East of Winter

Against Ice and Darkness
Personal Diary Entry
Some days, I spend the whole day in my office with nothing more exciting than supply reports. Others: Ramathon and a group of new adventurers reporting a problem with a barely sealed demon gate. Sure. That’s what we needed nearby. 

I’m alarmed at how long this has apparently been a problem without my being aware of it- it appears they have already located the seal system for this gate- some sort of resonance from magical tomes- and one of the tomes in question, though given whose possession it’s actually in, I don’t know that I’d really claim “we” have it. A problem for another day. 
 
First order of business, these adventurers know where another of the books is, and it seems even one should be enough to keep the gate sealed. It’s an inefficient system, I’ll have to consult with the wizards to see if there’s something more effective we can put in place once it’s secure again. 
 
This key-book was meant to be with a group of elves in the far north, though the exact location of their settlement had been lost to general knowledge. One of the adventurers, a fighter and scholar called Eonar, suggested his contacts at a University might be of use in pinpointing the settlement, and we arranged with Alcadizzar to teleport us to the library there. 
 
The library- Yera has to go there one day, she’ll lose her mind. It’s enormous. I’ve never seen so many books in one place. Honestly, I’ve probably never seen that many books total. I should speak to the librarians, perhaps they’d agree to some sort of knowledge exchange. 
 
With some assistance, we were able to locate a pre-Edict map and more information about the group we were seeking (along with a few interesting stories I found on my own. The University really does have knowledge on quite a broad range of topics). 
 
Autumn is passing quickly even in Cradle; where we were headed, it would be firmly winter, so we sought out more sensible clothing before heading out (…mostly sensible. Warm, certainly. The gold lining and phoenix embroidery may not have been strictly necessary, but they’re pretty and I like them). 
 
The journey north from the University was to be two and half days, through the Wailing Woods and into the mountains.

Turns out, the Woods are full of ice faeries, who are exactly as unpleasant as you might expect from creatures so far from light and warmth. They particularly enjoy ambush. While invisible. And, if they can manage it, while you’re asleep, though to be fair, the first time they attacked us, we were awake. Immediately trapped in a thornbush, but hey. 

I got good use out of my night-light, though- whatever Alcadizzar did to its light works just fine on fae invisibility too, little bastards. 

And, of course, ice faeries can’t bear the touch of flame. Nocturne has shown a propensity to throw fireballs that I seriously appreciate, and my smites have begun actually lighting my enemies on fire lately, so that was…effective. Blessings of Rhollor be upon us. I suppose He would approve of the destruction of ice creatures. 

We endured several attacks as we made our way through the Woods, and I could see the strain building amongst my companions- Fenriss and Chimera took to sleeping tucked into tree branches, and Nocturne spent her meditation trance perched on her broom, ready for quick escape if necessary. 

The attacks got stranger as we pushed forward- even the trees cannot be trusted, their leaves razor sharp, branches lashing out to grab and grasp. The fae, too, tried to capture us, flying at our faces and attempting to administer some sort of exhaustion gas- the only one who tried it to me got my instinctual reaction, the blaze always barely held under my control lashing out to destroy him.  
 
(and Gods help me, I shouldn’t enjoy that as much as I do)

It took most of our resources, but we made it through to the snowy plain on the other side of the Woods. Ramathon and Fenriss lead us unerringly to the spot we’d found on the map, where there was…nothing. 
 
Or, at least, no city. What we did find, after some clever searching on Eonar’s part, was a suspicious patch of mid-day darkness, covering what turned out to be stairs.

We made our way carefully down into a multi-story complex, and after a quick survey by Chimera’s familiar revealed the first floor to be entirely abandoned, down one more floor. At which point, we finally encountered someone, an elven lady in leather armor, wandering toward a locked door we’d just been investigating. We greeted her and I explained our purpose, asking about the book. 
 
The elf brought us to her sister, the Princess. Again, we introduced ourselves and explained our mission, and why we had come to them. Much to my surprise, the Princess…was not inclined to cooperate. She was bitter at having been left behind on the other side of the Edict, and inclined to protect her own people, even at the expense of others, which I can understand, if not agree with. 
 
