of the blood of the fallen kings of the south. All his life he was forced to hide it. Few knew it, but by now it is safe to tell the tale that most believe only myth. His deeds are well chronicled elsewhere, and so I shall not relate them here (proud though I be of them).

His son in turn was given to marry an ancestor of mine. His bloodline ended with his great grandson son Jereth, for never did he have a daughter that was known. He married the elven warrior maid Arafel, who raised his great grandfather, Eirik. When he passed away childless, his line died forever. Arafel faded from all known records. Do not get the impression that the bloodline is perfect. Many times has it endured the danger of thinning and ending. There are several near breaks (as is common with lines as old as mine) where the blood is traced on the weak male side, as it would end else wise. The women of our line are as much warriors in their own right as the men. Many have perished in raids, border troubles, intrigues and disasters. The line survives, the family endures. My mother and her sister were born in Shirling. They were twins, their mother could bear no more children after them. Maranna was first and became the duchess upon her age. My mother, Dary, was given a stipend upon reaching name age and went east. She and men she both hired and gathered settled territory on the border. It grew to a moderately prosperous town, off the major trade routes but close enough to make money. My mother hired the first priest through the town to stay. She convinced Eini, a priestess of Ezrilus, to build a shrine and stay permanently. Eini soon became her best friend and mentor (and perhaps lover?). Over the years she was steeped in the ways of Ezrilus. When Eini died in childbirth (her sixth) my mother naturally took over the flock. I am told I was born on Lovers Day. It had been a little over a year since the last raid from the bandit kingdoms. My mother was faithful to her goddess, and pledged me to her. She sold her stewardship and returned to the land of her birth a wealthy woman. I was taken at age five to Master Jarvas, the Dukes councilor and magician at Gravas. My mother was hoping I would follow the path of magic, and hence Ezrilus. For years I trained with others trying to learn the craft of magic. At the same time, my mother schooled me in the beliefs and observances of her faith, as she had done since my birth. Ezrilus, as is commonly known, is the Maiden of Magic. She is the Moon Mistress, goddess of passion, love, the hunt, cycles, magic and other aspects. Vast are her powers, and more varied than most. Her incarnations are many and prevalent. So was I tutored. Between the opposite disciplines of devoted worshipper and mage I was unable to master either. My failure made me self conscious and miserable. I began to avoid the company of my fellow apprentices, and even my mother over time. I was filled with anger, frustration and jealousy. Soon I took to long walks and runs. My body had never been as toughened as I worked it the time of my twelfth and thirteenth years. I even took to working out at odd hours in the sword yards in Gravas.

Upon one of his frequent stays in Gravas, the Duke and his entourage entered the practice yard, but I did not know then who it was. I had avoided my family as much as possible, especially those I was not forced be with and did not recognize him. I performed so brilliantly against one of the Dukes veteran fighter that he at once ordered me entered into the military discipline. I must admit, that looking back upon the whole incident, my performance was at best, wanting. I can only examine such things now with the eye of a trained warrior. I suppose that for my age and training (none), my performance may have shown promise, to a trained eye. I lost, and was, in my young mind, shamed before such a respectable man. However, I was sent north to be trained in the Vale Evander, at the Patrician Knights of Arena’s high temple in Kyranym. There I was tutored at the Ten Swords School in martial art of the sword, spear and shield and taught the ways of peace and protection by the priests. Day and night I trained with squires, nobles, knights, soldiers and warriors from all places. Here, we are equal. I no longer felt the burn of jealousy or the shame from defeat. Men of the blade share a unique camaraderie that I had never seen. The men and boys that I worked with helped me, as I learned to help them. Though often separated by a gulf of language, we all laughed, learned and hurt together. I was the only one in my class who was from south of the Cosheus Abyssal. As such, I spent more time away from my fellow warriors and more with myself I remember the day I first met the Truesmith Galindin. I had just come from my first practice with real weapons, having volunteered to bring the blades in for repair. No one seemed to be in the forge, so while waiting I examined the blades, testing balance, weight and such things as I could not have known; only imitating the instructor. A gruff, deep voice surprised me, "That one ye hold suits ye best". I turned to behold the first Ducateon (some call them dwarves) I had ever seen. After several returns and conversations, I began to develop and eye for metal. I asked if I could learn to be as good as he someday. He laughed out loud, and returned my question with a hard stony stare. "Ye be here to learn the craft of using ‘em, not making ‘em?" I pleaded, arguing that a warrior should know his blade, and that no one could teach me better. So, here I also learned rudiments of the armoring craft in the forges of the dwarven smiths there. I spent much of my off time (which amounted to no more than four hours per day) in the forges, watching the master blade smiths and armorers. I tried desperately to learn their language – which I think is what eventually won me their friendship and assistance. The Ducateon tongue is strong and harsh, it sounded like a hammer upon the anvil, so said Smithy Klarmar. I moved my quarters outside the Ducateon armories. This was usually reserved as a place of penance for the more unruly. To most the constant sounds of the forge were annoying, but I found comfort in it. After years I had mastered the working of iron. I had become a regular assistant in the forges, learning the trade of armoring. In return for my help, they tutored me in the use of the legendary Ducateon bow. It was a heady life of discipline, zeal and learning.

When I left the Vale, I had not spoken my native tongue in many years; nor had I heard anything of my mother. She had not even seen me off, so shamed in her goddesses eyes was she. I felt a great weight to prove to her that I could still serve her goddess by serving her sister in light, Aerna, in my own way. My teachings had instilled me a respect of my elders that lay a heavy burden of guilt upon my shoulders for betraying my mother’s plans. However, nothing could daunt my happiness in returning to my family and home. I would throw down those who would cause strife and upheaval. I had noble images of leading and army to settle my home land and other border kingdoms. Grand visions of leading a massive, victorious struggle against the Bandit Kings, of bringing peace, stability and prosperity to the war torn lands of my ancestors. The reception that greeted me in the court at Gravas was… disappointing. My mother’s icy glare sent jagged knives into my spine. I nearly renounced my sword and vows as a squire and knight, if only I could restore myself in her good graces. My uncle gave me a hearty embrace and I received from him my trappings of squire hood. My mother would only nod and congratulate me. After a few days I could take no more. I prayed to the gods to deliver me from this ordeal. My prayers were answered the following morning. At breakfast, my uncle mentioned possible trouble on the border near Tondor Hollow, and how stout warriors may be needed to defend the land against Khena to the south. I jumped at this opportunity at once. I vowed not to let them get as far as the castle, that I and my fellow countrymen would stop them before even an inch of our land was taken. I think my uncle knew exactly what I was going through, and provided my escape for me. In seeking a diversion from my decision, It seems (unknown to me at the time) to have taken me on the quickest route to my current fate.

My first test in the face of death was a success. I stood at the fore and did not retreat one step to the forces of Khena. My armor was hacked to pieces and I was covered in cuts and scratches, as well as a javelin that had pierced my thigh. For two days my wounds festered and I was sickened with fever. I could think of nothing other than the vows I had made, and my fevered mind touched something in its blind searching’s. My patron Aerna came to me, and with a sad smile she spoke at length about much I cannot remember. Perhaps it was only my fevered dreams, but I as I clutched the symbol of my goddess in a death grip, I felt her protection, and was strengthened. The pact that was made when I took my vows had been observed and I was healed. As the wounds and disease passed, the priest tending me became very interested. I am sure he was acquainted with such things but talked to me until I grew dizzy and weak from lack of breath of my training and oaths, His lord and patron was Balthazar. for he served the noble cause of Justice. He had been drafted to tending the sick by the Urul soldiers as he was passing through Shirling, where the wounded had been brought. We spoke at length for three days; it seemed Sherman had no one else to speak to. It saddened him to be the one chosen to give last rights to those dead and mortally wounded. I do not think I could stand such sadness. Sherman was unusual. He is a portly man of about 20 years. Born of a barrister and merchants daughter (with a sizable dowry), he was instilled with a sense of fairness at an early age. His father had bought him a lawyer’s apprenticeship in South Gate. Apparently, the graft was too much for his honor. His master lost business because of him, and he was soon forced to leave. His spirit would not be subdued however and he opened his own practice – unguilded. This too came under threat from the proper guilded authorities. He received a vision that inspired him to sell everything. Journeying to the city of Havluk in Umbak to the north and enter the priesthood of Balthazar. He served his apprenticeship as battle arbitrator several times under the warrior priests of Mizras in Ados, near the Gray Woods, reciting the histories and battles to the human and skarelings from books. He spent his final year learning the rigid discipline of some of the ancient languages, interpreting for traders some of the Merchant Cities.

By the time I had learned all this, I was well. I was too released the following day; as I was walking without a limp, and whole as ever. That evening, Sherman came to me with a look of great distress upon his face. He counted on my vows as knight me to help him right an injustice. In his melodious voice (Did I mention he learned to sing among the skrealings near the Gray Downs? Some day I must travel there…) he told me as tale I could scarcely believe.

By accident, he had been left alone with a prisoner he was to give last rights to. This man wove for him a fantastic tale or regicide and betrayal. He told of the Lord of Varleys’s son, who all had thought to have been slain in battle, was actually dishonored and betrayed by those he thought his allies. I had met the Lords son a few times, while in court. He was brash and eager, older than I and filled with a great desire to prove himself a man in his father’s eyes. For him to be stabbed in the back by base and cowardly villains is so monumental of an injustice and waste. The man, James, claimed he witnessed the act and those that did it. Not only did he see it, but he and those others who also witnessed it – along with the lordling’s body guards – were rounded up and censured as political prisoners. They tried to escape and were caught. The lord’s friend and head of his guards gave him his good luck charm, and told him to keep it safe always. They were killed and he was captured again. He was tortured and questioned about a magical key. That day they had said something about bringing in a mage to interrogate and then kill him.

Ironically, it was my own stumbling from the less occurring weakness swoons overtaking me, which caused the guard to come to my aid whilst the priest talked with the prisoner James. The priest, Sherman, vowed that the gods themselves had thus involved the two of us, allowing this wrong to be exposed. Sherman also knew that as a knight, in the service of the Church of Light. I would listen to him and hear the truth of his words. In my heart I felt that not only was he right, that this would soon involve much more than either of us expected. Through a veil of apprehension and worry, I waited for night to fall. I admit that the only thing which kept me from losing my focus were the selfish thoughts of what perhaps may come from the deed. Righting such a wrong would give me knighthood and prove my devotion. To our surprise, we were provided with further proof, for men such as we feel in our hearts. Later that day, another prisoner had corroborated the same store, albeit from a somewhat different perspective. Our motives were pure and we could not be dissuaded from the task we knew we must do. It was against the law, but these men, unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death, must go free to serve the higher law of justice. It pained me that the laws of the land had been bent and broken by those who sought to gain from their abuse. For the law and justice to truly prevail, we must escape with these men and prove their innocence, and hence the purity of our own motives.