Not so much the part where she suggested we ally ourselves with the very demons we are trying to keep sealed away. As she, and her people, apparently have. 

I yearned to smite her. A year ago, I would have. But I am no longer simply myself. What I do is what Cradle is seen to do, and we cannot afford impulsive violence.
 
Even in the face of blatant demonic cooperation, Gods damnit. 

In any case, having seen we would not be able to come to any sort of agreement, we left before the troubled mood could boil over into actual battle (probably, if I am being entirely honest with myself, begun by me, if I had remained there for much longer), and returned to Cradle.
 
If these people are, in fact, in league with demons, though- and why do I have to keep explaining why making deals with demons is always, always a bad plan?- we cannot leave the book in their hands for long. 
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Requiem

When he realized what they'd intended, his claw quivered as if to move and stop it, but it was far too late. Their rasping captive gurgled in the conjured acid and grew still. His stomach churned like the cloudy morass of a black water swamp, and Runt's voice rising to insist it was for the best had to compete with the clanging klaxons of anger and revulsion howling in his skull.

Shckt, scrunk, swop.

When he snuck off to return to the site later, he was thankful that the ground had yet to fully give over to winter, even if the fall air was enough to make him more and more sluggish and dull the longer he went without his dragonhide shield strapped to his arm. He turned the earth over from the hole he was digging into a small mound.

Shckt, scrunk, swop.

The repetative refrain of the spade halted for a moment while the monster turned to look over his slain kinsman for a very long moment as he tried to process how he felt about what had transpired. “Skulk is sorry,” was what he'd decided upon when he broke the silence, and the spade went to work again.

Shckt, scrunk, swop.

Skulk tried to convince them to spare you.” He explained as his shoulders rose and fell.

Shckt, scrunk, swop.

…But we are monsters to them. We'll always be monsters to them.”

The shovel made a dull twanging thud when he tossed it out of the hole and scurried back up to ground level after it. Skulk hoisted the shaman into the pit he'd dug, uncorked his waterskin and spilled it liberally over the slain creature before crouching to tuck it under the corpse's claw.

Softskins looked to the sky to speak to their gods. Skulk looked to the earth beneath his claws instead.

Skulk has made many sacrifices to many gods. He as asked them to ignore him, to leave him in peace. Skulk knows that this was seen. Skulk returns your servant to you.” He offered as he stooped to swipe a foreclaw through the dirt, gathered a handful of it, and sprinkled it over the corpse.

With this final respect given, Skulk began to shovel once more.

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An Update from the East
To: Roland Fairisle, King's Poet
 
My dear Roland, my most sincere apologies for the length of time that has passed since my last correspondence. The East has not yet been re-civilized, and it takes but one failed caravan to render us utterly alone in the wild for a time, without a way to communicate with anyone in kinder climes. 

Which is to say, of course, that I have been having most excellent adventures. There’s now an official Order of people whose very existence appears to be devoted to doing the sorts of things you hear in some of the more dramatic ballads and epic tales, so I have often been able to accompany them to observe and record (keeping my own hands quite clean, of course, but there’s no substitute for really being present, it gives the work that something extra). 

I’ve enclosed several poems about some of these events, if you could see your way to distributing them through the usual channels, I should be terribly grateful. 

(enclosed are, indeed, several poems, which are mildly obfuscated versions of prior missions Soraya’s been on, as well as several pages of what appear to be clothing designs)

More will come in short order, as I recently went on a very productive journey to a city across the newly thawed sea, called Fargonlon, to accompany an initial diplomatic mission under His Majesty’s orders. I knew you would want me to be there to witness such a momentous occasion, if you couldn’t be there yourself. 

We were viciously attacked as we sailed, harpies, singing their hideous songs, and boats full of minotaurs- pirates, perhaps, or some other sort of malcontents. The harpy music was no match for my classical training, and I dare say my singing allowed the adventuring types to do what they needed to do to dispose of the nuisances. And now I know what it looks like when a woman summons a fireball three hundred feet away onto a ship (terrifying and glorious both). 