That night, Lords of Light forgive us, we sallied forth and swept the guards before us. In my weakened condition, it was all I the strength I could muster. Disguising the two as wounded, we passed the stockade guards on the pretense of getting them to a powerful healer. True to code, the men broke the stockade law for what they thought was their comrades, and a higher law of fidelity to comrade in arms. Surely too were a knight and priest not to be detained. I feel remorse for the deception. but once again, my feelings are second to serving a higher goal.

Once again, the gods provided and another soon joined our band. Having recognized his contact James, despite the dirt and chains, this man Brandon (called Brand; perhaps it is that he has a tongue and temper like a white hot brand), had spotted him being brought here and was waiting for us. When we were away and threw off our disguises (such as they were – bandages for our two charges and naught for us), Brand instantly recognized him. He joined us quickly after hearing our hastily told tale. We flew towards the coast, seeking a way out of the land. It was here along the Shirling-Kemp road in the bright light of day that I recognized one of the men we had saved. We had bother served under Master Jarvis as apprentice. He had stayed longer than I, being a few years younger. Apparently, both of us have failed in our apprenticeship. It came to light that indeed, our master was his grandfather no less! We arrived in Midlan ahead of pursuit. We settled on a place called Wagon Wheel Mary’s. Indeed it was no plush parlor.. a den of inequity more the like. This Mary Underhill, called "underskirt" by the locals, was a beautiful charming maiden, but I am told now, on good authority from Brandon (who says he knows of these things) that she arranges for clandestine meeting ‘tween promiscuous men and women. If I had had any notion of the brothel I was staying in, I would have insisted on elsewhere. I tried to sleep in the loft above the tavern, but the raucous noise was too loud. In Midlan we found and hired a ranger guide who was taking his current charge back to the capital – our destination as well. The sun had set and the tavern was even louder than before. The ranger and his charge, a man named Cimber, decided to stay in the same place as us. Our intention was to move as the sun rose. Other events made us flee Midlan sooner than sunrise. Weary as I was, the merriment of the locals was starting to become infectious. Dancing, singing and music played its way over the scents and shouts of the place and I began to relax. Soldiers caught up with us here, bursting in upon the place and shouting for everyone to surrender. The first thought that struck me was that we must tell them that the ranger and his charge were innocent. Before I could bring words to mouth, the combat began. I think it was Brandon who strove mightily behind a table towards the soldiers, waiting with their bows. Furniture breaking, shouting, mad dashing and confusion reigned. We fought our way out without killing anyone, thanks to the show of magic from the unknown wizard (Cimber) in which he relived a bow man of his arrow from his cocked crossbow. I do not believe that the soldiers got a look at our guide in the confusion. We hastily gathered what horses and equipment we could and rode swifily out of town. We fled in different directions, and after a harrowing night in which soldiers crossed our path several times, our guide gathered all of us and took us north – toward the Kemp Fens where he intended to lose our pursuit.

We skirted the edge of the Kemp Fern and stayed to the country on an ancient trail, nearly completely overgrown. Slowly we moved towards our goal of the capital and freedom. In the fens, we were attacked by monstrous forgs that could swallow a small man whole. The battle was fierce at over nearly as soon as it started. The mindless beasts leaped upon us with surprise in the dark. Their single-mindedness allowed us to defeat them both as they concentrated their effort on only one or two of us. There is not much to tell about the battle. Hideous creatures though they be, the ranger said they were a normal part of the fear in the swamp, and not created from magic or a perverted nature. Suffering through the insects and rashes, we finally emerged on the far side of the Fens. We rested a day whilst our guide searched for a ford.

Finn searched the river for a place we could ford. The Magyar river is a wide, lazy river. It collects the run from Mt. Ollis and the Tivex hills. The Kemp Fens also provide a bountiful drainage source from the highlands. Finding no place other than the Belgum Bridge, we decided to take a chance. It took us a full day to rig harnesses and find a suitable log. Finn crossed first, with enough rope to span the narrowest point we could find. He struggled against the weight and strove mightily against the river. Just at the end of the rope he made it safely to shore. We spent the rest of the day and into the night ferrying people and equipment across the river. It was a harrowing experience for all, especially Finn. It was all he could do to constantly keep the rest of us from panicking and drowning. Such things happened to nearly all of us. I must admit that the outdoors is not my, nor any but Finn‘s perhaps area of expertise. I imagine we looked rather comical to him, holding on to the log yet ready to bolt like an animal in a trap. It exhausted all of us, and took us a full two days to recover.

Once across the river, we pondered our path, which must take us through two major cities; Portico and Acriere. Portico is a major garrison for the "royal" army of Syned. We were sure that word had reached ahead of us by now. With only one safe route to the capital, I was sure we would be apprehended en-route from Portico, if not in Portico. We sent the ranger Finn ahead for supplies, our funds nearly exhausted by now. For hours we conversed around the camp fire, trying to solve our problem of recognition by the authorities. As it turns out, all of us were familiar with or had the gift of song or instrument. We posed as a band of traveling minstrels. I must look back now upon this brilliant idea and laugh heartily. Were we terrible? By my troth, we were lucky we were not imprisoned for panicking animals and offending the sensibilities of all who listened. Most people laughed, when we played together. Or when one of us would play alone, some even applauded. No one noticed us as we entered the capital. By now, having pooled our information and resources, we had devised a plan of escape. It so happens that this wizard Cimber was also high born of Gwinn. At his disposal was a small merchant vessel. He had long searched for treasures of the Sea King Empire and of late it had been difficult to find willing help. In fact, he had discovered that the Cliffs of Evrim were home to ancient ruins of a mighty fortress which had once stood there. We pledged to help him find and explore these ruins in exchange for his aid in getting us free and eventually out of the country. In the capital, the mage took us to his boat. Finn, our guide agreed to stay on, as he reasoned that he was part of all the strange happenings now and would perhaps not be welcome in his old lands. We had all been seen by the people in the inn, and the soldiers, and as minstrels together. We must now all prove our innocence together if ever we wished to return to the land in which we grew up in and loved.

Without fault or fight we slipped from the shores of our homeland, to the open sea. I remember that day well. It had mined lightly the night before, but above was nothing but the clearest blue sky. Clouds moved on the horizon to the west, but it was clear as far as we could see. Things seemed clearer than they ever had before… We sailed first west, then turned south on calm waters, well within sight of shore. Our destination was the Umat channel, the next major port to the south.

None but the mage had ever seen the Umat Channel before. It is impossible to describe the feeling one gets when the shadows of the great cliffs fold over your boat like a death birds wings. It gets very cold for a moment, and then the warm sea breeze blows from behind you. The breaks make for placid, calm water and the many other seamen and workers wave as you pass by the docks. Huge cranes hoist crates skywards, to the light. The sound of hooves striking stone as beast move cargo up the roads cut into the cliff walls, filling the air. About us was an air of optimism, for the first time in many days. Here we were free men, all of us. By the time we paid our dues and begun a refit, the crew had taken leave and were already enjoying the offerings of the city. We had discussed our plan from the moment we escaped from Syned. Our troop was comprised now of Cimber the magus; Finn the ranger; Brand the warrior; James the courtier; Sherman the priest: a warrior named Corl and myself. Finn took care of provisions and Cimber paid to outfit our group for a long trek along the coast into the dense lowlands to the Cliffs of Evrim.

[Missing]

The sweltering jungle heat caused many rashes, funguses and problems none of us had ever encountered before. Finn and Sherman were busy ever night helping us treat these things. Strangely enough, I suffered from nothing other than discomfort, for my faith shielded me from these mundane diseases. Our motivations were not altogether pure. Sherman was here as part of our bargain to gain time to sort out an injustice. I was were with him, my vow to avenge the spilling of innocent blood, and protect my lands from ravagers such as those that killed fair lord Varley’s son. James was in our debt, and his innocence would absolve us of any wrong doing as well. Finn was caught up in something not of his doing, and must now join with us, or be a wanted man forever in the land of his birth. Brandon had thrown his lot in with us, choosing loyalty and belief in us over the picture painted by our enemies. Our debt to Finn grew by the hour. Sherman learned from him, and without him we would have perished alone and unknown in the jungle.

[There is much damage or missing here. The legible details indicate a battle with pirates, some amazing single shot kills, particularly from Brand and Finn. There is some sort of rebellion in or near the Wynther lands, a troll and bridge, mention of ‘house’ guards and political infighting in the court of Wynther. Long abandoned plantation n the lowlands, exotic animals, shape-shifters and the walking dead in a place called Skull Dunes. There is mention of n ancient family church and a perfect blade. Protected by the angry dead wizard– bale light in his eyes. A terrible storm and disease and weariness nearly overcoming the entire group. Cinder’s ship had to leave the shallow port of Siamri without him, the group going south by land.]

Once again we fled from, what most of our party considered, home. We crossed the border early in the afternoon, in silence and without fanfare. We all hoped that no one would be looking for us yet, much less to exit the country. In the mind of those who pursued us, we were fled. We wished to keep it that way for the nonce. The little used path that once connected the land of Wynther before Umatia was fromed, was devoid of travelers. Finn picked up signs of usage, but assured us it was infrequent at best. Once again we breathed easy; resting safe in the arms of a foreign land.

Once again, this rest was about to be shattered. On the second day of our journey we came across the remains of two travelers. They had been killed with weapons of some kind, looted, maimed (limbs removed) and left off the trail.
It was the buzzing of flies and the stench of decay that brought us to the bodies. There were no signs of weapons upon them, helpless travelers. Finn found tracks of a beast of burden on the trail.
It has probably been killed and taken by the brigands. We buried the bodies while Sherman prayed over the remains, consigning them to their gods.
As the day wore on, the path widened and became open. We passed signs of settlement, and towards the end of the day came upon abandoned villas. By now the road was solid.
There were signs of infrequent traffic and token upkeep. Some miles ahead we saw the lights of a small town. We passed a marker, bearing signs of ranger activity as well,
of with the word F-A-R-S-T-E-E-D carved on it in the southern tongue. Just outside of town, we encountered another sign, one that interested us greatly:

[]

We camped at the edge of town that night, without fire. At first light we struck camp and headed towards town. By the time we arrived at its outskirts. It was bustling. The sounds of s forge could be heard in the background. We were greeted by a watchman. We explained we were simple travelers, returning to Umatia. After one look at the arsenal we carried, I don’t think for a second he wanted to challenge us. He guided us to the Judges Inn, It was here that I felt for the first time some guiding force. It was as if I were being lead down a path I could not deviate from. More, there was no desire in heart to deviate from it. I felt full of power, yet unable to direct it. I knew that my goddess had brought me here, that peace was threatened. We were met by Clayton Miles the proprietor of the Inn, the local constable and mayor. Quite a lot of responsibility for one man, but the population of the town was small compared to the host it could shelter. Expedience dictated a more central power such as him. Again, I digress. Judge Clayton Miles was an older man. Time had weathered his face well, for his eyes were mere slits from which peered two bright orbs. He welcomed us graciously, and provided a fine meal. After we had all been put in good spirits he came to Sherman and asked to speak with him alone. Sherman later told us his tale – a tale of an ancient family secret.

[More is missing here. There is an ancient villa of a mage named Kanos, giant spiders and some nearly die from poison. Sherman falls from a great distance in a perilous descent to ancient sea caves and an underwater temple off the coast, near the town. An almost impossible situation, some sort of witch and sunken treasure which should have been left well alone.]

And so we left Sherman behind. His faith had been shaken, but he had found his way. It was with great sadness that I left him there in Farsteed. Somehow I knew we would see him again. Without him, none of us would have seen the sights we had. The things we had beheld, a thousand normal men see not in their lifetime. I knew when the time came, Sherman would return with us, to stand before the Justicars of Balthazar and give testimony in our behalf. When we finally arrived in Umatia, we were all exhausted beyond description. It was as if we had held our breath for a month and finally expelled it. It took half a day for Cimber to round up the crew. Depleted beyond all normal means, we prepared to sail and take in the fresh winds of the sea.

The sailors were stowing all their gear below when a man in gray robes approached the ship and hailed the captain. He asked for an audience with all of us. He called himself Grayson the Mage. None of us had ever heard of him, although by his attitude you would have though this fact an insult. After a brief exchange of introductions, he demanded to see the blade of the "True Song". None of us had heard of such a blade, nor did we know what he meant. He grew belligerent, until after some hostile exchanges we divined that he meant the blade we had from the dead wizard Kanos’ villa. We all knew there was something more to the blade than appearances. But, Cimber claimed it was not magical in any way. Once we divined the nature of his request, we took exception to his aggressive and overbearing demands. He asked us repeatedly to bring it forth. When Cimber requested that we all go below to bring the sword, I halted his deception. ‘Let him tr to take from me’, I thought. Tired as I was, I felt I could handle this man. Dismayed at his failed effort to buy time, Cimber told me unsheathe the blade. I declined, asking why we should accommodate such a rude fellow. "Accommodate not a man, but a dragon!" roared Grayson. Here again, words fail to do justice to the sight we beheld. For the first time ever had I seen a creature change its from before my eyes. Not only this, but from man to dragon. A dragon is a terrible thing to behold. They are beautiful, like a stark perilous mountain peak is beautiful. Awe inspiring and fearful was this vision now before us. Splinters of woods flew everywhere, crewmen jumped ship, beast and men on the shore panicked. I trembled in fear before this majestic creature of legend. Beyond all reasoning, my instincts took control. With a flash and flurry I drew the blade and moved into an attack posture. A collective gasp came from all those watching as Grayson stretched his long neck towards me. I assume it was a smile, but the terrible look that scales, teeth and eyes fromed in my sight was too much. Trembling I averted my eyes and kneeled before him, It was this or run in terror, and I would never do such. 1 presented the blade for his inspection. He pronounced it a blade of legend, and that troubles and adventures would follow it. I will try to recount the history he told us of here. Grayson the bronze dragon has taken it from the a bizarre half lizard, half man tribe who enshrined it and other artifacts over a thousand years ago. They took it from a group of adventurers that looted it from the vault of an assassin cult of Gloom Bringer in Scrape. Grayson transported himself to some distant hellish place of vapors and burning rain. There he let the sword be immersed in a river where the soul of the blade forgot itself, causing it to forget its enchantments. He then gave it to a noble of Khena. This noble was defeated by a knight of Wynther who was later killed by the wizard Kanos. Kanos was killed by assassins, and it has stayed upon his trophy wall, the hall guarded by enchantments in the town of Farsteed in his abandoned villa in north Umatia. We have rediscovered it in now, though its real powers and origins remain a mystery – for Grayson never told us.

Before the last words were out of his mouth, he had launched himself aloft. The entire ship groaned under the strain, and all, including myself, were flung to the deck, grasping anything to not be carried over. A massive blast of wind swept past us as the wings beat heavily to carry the dragon higher. Nothing stirred for minutes as the water settled and the ship stopped heaving. Cimber persuaded the crew back up on deck and fished those clinging to ropes in the water out. We all helped to prepare to sail. The ship was a mess but we hurriedly stowed gear before the authorities came down to the docks. Such a thing does not go unnoticed, and we were certainly not looking to attract attention. The bright sunshine awaited us outside the protective shield of the channel. Once out, the sails were dropped and quickly filled with wind, limping away from our homelands again.

At sea, I was so overwhelmed by the vast blue skies and expanse of water that it was all I could manage to sleep 1 hour out of eight. Even at night, the waves of Waerl Bay were the most miraculous sight I had ever beheld. We sailed due west for a night and a day, to avoid all the coastal shipping. By then, land was a rare sight. Ocean as far as the eye could sea. I envy these sailors, such sights they must see. They have worked hard to repair the damage caused by the dragon. Cimber tells us that mostly it was cosmetic, but that she (as he refers to his boat) needs a major overhaul in the next port of call.

At sea, the crew seems more willing to talk. I am told that creatures bigger and more fearsome than any on land dwell in the deep depths. Such courage must these lads have, to brave the dark far waters, so far from shore. I wish I could live such a life. New friends at every port, and a brotherhood of sailors wherever you may roam. As we sailed east, towards our port of call – turning north this time and making for Port Cholest.

I was able to watch the sun rise in the east, over the land and sea. It was absolutely breathtaking to watch. It stirred me deeply, gave me hope and fortitude. I believe that we are ever closer to proving the deeds of those that betrayed my countryman and fellow noble. In this. we prove to our own innocence in aiding in the escape of James from our homeland. I pray to the Lords of Light that they guide us true to our goal. The early morning silence was shattered by cries of "sail aft!" I seemed as if a vessel was trying to overtake us… and succeeding. She was a large ship, and by all rights we should have been able to out race her, but Cimber merely watched to see what was happening. He called for the looking glass (what a miraculous thing!) and spied the heraldry of the Merchant City of Poelitz upon the vessel. We slowed as they signaled for us to halt. A great shadow loomed over us, as they warship hove to and the crunch of wood as the ships collided lightly. Marines and officers boarded our vessel, with no right and sinister intent if my mind be known. They treated us most disrespectfully, especially myself, a noble no less. Cimber, being of a ranking guild house of Gwinn, seemed exempt from their foolish questioning. After searching and questioning us thoroughly, we were left to ourselves.

Why they had done this was still a mystery. Perhaps war was in the air, it had been some time since Cimber had been this far north, and he was not current on the local appenings.
We sailed for another day and a half north, along the coast. We past many vessels from many ports. Each hailed us as we past. The men on the boat say that sailors everywhere are brothers, and look out for their own. These men share many things, including, I imagine, a love of the sea. The junior navigator tells me we will soon make port in Cholest, the only port controlled by the Vale Evander. I was told that we may even see an elf if we are lucky, It had been a while since I had spoken openly to one of that race.
Always a delight, once you know them, to speak to a soul as alive and merry as an elf. It turned out that our plans had been altered. The ship needed repairs badly, and so Cimber ordered the crew to make for Poelitz. Apparently Port Cholest has only meager facilities to service deep sea going vessels such as his. And we needed funds to continue; trade season provides Cinder with an excuse to return to what his family trained him for. We sail for Poelitz for cargo and repairs to help us finance our further journies.

The next day was an ill day. Some of my illusions of the life of a sailor were dispelled. Rough weather caught us unawares in the night and we lost a man. Aryaan by name, he was no one in particular, but well liked by the crew. It seems as if they fear the ocean more than love it. Few know how to swim, and would not willingly throw themselves into its embrace in the direst of circumstances. I ask why, and Cimber replies that the sea is the bride of the foolish and unwary. He speaks of Elancil the Storm Queen affectionately enough, but there is fear behind his voice. We debated the merits of beliefs for hours. I still believe worship out of fear is a bad basis for believers. I sometimes think Cimber a fool to follow such an uncaring god. It is more a policy of appeasement than worship.

[Missing piece here.]

We put in at Port Cholest with our cargo and were met by an entourage on the shore. Cimber met with these officials and purchased 2 weeks of moorage and pledged a third should we be late in returning from South Gate. Apparently, the price is exorbitant, being more than fifty silvers per week. I understand that this is because we are not merchants, and there are few places for boats to moor, and those anchored, like ours, takes more time and resources to watch over and keep safe. This is the law, and so we pay the fees and prepare for our journey south. Our first stop will be the Cosra River mouth. This enclave is the only port to the Elven kingdom . I am told it is a small, beautiful place, nestled at the end of a bay, about a half mile up the wide river mouth. Here we hope to meet
Our elven friend we aided in Farsteed. We march along merrily. There will be no assassins or trouble this far north; although more people here are armed than I remember from before. Many traders we speak to talk of troubles in the north and difficulty in the future grain harvest of the Merchant Cities. Their troubled looks are apparently infectious, for I was told I was brooding overly much. We have put down rebellion in the south, I fear such things do not bother us in the north.

We arrived in the river enclave without difficulty, and in good time. We stayed at a magnificent lodging called The Dreaming Root. The wood work as marvelous, elven I am told. Although we saw no elves, everyone was looking. It seemed as if time stood still for the three days we spent here. We all rested and enjoyed the quiet atmosphere and fresh smells and sights of the elvish gardens. On the fourth morning, we packed and continued south to Suffolk. It is a sprawling walled city of tens of thousands people. Few places like this in my homeland. I am uncomfortable in such places. I feel as if all are watching me, and only I, searching for some reason to find fault. I know this is not true, but so self conscious am I, that I tend to avoid the larger streets and take my time getting from one place to another.