The city itself… I will describe it more fully by the time I send my next letter, but it was a wondrous splendor- golden and warm, and filled with fine things. Our party, lead by the Countess Eremia Fol (the East is full of opportunities for advancement, it seems), was met by the Queen, Amemni, a most striking and imperious woman. She is fully eight feet tall, and the aura of power around her is palpable, even were she not guarded by orcs and minotaurs. 

Strange times we find ourselves in, calling for strange alliances. 

But for all their unusual appearance, they were hospitable, and we remained there in comfort for a few days while the Countess settled in to her quarters in the palace there, where she will remain until the treaty is worked out and signed, and, if she plays her cards with any skill, where she will perhaps remain as a foreign ambassador. Fargonlon is a lovely place to spend your time, if you are among its privileged.

I shall continue to write as couriers allow. Do send news, if you can spare a second for

Your devoted apprentice, 
Isabelle de Caris
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Making Mountains out of Ant Hills
(Written by Ramathon)

(The following is recorded on stone using pictographs.)

500 demons broke the metal men and took their book. 

Luftwindia buried their book and heads in the sand.

Ants hate Green Jelly and love grape jelly.

The ant queen is a book worm.

A book has been read a gate has been sealed.

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Gorka Morka
The Halorcaust

Dear Dream Journal,

I engaged in an expedition to rid the marches of orcs, accompanied by my brother Imildrak, Skulk, Nocturne, Soraya, Runt, and the world's greatest archer Fenriss. 

I teleported us to the Thesselhydra lair as it was on the way.  Nothing was obvisouly amiss, so we decided to leave immediately before evidence to the contrary could surface.

We came to the troll bridge.  I wanted to cleanse the trolls with holy fire, but their rates were just so damn reasonable my companions decided to pay the toll instead.  I grow suspicious of how lenient my companions are with monsters.  They could all be in league with the dark one.  (Here there is a two page centerfold with conspiracy theories, pictures, string lines and more questions than answers.)

We continued into the Devil Horn peaks where we came across an orcish expedition accompanied by a Manticore, a Lizard shaman and the dreaded Mint-otaur.  Half Man, Half Bull, 100% Fresh.  Skulk and Runt went out to openly confront the orcs while the rest of us set up an ambush from beyond the tree line.  Imildrak's skeletal archer regiment brought down the Manticore. Runt's iron bands restrained the lizard shaman.  Nocturne anointed our enemies in oil to prepare them for the righteous flames of Rhollor.  The chosen of Rhollor shall be warmed by the fire while the wicked shall be consumed by His holy flame etcetera ad infinitum.

The lizard shaman and the Mint-otaur were both captured for interrogation.  The bulk of the party questioned the lizard while Imildrak conversed with the Mint-otaur in a strange tongue.  The lizard shaman revealed the location of the orcish base within some nearby ruins.  Skulk wanted to send the lizard shaman back to warn his compatriots.  This course of action was fool hardy, so I took it upon myself to bathe the shaman in acid and silence his forked tongue. 

The Mint-otaur broke free of Imildrak and ran off in the opposite direction of the ruins.  His tracks were extremely fresh, however we felt it was a waste of time to track him down.  We continued towards the ruins instead.

We found the ruins of a large city that has been inhabited by a large Orc army.  The gates have been reinforced, the buildings are made with heavy stone, and much to our chagrin there are alarm spells protecting their encampment as well.

We briefly probed their defenses teleporting into the city, setting off an alarm, causing a distraction with dual walls of fire, and then teleporting away before they could bring their numbers to bear.  We did nothing but kick the hornets nest, we did no meaningful damage to their formidable host.

Just as the ember lies seemingly dormant only to reignite the smoldering ashes into an inferno even greater than the first so too shall my fury be rekindled and my enemies be immolated in the holy fires of Rhollor.  Blase' Skip yada yada Amen.