We crossed the bridge over the Cosheus Abyssal. Words fail me, the magnificence of this structure is without peer. The south greeted me with open arms. It was good to be amongst my country men again. This felt, despite the fact that South Gate is twice as big as Suffolk. South Gate may be the largest city in the south actually.

[Some pieces are missing or ruined. The group stays longer than expected and exchanged some voucher for information; they discover a man named Ormhaz Bukto put a contract out on them.]

The peace and serenity we had enjoyed was shattered upon our return to port…

[More missing pages here. There is mention of waiting for an elf, an attack by brigands and finally return to the ship. Poelitz is the new destination. They sailed into port and were meet by Merchant Prince Vilis Rumain. The merchant cities are being held hostage by a rogue cult of some minor demon of plague and pestilence. All champions have thus far been defeated and the cities will be inundated with disease if a ransom is not paid. The merchant cities of the south and Umbak are currently engaged in open warfare. The group somehow finds the underground temple and eradicates the postulant populace.]

Never before had I seen such pageant as we received. Again, I felt as if all eyes were upon me, waiting for me to make a mistake. None did I make, and we were all hailed as saviors of the city. Afterwards we were all taken before Prince Vilis and the council and queried as to what manner we were to be repaid. I gave chance for all to ponder and speak before I. but no one had thought of repayment until now. I asked nothing for myself only that they stop the war with Umbak, and open negotiations with the high King and involve the Church of Light in any and all dealings. They agreed to take upon themselves in arranging this. Afterwards, the Prince came to my quarters to speak to me alone. He spoke of matters 1 cannot comprehend. The why’s, how’s and who’s of this war were not for me. Too much did I have weighing upon my mind, and the good prince did notice such, offering his council. I spoke of my troubles, my beliefs, my mother and my quandary. He told me such religious matters were not his to advise upon, but that the Vale was home to the Goddess of Magic and that I may petition an answer from her priests. He summoned a scribe and wrote a personal letter of introduction to the temple there, for me to present. I thanked him greatly, and we talked not of problems, but of our childhoods for the rest of the evening, letting the matters of state go unattended for the duration. At the toll of the eleventh bell, he bid a good night and returned to the party, Not wanting to attract more unwanted visitors, we planned to flee south again, hoping to return to South Gate and deal with Ormahz Bukto. Most of us were to remain here, far from the doings in the south lands. The Merchant Prince had offered up his best scholars and warriors for our training. My path took me to a different goal. Hastily. I returned to the Vale Evander, to the high temple of Ezrilus. I cannot detail Her mysteries here, but I pledged the enchanted shield we had retrieved from the temple of the lizard-men in the lowlands of Wynther – a mighty magic indeed- if she would have me. I gave all my remaining wealth to placate the trust of Aerna. For five months did I learn the ways of Ezrilus. For my own part, time went quick. All the teachings of my mother served me well. I trained, learned more of the craft than I had known ere now. Simple enchantments, the most base such as those an apprentice not named may use. Cantrips, prayers, devotions and observances; all of these came quickly or were remembered, and it soon became time for me to leave. North I traveled, to meet my friends at the mouth of the Vale. Our planned journey was to take us along South Traders Road, skirting the north end of the Vale Evander. Onward to Port Cholest, over the Cosra River and to Suffolk: here we would plan our capture of the enemy in South Gate. Once again, the fates were not to have us. At first, it seemed as if our luck had even changed. Once again, the King of the Elves rode forth from the forest to meet us. Somehow he knew once again that we would be traveling near his lands. How this is possible? I do not know, but powerful magic it must be. It seems as if the lord of elves has need of us. Knowing of our burden however, he declined to insist and spake only that when our business in South Gate be finished, he bade us come once again to the ford of the Cosra River and he would meet us there. This request gave us cause to pause.

We debated oft on the purpose of our status of Realm Champions. I. like the other, were torn between our greatest goal, that which had brought us together and which binds us more surely than any other thing can. And yet the Lord of the Elves has need of us. We detoured through the Vale, stopping at Kyranvm. We had hoped to hear news that might give us a clue as to the happenings in the elvish homeland, but none came. In the mean time, I returned to the Ten Swords School. Finn had Ducateon armor, from the hall of Kanos the wizard, that needs be altered to fit him. It only required two days service. Upon request from my comrades. I vouched for them in my School. We spent an additional month of much needed training for Brand, who had not completed his in Poelitz. He left Kyranym on a bright day, mid-weekk. To save time, we planned to make our way through the hills at the south end of the Vale, near the forest and land of Ynth. Finn lost his way and we were in the hills on the second day, unable to see the plains we knew we should be. I wonder now if there were not some evil magic working against us. We stumbled upon such a situation as is impossible without divine or magical intervention.

[More missing or damaged writing here. It speaks of a duel, a man charmed by a priest, and a dangerous ambush at a point were the road forks, split by a large boulder. Atop the boulder is Ravenblack. He belived the group to have committed atrocious crimes and could not be persuaded (later, they found he was charmed). He gave them the opportunity to disarm and return to the scene of the crime – of which there was none, so they did not. He demanded a challenge.
Accompanying this man was Razren Blacksun – a priest of Sun stealer and his followers, hoping to simply mop up after the group had been wounded or disarmed.
When the group refused, and Ravenblack was dispatched, he and his band ambushed the group.
Another miraculous single shot kill the priest. He used black pearls that caused darkness, caused a beetle to become a massive juggernaut and fight the group, and a mace called ‘Nightbringer’. With him was a writ of execution and a description of the group, signed ‘OB’ (Ormhaz Buckto).]

Ahead the horizon was dominated by a glowing green tower. It stood above a walled town, a second wall around it. We dismounted a mile outside of town. It was just as this new found friend said it was. I needed no urging, in looks only it was sinister at the least. Brandon stayed with our equipment and horses. It was agreed that should we not return in three days time, he would head to the nearest settlement and mount a rescue.

[The tale of the town is mostly damaged. Eerily populated with both spirit and flesh alike, the town was odd, depressing and fearful. Attempts to speak to the populace were not acknowledged. Eventually, they made their way to the tower and inside it. Inside, the master was some minor god or demon, one Joleer. The tower was a trap, an amusement game for him and we must all gamble with him and the perils of his palace.]

The next room we enter contained a large flat rug of ornate design. Upon this rug, filling a rather large chamber with a forty-foot ceiling was set a chair and table. These trapping were ornately carved, worth much to the trained eye (so James tells me). In the chair sat the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. My world and yours, the reader are vastly different. Let me tell you now of something which few have guessed at. I cannot see the way others do. Since birth, I have only had vision in the spectrum of gray. My magics consist of nothing of color, my trappings the plainest for I cannot tell what goes together and what will make me appear the fool. For the first time I gazed upon a woman in her full beauty, in color. Oh how I envy you who see plainly. Hardly plain at all compared to my fate. She smelled of wild blossoms, her hair, eyes and lips all vividly different… colors. I nearly swooned like a woman, so beautiful was she. Others must have seen her beauty too, for no sound was made as we all stared in awe of this creature before us. Surrounding her were creatures of all sort. Half beast-half man, as in the carving we had seen upon the wall of the temple: ogre as we had seen in the basement of Kanos’ mansion in Farsteed, and other humanoids common to the darkness. I knew what she was and that only one of us must pay the price. This from my gamble with Joleer.

I spoke to the others, enlightening them as to her unlimited knowledge of her abilities as an oracle. Oracle of the hells, tarterous. Hades. the Abyss? I knew not at the time, although I suspect now that she was a demoness from the darkest pits of the abyss. Then however we debated. At first the wizard wanted only for himself. I steered us towards asking about our quest. Finn agreed to ask first: What be so important about us that we warrant such strong attempts of murder so far away?" Not yourselves, but the amulet the rogue carries. A key to the chamber of the claw be it." Next Cimber asked where the claw of the demon was, "Inside a chamber, deep within Urns butte under Fortress Varlev. Only the key will allow passage through the maze of death and guardians put therein." Lastly. I asked who is behind all of the happenings of the battle at Tondor Hollow. "Fatmar Zugash is the man you seek. He is your sworn enemy and lifelong foe"

Now we have a name. A name familiar to us. Fatmar was the "hero" of Tondor Hollow. Somehow he arranged everything, including the actions with Ikes Thunder Legion and the border troubles. He probably arranged the death of his partner Kanst. This was bad news. He was a favorite in court, from what James has said. We cannot bring charges based upon an unknown oracles word. We must bring the pieces of the puzzle together ourselves.

After I collapsed I am told that James returned to dice with this Joleer creature. Demon from the Abyss! James did well for himself this time, and regained whatever part of his soul he had forfeit to the monster before. I admit I would have done all in my power to stop him had I been aware, and he would have suffered for it. What is it that drives me to impress my will upon others? I must say once again how impressed I was with his return to the path of right. His choice, over himself, for the good of the group were he is indisposed to do such things was quite the rapturous surprise. I praise him highly, and prayed to Ezrilus the he stay with us upon our path. He learned his skills in an environment of deception. Such things are part of life in court and I do not begrudge him for it, if he can bend these things to the use of good. Then such also is the loss of evil.
I was so weakened by exhaustion, both physical and mental strain that it would take me many weeks to regain my faculties. I had lost much blood, and only my training and inspiration as a holy warrior staved off death long enough for Pilate to weave his healing enchantments upon me. In this time, a most strange thing came to pass. I will lay it down here as simply as I can. Whilst my spirit was roaming the voids, searching for its home, my goddess came to me. "I am the law and the breaker. Of all things is magic born. Of Law do you come, to serve me. Of law must you remain. The taint of chaos, from this magical place is upon you. It is a magic born of and unto chaos, beyond even my weavings. Lose not the experience, but deny its gain and I shall reward thee." So bright and beautiful was this vision before me I was struck speechless. from a multihued crystalline cloud fromed a creature so stunning that should mortal eyes glimpse her they would go blind. Never again would such eyes desire to glimpse the world, knowing that it should find nothing so beautiful as what I beheld. I felt her smile. No longer was I merely looking upon my goddess. But I could feel her breath, her love, her beauty. Her smile was like a mother to a child, one lover to another, a wife to cherished husband. In it I found approval and satisfaction as I have never known. Before I could answer the blazing effigy before me, my soul was drawn back to this time and place. I could only hope she knew my mind, as clouded as it was.

[Missing materials.]

In my absence, a servant of the demon Joleer arrived to aid us in defeating the remaining foes. Pilates insistence brought us in this unlikely alliance against the monsters we had seen prowling the town earlier. A strange force did we face. Nigh two dozen skeletal warriors in new heavy armor marched in the company of three giants of the low hills. These were of the same breed we had seen in Farsteed. By Joleer’s minion, Pilate had been given 2 spheres, one black and the other white. "Throw these at the feet of your foes." This and no more instruction was Pilate given. My comrades had carried my body to the cellar in the widow’s bed and breakfast. Here they planned. All night they schemed, throwing away one plan after another. Finn was sent to retrieve Brandon from his guard upon our mounts outside of town. In the early morning they sneaked back in. As the sun was high, my friends slept. Towards its descent they awoke. Pilate performed what healing his god would channel and they prepared to meet their foe. In the streets, it was chance that they happened upon them so soon. Most were not in position, and so Pilate was forced to deliver the spheres early. He gave a mighty throw and the sphere broke upon the street before the giants. I saw what remained afterward of the vast sinkhole. A great pit. 40′ wide opened up. A charnel stench arose from it, the smell of old earth and death. Clawed hands grasped the edge of the pit as creatures from the abyss spewed out. Since then we have consulted sages and based upon our testimony, they were demons. The difference between demons and devils is not fully understood by myself (if there is one). Cimber and Pilate nod knowingly. I leave it to them, it is their domain, but such things are intriguing.

The creatures from the abyss swarmed over the giants and undead, tearing and hewing mightily. Many were killed, for the giants fought with a crazed strength. Surely their fear had been aroused, for its rare had I seen a man strive so except in the face of sure death. Not even these creatures deserved such a fate as we wrought them. Sorry I am now that I ‘twas not there, for next the second sphere was brought into play. Our enemy had been crushed, nothing but bloody pieces of flesh remained. The demons then turned upon my friends. Pilate threw down the second sphere. It brought forth a creature so mighty, even I tremble to think about it. A demon lord, imprisoned by Joleer (presumably) walked upon the earth. He gathered unto himself his host and turned to my companions. Apparently he then held brief converse ending with a bow. He caused a portal to open whereupon he and his minions vanished into it. I pray that that be the end of it. For a full week did my companions languish over the city. Collecting survivors and repairing the town. At the end of the wee, perhaps a little more they bid the citizens farewell. They had promised that they would send homesteaders as soon as possible. Taking only a cart as payment, in which to carry my body, they left due south. Finn later related to me what happened as he noticed the road fade from underneath them over the space of a few hours.

They looked back to see nothing where the town and tower had once stood. Pilate made the sign to ward off evil, and quickly prayed over us to Balthazar. Silence reigned as we traveled south. I was delirious with fever, and remember nothing of the journey. One thing that happened to everyone were their dreams. It began with portents. Tiding and signs, however small, should always be heeded. Eventually, all of my comrades were to share the sort of dream or vision I had been granted. I grieve that Cimber goes down a path few are willing to follow. He now prays more to Elancil more than ever. Even that uncaring beast and wood god would be preferable to the Storm Queen. I must speak to him more of this. To bring this chapter to a close, we arrived in Suffolk roughly two weeks after the new year. That day I was placed in the hands of a skilled apothecary to nurse me back to health. Whilst I recovered, James and Cimber were busy discovering more about our adversary: Ormhaz Bukto.

James crossed the chasm into South Gate. We heard nothing for him except at the end of the week, when he would return to report all his conclusions. At firs James kept his distance, observing small things and frequented places. I received all of this information afterwards, but I will try to place it all correctly in time here. The first week he discovered that he frequents a particular brothel – Annies Plums and Pomegranates. Admittedly a peculiar name, but true none the less. Every day he has at work, Torshims Pottery Shop, he took lunch at the statue of Ternebog. Apparently some hero, whose deeds are now gone unremembered. Above the pottery shop is the Gleernan Traders post. Pilate‘s skill with bureaucracy found that they were linked to a Merchant City trading house. Lastly James observed that he wore a lot of jewelry. Many rings, bracelets and pins adorned his person. Brandon took it upon himself to follow him in one day and later request the girl he is partial to. from her he discovered that there were two rings he never took off. Cimber placed upon the rings a magical significance. Although we knew nothing of the specific enchantments, it was obvious they were either magical or significant in some way. All other jewelry was removed during his romps in the whorehouse. The reader will notice here that I am more tolerant of such activities. My training with the priestesses of Ezrilus had unclouded my sight upon this subject. Such places are sacred to her, and she is the patron of harlot and lover alike. Indeed, even I was introduced to fleshly delights. Although I have yet to find the girl that stirs my heart and not just my loins. Ezrilus as my witness, all women stir the heart. But for some, there remains an untouched place in mine. I digress again. Let me return to the subject at hand…

The next week James was able to confirm that he was a worshiper at the local church of Balthazar. Aside from his usual activities, he also works out frequently in the mercenary guild’s practice yard. No one in particular did he work with, only those who happened to also be in the yard by happenstance. The third week brought Pilate over into South Gate to talk to members of the clergy of Balthazar. No dealing does he have other than tithes. He, like other merchants, rely on the church for veracity of weights and measures, and contractual bonds. Having discovered nothing new, he returned to relay this news. In the week’s time, James had observed him entering the Guild Hall of the Brotherhood of the Dust. This same brotherhood was the fornt for the assassins that had plagued us since we left Svned. Here was some desperately needed proof in our eyes. It may all be innocent, but to us it was a sinister cloud in an otherwise blue sky. So far, it was only this small connection that gave credence to his deep involvement. James also followed him back into Suffolk three times that week. He travels in a fine crafted chariot. There he visited three different places, two known mages and another unconnected.

In the forth week, James discovered the seemingly unconnected visit in Suffolk was a known fence there. Cimber inquired to his activities of the mages guild in Suffolk and any who would speak. Divinations was all anyone would answer to Cimber‘s question of their activities on his behalf. By now we suspected that he knew he was being watched. With a network like the kind we thought he had access to, it was bound to show eventually. That and the mages casting their divinations were sure to give him a clue that we were after him. Still we could not act; we needed proof to bring him to justice. James informed us then that he was also traveling in the presence of a bodyguard. Brandon checked at the mercenary guild at discovered we was a pit fighter from Beryl. It was then postulated that there may be a connection to the E Company. We knew they were based there, and that their leader hired only pit fighters from the War Pits of Mizras. By now I was slowly recovering my strength, resting in the presence of my friends at an inn in Suffolk. It was my suggestion that James use his talents to enter his abode and obtain some sort of written proof. He agreed, but wanted one more day. Apparently there was some one who knew something about his past he wanted to talk to. I must also mention here that we were greatly depleted of funds. I am not so naïve to think everyone thinks as I do, or that men are so selfless as to recognize a higher cause and serve it with the zeal I do. It had taken much money to stay hidden, follow activities, and participate in some as well. Donations to the temple and guilds took much as well. We were stricken with need to solve this case, and soon.

James‘ desire proved to be pivotal in giving us just cause to search his dwelling. Ormahz had been part of an adventurous expedition into the Cosheus Abyssal that had discovered a sealed shrine to Everdark. They brought back some sort of relic to the surface. He made inquiries into it and apparently someone tried to assassinate him. After a week of hiding, he resurfaced with a tale of a vision and great curse. He told of his return trip to the relics resting place and prayers to Balthazar and his sacrifice of much money to the god. He claimed he had cast the relic into the Cosheus Abyssal. He spoke of terrible vengeance by Everdark. His friends grew angry and there was fighting. Over the next few days, each of them died horribly, in the night. Ormhaz was a pious man after that, but after a few years and many acquisitions, people began to grow curious. Those people disappeared and the matter was forgotten. Speaking of forgotten, it was nigh my birthday. I spent my birthday barely strong enough to lift my own glass in a toast. My friends know not of this, and I shall not tell them. It was difficult enough to stay focused to the task at hand without having to wormy about my ego. This story cast a very suspicious eye upon him.

Pilate once again called upon his skills as a bureaucrat and obtained a document with Ormhaz’s signature on it. It matched exactly the one on the death writ we had from the priest of Everdark in the Vale. Some connections were beginning to appear to us. This more than gave us pause. Relics? Artifacts of evil? The priesthood of Everdark and Ezrilus knows what others were involved. His connection to Kanos and Fatmar were also still a mystery. Pilate and I debated all night long on the points of law involved here. In the morning we were resolved. We slept until eventide, when our meal was brought. Much to our horror, a black spot was found under one of the trays. Finn grew sickly, his stomach roiling loud enough to wake the dead. After the rest of us purged ourselves of the meal, Pilate examined Finn. Indeed he had poisoned. It was a debilitating mild poison. An herbal additive, easily unnoticed in dairy products. While Pilate tended to Finn, we swore that that night we would finish it. James was sent ahead to scout the place out. An enchantment from Cimber caused him to vanish from our sight. Carefully he climbed out the window, to the roof. He leapt to another building (the Inn was the tallest in the vicinity – 3 stories) and climbed down. He made his way carefully to the pottery shop. There he gather himself and tread warily to Ormhaz’s shop. Outside were two guards, and a dim glow from within. He crept close and tried to overhear what was being said. All he heard was hushed tones but one word was heard over and again – "Gaunko". A second guard came out and left the door open, for it was most hot that night. He moved closer but the board creaked under his weight. He could barely make out the words "Elephants Tower". This place was not very far away; on the same block, beyond a double dwelling, past the statue and Eddies Fasteners and Buckles. Also called the ivory tower, it was fornted with two massive tusks, thrusting from the ground and crossing over the doorway. The sound drew the guards attention. The creature on guard stopped and began to sniff. It was then that he realized that these were not just men. They spoke to each other in a language he could not recognize. They looked right at him and continued to sniff. Surely under the light of the moon did he find the luck of Lady Ezrilus. The creatures resumed their conversation and ignored him. He watched silently until they all began to come out of the building. Ornthaz was followed by his bodyguard. Ahead of them were these two creatures. Behind the bodyguard was a tall man, with a long face and dark hair. Behind him were two others, cowled and hidden from view. He followed them to the tower as stealthily as possible.
There, Ormhaz chanted some arcane words and the doors opened before him. They entered and the door closed behind them. James returned to the pottery shop to search for evidence.