 

 

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G-g-g-ghost Pirates!?
Zoiks!

Dear Dream Journal

Rhollor Rhollor Blah blah blah. Amen.

I led an expedition of the Knights of Solaris to the Pier near Cradle.  Fenris, Zanath, Milton, Imildrak and Abaraxia accompanied me.  Upon our arrival I curtly informed them that they were on our land and that the docks belonged to us now.  They were somehow confused by this simple prospect, probably due to their limited human faculties.

During our visit we discovered that a ghost ship was being spotted near shore with alarming frequency.  Verily hath Rhollor spake that he ain't afraid of no ghost, and lo we resolved to bust them.  All ghosts have unfinished business that keeps them on the material plane.  We ascertained that this ship still has an outstanding delivery.  The cargo was now at the bottom of the ocean.  We sailed on the ghost ship to the spot of their sunken treasure and jumped into the icy waters.

Even in the icy deeps the warmth of Rhollor sustained us.  For just like the flame we too require life giving air which Rhollor supplied to us in his infinite capacity and blah blah blah. 

We encountered a race of evil shark men who we handily dispatched.  We interrogated a survivor who informed us that a powerful creature was forcing the Sahaguin to serve him.  We came to believe that this creature would have the sunken treasure as well.  We sought out this creature who turned out to be a Marid.  He had been sinking ships for sport for quite some time, there was a graveyard of wrecks in his underwater domain.  We ceased his idle boasts with fire and steel.  The Marid was consumed in the boiling heat of Rhollor's fury.  Woe betide the wicked who live in the darkness and shun the light.  Rhollor shall sustain the righteous with his warmth and burn the wicked with white hot fury. 

It should be noted that white hot flame is hotter than standard flame b/c blah blah blah thermodynamics, blah blah blah, boiling point, blah blah blah Rhollor Rhollor yada yada yackity smackity. 

 

 

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Reading Rainbow for Robots
The Pale "god"

Dear Dream Journal,

I returned to the primitive purple flame worshiping humans only to find that they are now worshiping the Pale god.  My brother Imildrak informed me that some local mushroom folk were also in the thrall of this dubious deity, who he had discovered was actually a pale child behind a curtain.  The whole thing smelled suspicious, however, there was a more pressing matter concerning an open gate to hell and a mysterious orb that could either cause or prevent the demons from creating hell on earth. 

Imildrak and I took a trip to a library to learn more about the orb.  They granted us access in exchange for a pedantic account of our exploits.  With aid from Imildrak's peerless intellect we discovered that Professor Fwimsy used to work at the library before stole a couple of books, and abducted a pale child.  This is all before he was driven mad, created an army of constructs and gained an unhealthy obsession with fire (as opposed to the healthy obsession with fire that I have.)  We discovered that there are three books that have the power to seal the demon gate.  We believed that the pale child would know more about the book that Fwimsy stole.

I found the pale child lurking invisible near the once sacred purple flame.  After some coercion and cajoling he agreed to help us find the book.  Imildrak gleaned clues linking the book to a race of metal men by probing the mind of Mushroom zombie Fwimsy.  Don't Ask.  The child knew of the metal men and led us through the underdark to find them. 

On the way to the metal men we were ambushed by a group of powerful Slaad.  During the encounter my body was baptized in flame.  The pain was exquisite.  The lines permanently etched in my flesh hold the key to greater mysteries.  Rhollor raised me from the ashes like the phoenix, more powerful than ever.  (In all fairness lets give some credit to Nocturne for keeping me conscious through this trial.)  We eventually prevailed with help from the greatest archer in the world, and also the greatest human archer in the world. 

We found the metal men, who we discovered were guarding the book.  There are some 300 odd constructs forming a civilization centered around reproducing and protecting the book.  I concocted a flawless plan to teleport away with the book, but before I could enact it Zanath solved the issue through diplomacy.  The constructs agreed to read the book regularly in order to stave off the demon apocalypse.  They thought that reading the book would endanger it, we convinced them that reading it was the only way to keep it safe.