Well past the midnight hour he entered the shop. The lock was easily picked and there was nothing in the shop floor. Upstairs he crept, searching for traps along the way at a snails pace. Having gained entrance to the office, he was able to pilfer a suitable document with his signature on it. He also discovered a magical thing. Wrapped in a ball of darkness, in a locked drawer was a metallic object. He wrapped it in a document bag and returned to us with it. In the light of the enchanted coin of Cimber, the object was revealed as a Holy Symbol of Everdark. Perhaps this was the object we sought. The signature confirmed in our minds that Ormhaz was somehow behind our assassin troubles all along. We hastily planned an assault upon the Elephants Tower. We knew by now that it was we who were being followed. Upon Pilate‘s idea, we moved to another inn, forcing them to change with us and hoping the confusion would help us. We entered the [unintelligible] Inn, a modest place at best but the only place with open doors ‘as long as the sun be in the sky or the stars be above’. Then we all quickly left by separate means. James left out a window, some of us out the back and other out the fornt. Many stares did we receive as fully armed we strode into the night.

We all met up at the tower. When we had confirmed that no watchmen were nearby, we began our attempt to breach the door. Cimber had decided that my sword was the best method. Having previously demonstrated its ability to break down sealed doors, we felt it the quickest means. With such strong thought in my mind did I draw forth True Song and smite the door. A painful bolt sizzled from the archway to my chest as the door crashed inwards. Upon Brand did it also work is magic, but the door was breached. As we stood there, a great bellowing erupted and a long spear flashed before me. Scrapping off my ribs, it crashed into my chest and hurtled my backwards. Surprised, Brandon could but peer into the gloom beyond as a huge from and several smaller began to actively defend the doorway. Ciinber stepped up and cast a spell which caused a sizzling caustic wound of acid upon the ogre. A blot flew from his hands to strike the ogre squarely, enraging him. Finn fired into the room beyond to avoid striking Brand who was moving to engage the ogre. More creatures went down. James plied his thrown daggers at those beyond. They were helpless as the fighting ogre and Brand held them beyond reaching us. Next, Cimber enchanted two froms beyond to crash to the ground in a magical slumber. Brand took care of the ogre handily, whilst I brought my Ducateon bow to bear. It the snap of the powerful string it was finished. One ogre and seven lesser dark spawn lay before us. Cimber was to kill the wounded but I decried against such. Firstly an unarmed foe is a helpless one, and it would be wrong. We also needed more proof against Ormhaz for authorities to justify our actions. Harboring creatures of the darkness is the vilest deed I could imagine, and so they were spared as evidence. They would die in the light of the sun as such creatures are fitted for.

We made our way up to the next level. Pilate cast a divination that revealed to us the traps upon the stairs. Brand was in the fore as we rushed up and were stopped half way up by a somber figure wielding scimitar and dagger. Both of these weapons dripped with poison in the faint light. When these weapons struck Brandon, his wounds seeped blood unnaturally. He faced a first after which another took his place. Each wound he took meant more blood loss later. These two were the only guardians to the room beyond. It was some sort of barracks, with a single screened off area unoccupied. Hurriedly we rushed to the closed door above us leading to the next level. It was barred heavily, and after repeated poundings we all but gave up. Cimber brought out an item of power, from which he conjured a magical force that broke the door from its hinges. Up we rushed, surprising all but one occupant. Finn and Brandon fought Ormhaz and his guard while a from leapt passed us to the floor below. He pushed Pilate out of the way and jumped to the floor level, where only James waited, watching for the City Guard. The rogue, who we were to later discover was Gaunko the assassin of the Claw Brotherhood, streaked past James. James made a desperate grab and held him as Finn rushed down. By now, Ormhaz had been subdued. Pilate develop a full case. The final blow came when the watch and priests entered the lower depths of the tower. Had we known there was so great a peril still thriving, we would have gone ourselves and spared the families that lost loved ones that day. Below were dozens of Orrish and creatures Ko-Bolds, even some Ducateon of strange gray skin hue. Apparently these Ko-Bold were crafting armor for this group. Some was even being sold in the mercenary guild. These gray one are, we have been told, evil cousins of those of Rockholm. Lastly it was discovered a red claw tattooed upon his palm. Days of jail had worn off the makeup covering it. A matching, although larger one, was found upon this Gaunko fellow. They were both members of the Brotherhood of the Claw – demon worshipers. The case against Orrnhaz was overwhelming. Pilate prosecuted him, along with others of his church. The judge sentenced him and Gaunko to death. We petitioned for an audience before this was carried out and it was granted. He would say nothing to us. However, his connection to the Claw Brotherhood was more than enough in our eyes to link him to Fatmar, who was searching for the Claw with the descendents of Kanos. It was probably Ormhaz who handled the killing of the magus.

And so we departed hastily from South Gate. Pilate chronicled the case from the first day, culminating with our current efforts to expose Fatmar Zugash of Gravas. Locked away in church vaults should he not return in a year – to be handled then by the priesthood should we fail. We prayed that we would not.

Early in the spring of the next year we confronted Fatmar in the court at Gravas. We strode into the territory of Urul unhindered, for who would think we would be so brazen? Having used my own and James‘s credentials at the gate, we were admitted to the bailey and court beyond. It was only there that we were finally stopped. It took only moments before we were surrounded by spearmen at the ready. Somehow, James had managed to spy Fatmar seconds before we were caught, and removed himself from our group. He made his way through the crowd, following Fatmar as he attempted to leave. He caught him just as he was leaving the court and grabbed him by his long hair. A struggle ensued. Fatmar resorted to cutting his own hair to gain release and surprising James with a poisoned blade. In the struggle, Fatmar used magic in fornt of screaming onlookers who scattered at its display. James threw his last knife as Fatmar was escaping and caught him square upside the head, knocking him into oblivion. A soldier stood, spear at James‘ neck whilst he tried to drink a potion that would clear the poison he could feel spreading throughout his body. The magic that Balthazar had wrought upon him served him well as the poison was slowed enough to give him time to drink it. First he had to convince the guard he was not drinking a potion to whisk him away, and the poison blade was further evidence of Fatmar’s darker leanings. After all was said and done, my influence and James in the court detained Fatmar long enough for a trial. As a priest, Pilate was allowed some freedom and he discovered that Fatmar was flooding the courts with legal proceedings and confusions to get him free. The law was with Pilate as he countered his best efforts and kept Fatmar under lock until a Justicar of Balthazar could be brought from Umbak.

Late spring that year, we faced Fatmar in court and our case triumphed. Our good names were restored, and we all got to see

The Duke or Urul and Varley were very grateful. I asked for nothing more than to be risen in rank, from Sir to Lord, as was my due in everyone’s eves. James returned the luck charm of the Duke of Varley. He asked for something in return, of equal value to the burden he bore for so long. from his own neck, did the Duke give him an amulet. Its powers cause it to flash whenever magic is directed at the wearer, and it protects as does the Amulet of the Keeper (as the Duke refers to it). Cimber‘s interest still lay in the ancient Sea King city under the cliffs. Duke Tugath sent for the Lady Wynther, it being her territory in question. Lady Beethre Wynther smiled upon seeing us again. "I had faith that you would prevail. And so now you do, and you return to me. It seems our paths are meant to be crossed. Ask heroes, and ye shall receive, if it mine to give." Her smile was disturbing though. As a beast to that of prey. Our spirits soared then, and we did not notice such things as we are wont to do in retrospect. Finn petitioned for a parcel of land for a Way Station for his new found brotherhood. This simple thing, in the unpopulated High Wvn Bluffs he was granted. For Cimber the reply was not something he counted upon. Apparently someone had already petitioned for that land. A mage named Abatec Lucien had exclaimed an interest in building upon the top of the cliffs. Hastily Cimber called us together. "I know of this fellow – he has some small reputation as a sage in old Sea King matters." "He is a half breed elf from Beryl, where he has been retired 60 years ago. He is a powerful sorcerer, and long in experience. This was over 60 years ago, wise to assume he has greater understanding of sorcery now than he did then. He has funded many an expedition inland and at sea for the sake of recovering items known and unknown," "Be he of Light or Darkness?", asked I. "Neither. He is for himself only, and his ambitions are unknown." We resolved to explore this matter further when we had the time.

The secret of the poisoned demon Claw was safe. In out travels we had seen many types of men and beast, demon and giant. We had quelled rebellions, met Kings and Princes, been given titles and names. Much had we learned, in so little time. Quietly did we rest those next few days. Our futures lay before us. Cimber must return north, to retrieve his boat from the Merchant City of Poelitz. Finn must journey to his brotherhoods holdfast. For Pilate, his quest for injustice will never end. James has had his fill of court, intrigue and wars. Brand has accumulated quite an array of fine crafted weapons. For him, travel and excitement are meat and wine. We are all different, yet so much binds us. We knew that trouble would stir again in the Cliffs of Evrim. Also did we recollect that the King of the Elves had need of us. By now perhaps his need was great, for we had been away much longer than we expected.

Our path did not allow for rests. Once we had taken Orrmhaz, we traveled quickly to Fatmar, trying to arrive before he got word…. All of this was done and we were free. And still we chose, as men of honor would, to return north again. The Elves were waiting… and one does not keep a King in such a state – even one who measures time at such a slow pace as he.

Some of the party fell ill unexpectedly. Pilate and Cimber grew ill with fever, forcing Finn, James. Brandon and m self to make the journey to the Vale without them. We trekked to Acriere, the bustling port city of my homeland. Instead of slinking our way through its back streets to the docks, as we did when we left, we strode proudly. We were met by the military governor. After a brief audience with him, he expressed his regret over the whole matter. Undoubtedly he knew more than he let on, as officials are wont to do, but expressed the gratitude of the Magyar King as well. A sumptuous banquet and night of entertainment and we were on our way once more. The governor was kind enough to re provision us before our journey. A full month of supplies did he gift. We booked passage on a ship to Port Cholest. Finn had brought his pack mule and dog. By now, the pup had grown into a strapping golden lab. Its capacity for affection was only exceeded by its appetite. Finn kept the dog in shape. Ever morning Finn would run, and the dog with him. I have heard Finn tell of days of running, traveling over the plains and hills alone. I can only image the sights he must have seen. A grow more to like him. I know he is faithful to my goddess. The mark is upon him and Brandon, but her light shines brighter in Finn. James seems tempted no more by unjust thoughts. He has taken to following the teachings of Pilate, and bends ear to his words above all others. It is a good time for us.

There was a distinct lack of shipping, prevalent enough for even me to notice. Passage was more expensive than normal, and though flush we saw our funds dwindling if such a rate continued. We were surprised too to see Port Cholest defended by ships of the Vale. Even sailors and soldiers roamed the shores, in groups distinctive from water side. We were charged an entrance fee, informed of hard time and trade problems. After we got quayside we were able to notice that some of the buildings were damaged. Once again we found ourselves in the middle of war. James went amongst the locales to discover what was wrong, whilst we stowed our gear at the Rose and Crown Inn. The proprietor was happy to get customers, and begged us to tell us news of the south. In exchange he told us of raiding Grollen and giant humanoids attacking trade all along the coast and trade routes. James brought us woes of the Merchant City traders. All trade was held up, except for enterprising adventurers and mercenaries who were willing to charter caravans with protection. Brigandry and theft was up, and the town was very busy. Even sea trade was threatened in the north. Apparently great reef giants were upsetting ships, drowning sailors and raiding coastal settlements. Gwinn and the Merchant Cities were suffering most from this, while the inland trade was halted for all. The call was going out and Gwinn was raising and armada, whilst the Steel League of the South, the Merchant Prince, and even the Elven lords were raising an army to sweep the hills of the Vale. Such a loss of life and love could not be suffered, and so did we venture forth across the plains to the northern Vale. We saw parties of raiders and evidence of sacked caravans. Once we encountered a South Gate merchant returning from the north. With him was an enchanter and many mercenaries. We shared a camp for the night and exchanged news. The Lich Lords had pushed Last Winter into Kaald, but the priests of Aerna and the armies of Kaald had been waging a hard war to push them back this spring. No news from the dark border was always good news, and so we traded some of the happenings in the south. They had heard of our exploits in the south as far north as Poelitz. After some hours, we were recognized by one of the mercenaries who had heard of our deed in South Gate. His brother was part of the Border Guard, and had written him of it. Our names had given away our identities. We swapped adventurous tales, while he told of his travels in the north. I long to go further north someday, it sounds like a vast wondrous place. We even played tunes, trading songs and dancing long into the night. It was with joy and sorrow we parted ways the next morning. We continued to travel into the second week around the north tip of the Vale. Unknowingly we had situated ourselves into enemy territory, and not to far away from a Ranger Way Station of Finns brotherhood. And so, bumbling along a new chapter of our journey was added to the story.

It was mid afternoon as we skirted the base of the hills, following them, planning on turning south the next day, when we were attacked. It came so sudden we had little time to react. Two massive froms, which had somehow camouflages themselves amongst their native stone, drew bead upon us and sent rolling stones upon us. James could not even dismount before the rock struck him and his horse, flinging him from it and mercifully not breaking anything of the horses. Finn‘s mule and the mule I myself had just purchased brayed in fear but remained rooted to the spot. Another stone rumbled towards me, narrowly missing me. Before my mule could bolt, I pulled my bow off as the rest took cover. Brandons horse reared up, toppling him off the back and knocking him unconscious. Facing the looming creature of stone was tough enough without the thought that I was without armor, my shield could not take many blows from such a massive weapon, and that I was an easy target for such a creature as this. After exchanging feints and moving deftly, avoiding attacks and traps, my luck ran out. In a mighty overhand swing, the club came down upon me. My goddesses favor shone upon me as me shield twisted upon my arm, absorbing the blow. I felt the strength of my goddess upon me. My plea for her aid had succeeded. Amazingly my arm was without breakage! After trading blows, I was feeling the worse for it and Finn joined the foray. In moments he was struck down. My giant had been dispatched in the meantime. I knew that if I did not reach Finn in that instant, the damage dealt to him would kill him. Throwing my own safety to the wind I leapt to his from, placing my hand over his heart and prayed for succor from Ezrilus; a simple plea to heal my brave friend. As I channeled my goddesses power, I slowly brought up his fallen spear. It was as if everything were moving slowly, for I knew I could never parry the stone club descending upon me. I begged my goddess, upon the favor I earned in discarding the onus of chaos, to save me in my hour of need. Behold! Not only did the spear snap and deflect the giant blow avoiding Finn altogether, but my power flowed to Finn, reviving him anew. Sadly, I was not spared. I could hear my bones jarred as I steeled myself for the blow. Only my iron will saved me from death. As I lay barely concious and grievously wounded upon the battlefield, Finn retrieved my spear and finished the giant. After the battle Finn scouted the area, becoming lost in the unknown hills for a day looking for the ranger station. Finding none he returned to us, exclaiming of strange drag marking and diggings he had seen, and a great amount of traffic in the area. Hastily did the group depart, with me being dragged behind two asses on a litter- how ignoble.

Finn used every trick in the book to get us to Kyranym safely. All his survival, tracking and woods craft did he use to evade the patrols. Upon a litter was I brought into the city. from outside the city walls, it was obvious that the city had been attacked, perhaps several times. There were heavy patrols within a day of the city, which passed us by as Finn told of our need for healing and attack of the giants. They had great respect for the Ranger, and we learned that most in the area had been killed by a race of giant kin called Firinbol. Questioned by the guards at the gate, Finns poor skills with people availed nothing. Until it was noticed by one of the guard searching my littler I was a paladin, they are planning on thrusting us back out to fend for ourselves. The city was full of refugees from farms and hills, and they had a tough enough problem feeding everyone as it was. However, my rank got us in the walls, whereupon the watch brought me to a healer, and the rest to a hostel. For three weeks I languished again. My body wracked by fever and cracked ribs. During this time, the rest learned the full story. The Firinbol giant kin of the hills had brought in strange giants of stone; allies from an unknown place. The reef giants seemed to be cooperating in this all fornt attack as well. It was minored that some sinister force was at work behind all of this, but no one could prove anything. A massive monolithic structure had been raised near the north end of the Vale. Upon this news, Finns memory was triggered and he had passed near evidence indicating where it might have been. Finn sought out a priestess at Ezrilus’ High Tenmple in the Vale to pay homage and tithe. He asked for assistance with myself, upon which they chastised him for not having brought me sooner. They offered hospitality to my friends and fellow devotees. In the meantime, James sought out a sage who could tell us more of these Firinbol. Such was our coinage and many others before us spent. The sage even exclaimed so to James before he left. After contacting James and securing lodgings in the Temple for all. Finn found out that most of the local rangers have perished fighting the Firinbol, The remaining rangers are working with the elves to defend their land. Finn pursued our Elvish connections, being that the king had not contacted us yet. Lord Lisumn of the Running Stag Elf clan greeted him and spoke at length until Finn was exhausted. Having flushed trading news and fromalities, Finn questioned him on the presence of his King. He was rallying allies in his lands to combat the raids, and could not come to our aid currently. Lisom was accommodating, offering assistance in healing and supplies to our group. Finn accepted the offer, and our next months supplies were delivered 2 days after. Under the constant care of the priestesses of Ezrilus, I soon recovered. My status as fromer Champion and knight made visits to my quarters very popular. I can deny no priestess and so talked myself into exhaustion every day, regaling them with tales of my adventures, dreams, and visions. I kept an air about me, as I am not ready to embrace the passion that consumes many a priestess. Not to say advances were not made, but kept a respectful and reverent tone to all requests, but declined to bed any. I will need all my strength to heal properly and face the impending battle I knew we must fight. There would be time for revels after.