We returned the pale child to the humans so that he could continue pretending to be their god.  Those dumb apes are better off with a false god than none at all.

There are still two books that could strengthen the wards on the demon gate, but that is an adventure for another day.  Or year.  Let's just wait a few years and see how it all turns out. 

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The Creature in the Lake
Given that we’re supposed to be cautious friends with Fargonlon at the moment, I’m not sure we really ought to have been traveling in the badlands, but Runt got this idea about seeing a giant scorpion, and, frankly, I was bored, so here we were. 

Fenriss, poor dear, lead us into the desert okay- she’s been here before, it seems- but she wasn’t dressed for it at all, furs for autumn in Cradle and not the blazing sun, and she was absolutely exhausted by the time we came upon evidence of another intelligent hunter of some kind. Which was curious, since, of course, the badlands are theoretically uninhabited (and therefore inhabitable). 

So, we went to check out the neighbors. They live in an enormous rock, which they’ve carved out into a set of two caverns- one set sized for people (or…people shaped things) and the other for much larger creatures. 

In respect for our perhaps inadvisable presence in the area, we did try to sneak in and check things out before we sent in the army of Barrys, but once Al popped back with a bleeding Zannah, it was pretty clear they weren’t friendly. Spears through the wall, really

Also, as we bandaged the wounded and prepared for the attack, Imil and I…changed. Something strange in the air, almost certainly the fault of whatever was living in the cave. I’ve become rather fond of my feathers now, but I have to say they were a bit of a shock when they first appeared. I like to be asked about my body modifications. Rude

 Ergo: army of undead. 

They had a clever little setup, for what they were, narrow hallways with holes just large enough to poke a vicious spear through, and no access save past the hallway. I’m sure it worked great against whatever the usual desert crowd was. 

They were not prepared for us. A little hypnotic razzle-dazzle, a wizard who can go through walls, and delightfully narrow rooms full of kobolds behind, some fire and lightning, little bit of mindbending; as you do. 

Beyond their murderous little hallway, we discovered a larger facility, including a large, heavily trapped room, vents all around- designed to flood the room with something? We were able to avoid whatever gruesome fate the creatures intended for us, but it was clear they were protecting something. 

We encountered more kobolds, which were of no particular concern, and unholy joined creatures- half spider, half jackalwere- which were honestly pretty terrifying. Especially for those of us in the midst of turning into something unknown, thanks. 

The jackal-spiders burned much of our remaining resources, but we didn’t dare to rest, even for a moment, having not yet found the source of the contagion. So we pushed on, until we found a vast chamber beneath the rock, dark water lapping at the edges. And skeletons, scattered around the sand. 

Very…large…skeletons. 

We judged it might be wise to send a couple of Barrys to investigate, instead of poking our own pretty noses in quite yet. 

They made it to the edge of the water before the thing emerged, and then they were just gone. It was easily the biggest creature I’ve ever seen, and for certain the ugliest- five heads, tentacles, snapping claws, a tail, acid breath, the full complement of monster Trouble. I remain certain that if we’d tried to fight it then, at least one of us wouldn’t have made it back. 

But my second favorite wizard wisely suggested he use his excellent hat to take us back to Cradle for the night, far enough away from this thing, which was probably causing the mutations, to be safe from further contagion. Theoretically. I was exhausted enough not to ask questions, and he turned out to be right, so it worked out. 

We came back, fully loaded, knowing what we faced, and still only fought it to a draw. 

Two heads were down, destroyed and cauterized, before it took out most of the remaining Barrys in one overwhelming swipe. And then it tried to eat Imil. 

I mean, it did eat him. He just didn’t stay eaten, because peerless wizard. Nevertheless, not something I can allow to stand, obviously. It takes skill to be a nightmare to a nightmare, but I’m a talented woman when I’m inspired. 