And so we left the Vale and the High Temple hale and whole. Brandon. James. Finn and I set off in a somber mood. We knew we must be careful not to spend ourselves before we arrived at our goal. And so it took us many days to return to Finns discovery. We slept by no light other than the embrace of the heavenly mother above. Our meals were quick and left no trace. Finn covered our spoor and tracks, and made diversions himself. Slowly we gained ground, everyday avoiding settlements, and patrols of both friend and foe. A full fortnight and then some later we arrived. Finn found an overlook upon the monolith in the darkness. We rested, afraid for our very lives at night. In the dark of the night, we heard many noises about us, yet remained undiscovered. Morning arrived to greet us with imperfect light at best. The false dawn was just beginning as Finn donned his armor and we prepared ourselves for battle. We could see the megalith in the dim light. Over one hundred feet tall, it stood, composed of massive slabs of stones propped against one another. The stones were covered with relief work indistinguishable in the darkness. As we prayed and girded ourselves, we were caught by surprise. With a great shout, Orks and Goblins dropped on us from above whilst two giants kneeled at struck at us from afar with clubs. All but I turned to face this threat while I fixed my gaze on what was surely their base – the megalith. Two froms rose from the stones, having used some means to conceal themselves by blending in with the stone background. Two more stone giants began to shower us with large rocks from afar. The first of these thrown missiles struck amongst the Goblins, killing them instantly and causing the others to scatter in fear. James moved to deal with them whilst Finn used his long spear to battle the giants from behind. Brandon had managed to slip and twist his ankle in the rubble from the crashing rocks and was busy tying his ankle. I charged the megalith, hoping the True Song would live up to its reputation. For many minutes did my three comrades strive against their opponents while I rushed the tower in an attempt to destroy it. Not only did my friends have to deal with the battle giants and thrown boulders, but some hideous creature from hell had come from the tower and was assaulting them – focusing on James who could least afford it. Chips of stone flew and the earth trembled as my blade rang out across the land. The massive portals, taller than 3 men opened and the evil glare of goblins emerged from within. Two attacked while two others fired upon me with crossbows. As time wore on, things became desperate. James had scrambled down the embankment to help me. The outcropping had given me cover from the rocks above, but several had struck my companions who had finally dealt death to the other two giants. They were trying desperately to fire upon those in the tower with bows, all the while the embankment was ready to give way. Brandon had found and was using my Ducateon bow, while Finn plied his expert archer skills upon the other. Aside from the occasional good hit, it was having little effect. The camp was shambles, broken equipment, shards or rock and earth everywhere. Out from the tower stepped a cowled figure. Delicate hands with painted nails gave away its feminine origins. The creatures ran from me as she wove some spell. I hewed at the tower again and rock cracked and splinter flew. I felt the sword come alive in my grasp again as a ball of lightning flashed from her hand. Spitting tongues of lightning, my blade intercepted its path only inches from my person. I felt a great surge go through me and was nearly deafened by the impact. Streamers of blue white lightening arched all around the doorway. Charred flesh and blackened stone were all I could make out when my vision returned. The enchantress was no where to be found. Some goblins near me had been killed, but I seemed unharmed. I drew back and hove mightily into the stone of the tower, but still it stood. My friends were taking a terrible beating and by now James had joined me near the tower. He was busily defending himself from the hellspawn which dripped caustic acid from its single massive eye. This creatures was made of the stuff of nightmares. It bore an eye the size of my torso upon 2 wings, mouth and tail. It wept a foul smelling acid, and its tears it would drop upon targets, burning their flesh to the bone. James had several near misses, its splash dissolving his foot gear and some clothing. As I hauled back for my next stroke, a black from lounged at me from the dark doorway. Baying and belching flame this hound of hell clamped onto my leg. I could feel its teeth barely piercing my think leather boots. I turned back to check on Finn and Brandon in time to see Brandon duck and the lip of the embankment covering him ripped asunder by a stone thrown from the giants above. Ignoring the hound and the flames, I turned my attention back to the tower. Muttering a quick prayer to Ezrilus, I dropped my shield, gripped my sword with both hands and brought it crashing down onto a base stone. A clear note rang out as stone crumbled, crumpling like paper before the might of True Song. The whole tower shook, if the stone could cry out, their scream would deafen all for miles. Half the tower caved in, weakening the whole. Both giants fell from their port, one nearly crushing James. I heard many cries from inside, and knew many creatures had perished. Stones and rubble rained down around me, but the blade’s power protected me. I had forgotten the hound from hell, which was in considerably better shape than I. I hefted my shield and we battled. While the giants who had fallen collected their wits, Finn fired upon them. James killed the eyewing demon while running from one giant. He hid amidst the rubble while the giant recovered the club that had fallen with it. Realizing he could not hide forever against such a mighty opponent, he slid from cover in a desperate attempt to do in the giant before it killed him. Relying on quickness he moved inside its guard and in a brazen maneuver felled it. In the mean time I had dealt with the hound and was moving to face the last of the giants of stone. With weighty club he smote me and my shield bent against such a blow. My weak arm collapsed and I was sent reeling. Disadvantaged and dizzy. I could not recover in time to stop the next blow, which struck me down. In that instant, while the giant gloated in success, Finn drew bead and fired a most skillful shot, felling him. Nothing stirred as James rounded the corner. Much of his clothes had been eaten by acid, he had thrown his entire array of knives and daggers, and his sabre had dulled on the hide of the giant. He was alive, albeit barely. My body’s new found unique ability to heal rapidly kicked in and in hours I was awake. I could feel pain in every bone, and knew that death had laid hand upon me that day. By only my strength of body, mind and spirit, honed to perfection by my training, did I thwart his gripping hand. We hastily withdrew away from the tower, and rested that whole day. Our intent was to wait until mid afternoon to return to the tower, but when we heard activity in mid morning, Finn silently woke us one at a time. Wearily we donned our equipment and Finn lead us to a position of advantage above the tower, eighty yards away. Another giant and a band of a score of Grollen and some men had returned and were sifting throught the ruins. The giant was trying to shore the foundations while half the Grollen stood guard and the other rested in the shade of the doorway. We moved into position as they worked. The Grollen were sloppy guards, and I am sure we made many movements that an alert man would have picked up on. None of us were in shape for combat, and we were nearly out of arrow. I myself had only 2 bolts left. We drew aim and waited for Finns signal. All at once we let fly. The small movement before firing cost us surprise, but my shot struck soundly. Firing with a critical bead drawn, my attack struck solidly in his abdomen, nearly bowling him over. Enraged, he picked up a stone while the others rained death from above. Throwing a rock, the giant sounded the attack in the Grollen tongue. A large group of Grollen charged up the embankment towards us. I hefted shield and sowrd and moved to stop them all with a desperate rush. I succeeded only momentarily as another wave joined the group fighting me. Taking scratched and slashes from all side, I struck only one down before being taken down myself. In the moments this bought the party …

[Much is Missing or Ruined Here]

…plied bows against the giants. My first blow must have done considerable damage, for the giant began to wobble and with its last good throw struck Finn. Grollen archers were also busy. The Grollen forced the party to go hand to hand. It was minutes before most of it ended. Brandon finished the last of his opponents with a killing blow to a creature whose clumsy blow he deflecting, killing his fellow. Upon having a clear filed of fire, he was struck twice, felling him. One pierced his hand with a terrible wound. Neither was mortal, and he merely lapsed into unconsciousness, bordering on death. Finn and the Grollen archers traded fire, and he finished them several moment later as James did battle with his remaining three opponents. His agility and ease at avoiding blows served him well as he outlasted the Grollen. Exhaustion overtook everyone and Finn dragged my body and Brandon‘s to cover. Once again, from beyond hope my regenerative powers brought me back. The next day I assisted in the healing of my comrades. I concentrated upon Finn, who could receive the full blessings of my healing magics and art. His belief served him well and two days later, with renewed vigor. Finn entered the tower whilst we covered him with other weapons from behind. If Finn had not been so careful and soft of tread, the hideous spider which dropped from above would have surely killed him. Narrowly missing death at the hands of a fearsome spawn, he tumbled back into the light. This massive spider had sharpened blades on its legs. More in frustration and desperation than braverly, Finn cried in the voice of an attacking bear and ran straight for the creature. Despite its natural swiftness, the spider miscalculated as Finn dodged inside its defense and plunged the long spear home – killing it in a single blow! It turned out to be the last defender of the tower, and the last creature we were to encounter in days at the tower. Other raiding parties must have been far away. No other visitors happened by while we examined the tower and pillaged its contents of the next three days. I used my spells to give me sight of magical auras, and we pulled many items from the wreckage. We found an outsretched arm, hand bejeweled in 5 rings, under a massive rubble pile. I can only assume that this was the enchantress. Her skin was black, as a Nakrians. What were the Nakrians doing in the north, and what sorcery had they brought with them? James had uncovered a magical carpet. “It must be a flying carpet!”, exclaimed Finn. “What other kinds are there?” We gathered much wealth and items, and left the tower. It took us weeks to return to Kyranym, and only moments to convince the Knight-Lord of the Vale that we had succeeded upon of quest. The gates were flung open and the people rejoiced. While we healed, all assistance was given to us in assessing out items. The Lord taxed at a very modest rate our gains, and provided the mages guilds service to identify our magical items. Never in my life or many of those present had so much magic been found at once. We had many a sage, mage and interested party trying to bargain for some items, or just to examine them. Such items included the carpet that flew, which James declared for himself, although it could only provide enough space for one. An ancient scroll that conferred protection against weapons of all kinds but those enchanted upon the reader for a brief duration. An item known to sages as a Ring of Stars. After the mages detailed the powers of the item, Brandon claimed ownership of it. We divulged our full story…
in return for our efforts, the Steel League of the South, the Elves, and the Merchant Prince along with the repentant giants brought gifts to us. It included a living elven bow for Finn. Such an item is indeed priceless, and Lord Lisuni of the Running Stag clan offered to teach Finn its uses. Until then, he keeps it a special bark case. Should others touch the bow, it will wither and rot away. A giant’s war pony was presented to myself. It was the product of a crossbreeding and was small for them, albeit a heavy warhorse classification may not do this wonderful horse justice. It was huge, and when it walked up to me, I was encompassed by its shadow. It felt like a quake as it walked towards me. Inches away from it stopped and snorted. It sounded like rolling thunder. No dainty creature was this mare, and so must I give her a name befitting her majesty. I shall name her Thunder Breath. There were other such items as we had never seen before. Potions that toughened the skin as bark, that would color the person and equipment any hue or color of the rainbow. Others allowed for the imbiber to meld into stone, and to levitate. There were beautifully crafted stone and wood goods. Coinage in plenty, a great bounty of nigh two thousand…EACH! Such a treasure as men never see in five times five lifetimes! For my own self, I took my share of the valuables, the horse, and the spell book of the trader. By all signs that the mages of the Vale could tell, he was a low rank mage. What this means I cannot say, but I will soon find out, as I grow more interested in magic every day. The stone giants crafted a fine war hammer of solid stone, a heavy item yet very serviceable. from the quarters of the woman in the tower we brought a draught that allowed one to fly in the air like a bird. James claimed this item too for himself. One treasure behaved very strange. It was a miniature crossbow, which when we examined it in daylight, crumbled before our very eyes. The bolts did the same as well. We discarded the foul poison that was found with them. In a ceremony at the forest edge, under an open sky the giant shaman placed an enchantment upon Finns blade. Should he ever remain friend to giant kind, it shall cut through the sorcerous barriers that protect some creatures from normal weapons. Lastly, in a solemn ritual, in which all nobility was present, the giant chieftain presented us each with a blessed chisel. Their holy stone was brought forth, and we were commanded to become one with it. Brandon chipped off a piece and looked questioningly at the chief. He only nodded to him. “You mean you want me to eat it?”, asked Brandon. “Become one with the earth”, said the chief. Hesitantly Brandon placed it in his mouth and with no reaction we all followed suit. A bitterness assailed my taste buds, and for the next week I could taste nothing else. However each of us experienced different effects. A light of understanding shone in Finns eye. I felt like I was seeing things clearer… with a more critical eye. Both James and Brandon received the same gift. A massive pearl of multi thousand silvers value appeared from the cistern next to us.

The last bit of grim news, that dampened the ceremonies and congratulations came three weeks after. A Farm had been raided by a large burrowing creature. Also, a giant hunter had been attacked. Upon it were wounds exactly like the creature in the shrine gave to the warriors brave enough to enter the shrine it warded when the giants were beset with it. This creature, whatever it was, was busy. No longer did it have a master to keep it in check, and it was running rampant and getting closer to the city. In two weeks at had come 100 miles closer. The last sighting was a massive shallow burrow mound stretching from the hills about 30 miles into the Vale before disappearing. A ranger had just brought this news in.

[More is missing here; fragments mention a vast underdark, terrifying battle with masses of Ko-Bolds,
travel with Elves and their King, and some strange garden.]

I set these words down now, through a scribe, for my arms are too old to hold a pen and cast beautiful letters as I was once able. I hereby put this forth as my death chronicle, to be held in the Hall of Heroes and known only to those scribes and bards as are allowed to walk its halls. To you who come after, I bid thee study well these words of my tale, for many wondrous and bewildering things will come to pass for you and those near you if you follow a like path. Arm yourself well with the knowledge and tradition of the past, for it will serve you better than any spell, charm, prayer, or weapon will ever.

GAME 1994-97