It fled from us, deep into the water, and we could not follow, save for Runt, and fighting a Thessalhydra one-on-one is a path to certain death. It lies there still, nursing its wounds, waiting to strike. We will not leave it waiting long. 
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Heroes reborn
The founding of the Order of Solaris

They set foot upon ground not trod for generations.  The thunder of their hooves echoed the lightning of their magics and the flash of their blades.  These brave souls answered the call of a kingdom crying out for glory, for growth, all in the name of the King.  

For a turn they brought to heel the elements as well as their foes.  And in their wake Remidon blossomed with the turning of the seasons.  As the kingdom regained purchase in these lands our noble heroes gained too.  They were rewarded for their efforts, their bravery, their unselfish sacrifice, with an opportunity to formally serve the King in stations befitting their heroism.  And so was founded the knightly Order of Solaris; bringers of the dawn to the East, shining spear of the King's lance, and champions of the realm of Remidon.

- an excerpt from 'The Young Court of His Majesty King Hecaton IV' by Sylrora, Magpie Feather of the Order of the Quill

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Dispatch from the East 2
Mother, c/o Vincent Ludd, Guild of Allied Trades

Mother,

I regret the length of time it has been since last I wrote, but I have been quite busy.  We recently held a feast to celebrate the claiming of Cradle in the name of our King, long may he reign.  No less a personage than the Duke of Norway himself graced us with his presence and I have been knighted as a founding member of a new order of knights with remit to further tame the lands of the east!

I have been named as captain of the town guard and work tirelessly to protect the citizens of Cradle while doing my best to facilitate efficient commerce and safe passage for those headed further east.

A new priestess has arrived in town, providing spiritual succor for this humble follower of Lady Luck.  I look forward to her sermons and sage advice as I humbly proceed with my daily tasks.

I have enclosed with this letter a remittance to help pay for your needs at home; I feel like I am finally in a position to contribute back to the family for all the help they have given me.

Give my regards to sissy, and should you stumble across a trustworthy courier with sufficient haste, I should love to hear from you soon.

I hope this finds you well.

Glim

::enclosed is a cracked gem worth 10gp::
::second page::

Tra orreqor uk sra vreaksakk ek om axcarrams ksav suvordk aksobrekrems uirkarqak rara. Wa roqa osraad sros es koae ba baks kur rar su koemsoem o koka deksomca kruk sra siord, orsruisr I kurakaa kaekark daqaruvems o dasraa uk veasae I vraqeuikrae rocdad; sros es ek su Oir Lodae uk sra Cuem ek o vumdarkir cuemcedamca! Momae kakbark uk uir sierd roqa baam dmesrsad, omd srara ek orraodae sord uk kirsrar odqomcems uk emsaraksk baaeumd Crodra. Ak va vikr kirsrar uis, I koae ba ovoae kura uksam kruk Crodra, omd o ksrums kacumd em cukkomd verr ba ikakir. I roqa baam sruukems o redarae kom kruk uir racams orreqork, omd verr koda kira ra daqaruvk o soksa kur rareseum, suu. I'qa emcridad sra kerks uk vros I vrom su ba rasiror srebisa. Huvaqar, o kura kacira kasrud kur sromkvursoseum omd cukkimecoseum ek dakerobra- I'k roqems su kamd srek vocdosa vesr o kurdear I bakreamdad okumsks sra Dida'k amsuirosa. Ik aeui roqa omae edaok um sros ekkia, I ok uvam su kissakseumk. Arku, ek srara'k omae dasoerk um sra vuresecor kesioseum okumsks sra muberesae, sros cuird vruqa ikakir su kisira amdaoquirk rara. Wa'ra mus ruudems su rucd sra buos suu kuum, bis srara roqa baam empiereak emsu sra deqeda basvaam sruka vru vekr su axvomd kirsrar emsu sra aoks omd sruka vru vekr su koemsoem cirrams burdark. Tra amcrukad sak rok baam deksiekad ok vursrrakk, bis I sremd o dmuvradsaobra ovvroekar kruird kemd es su ba vursr uma rimdrad surd. I ruva su roqa kirsrar omd kura cumkeksams srebisa ok sremsk ksobereza rara. I rakoem,
Glim

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