Alcour's Amnesia

The Grief of a Paladin, Part 2

I do not sleep anymore. Cannot sleep. I am haunted by the death of my dearest friend. I wake up in cold sweats screaming, but my voice is choked. It is the same grief-stricken nightmare over and over again.

My vision is blurred by the crimson veil of blood dripping down my face and coating everything. My sword feels loose in my hands as I swing blow after blow. The blood makes it hard to hold the hilt. It makes it hard to walk, each step sliding ever so slightly. Blood is everywhere. Is it mine? Is it my foe’s? My ally’s? I cannot tell. All I know is that I cannot stop fighting. The demons that surround us will not die. They seem stronger than anything we have ever faced. The blood must be feeding them, for they are relentless. Foe after foe I defeat just to see two or three more rise up out of the blood of the one I just felled. I wipe the blood and sweat from my eyes, but it is of no use. This is an unnatural place. We should never have come. I should never have led these men, my friends, to their doom. I move around the battlefield surveying the carnage. Aegnor is dying in a hallway out of my reach. Greth lies motionless in a pool of his own blood. Ferrin lies to one side bleeding to death. Only Deor and I remain. I thrust my sword, that is now stained red, into the only demon remaining, and I feel a sharp pain in my chest. It is a realization rather than a physical force. Ferrin is fading from this world. Deep crimson blood begins filling the room. Blood is everywhere. Ferrin’s blood is everywhere. It blurs my vision. It streams down the walls. I run to my friend and try to bandage him, telling him that he is going to be all right. I have hope, but there are so many wounds. So many wounds. I work furiously, but my hands are too weak or too slippery to help my friend. I watch as his eyes turn a sickly cloudy color. His head rolls to one side. He takes one last breath. I think he is about to say something, but nothing ever comes out. Ferrin is dead. My dearest friend is dead. I hold him to my chest sobbing uncontrollably asking him to forgive me. Asking the Unknown God to heal him. But Ferrin just lies motionless in my arms. His limp body looks . . . Then I wake up screaming, but nothing comes out.

It is my fault. I did this. I cannot go on knowing that I was the cause of his death. I hate evil, but my zeal to destroy it where ever I see it has a price. A price I am not sure I am willing to pay, especially if I pay it with someone else’s life. I am unfit to lead this group. I have but one job: protect my friends and keep them alive. I cannot even do that. I am supposed to sacrifice myself for the sake of others, but I was so focused on ridding this world of evil that I forgot about them. I forgot about him. I forgot about . . . Ferrin. I forgot about he who risked his life to save me on that mountaintop so long ago. He who has always stood by me. He who would follow me anywhere. And, to think, I could not even return the favor. Instead, I led him to his doom far beneath the world where light hardly ever touches. Far away from everything he loves and admires. No, I led him away to be slaughtered in Hell itself.

No, I will never forgive myself for letting him die, nor should he.

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The Grief of a Paladin

Shani, my friend…

Of all the days that have passed since I left our woodland home, this was the darkest. While great heroism and bravery were demonstrated, great tragedy befell us as well.

I think… I think that once we… IF we ever escape this accursed mountain, I would like to meet with you. I need to see your face again. And Darak and Tsaah, as well. Today’s events have left me shaken, wishing once again to see those whom I care about.

After our battle with the shadow dragon, we took a brief rest before pushing on… we should have rested longer. We were not prepared for what we encountered next.

When we entered what I assume to be the final room within this Well of Demons, we found a great evil transpiring. One of the first things I noticed was the last few slaves we had been searching for – they were here! Alas, they were trapped within some rune-bound circle, unwilling elements in some dark spell being cast by a horrible gnoll mage or necromancer. He was guarded by a group of demons and a monstrously huge animated skeleton.

Déor bellowed an attack cry and rushed forward at the largest target, the skeleton. Perhaps he overextended himself, but he missed completely. It was but the first of countless errors on our part. Throughout this entire battle, our best-laid plans faltered and our previously-guaranteed attack methods failed. It was as if we were under some dire curse.

Things went from bad to worse. The gnoll imprisoned Greth in some type of spell that allowed the skeleton to knock him unconscious. We had all instinctively attacked the skeleton as the largest, most threatening enemy, but we were totally ineffective, and the demons swarmed down to attack us.

The gnoll continued his diabolical spell, killing the slaves one by one. One of Ferrin’s force orbs knocked one of the slaves out of the rune-ring, but inadvertently killed her, as well. Apparently, this was enough to end the gnoll’s spell, and he turned his full wrath against us.

Déor went down, but Aerizell managed to revive him. Then Ferrin fell. Greth had revived, only to fall again… only to revive one last time as we focused our attacks on the gnoll. I was moving all over the battlefield, running to keep out of the reach of the demons in a limited arena. Eventually, as Greth fell for a third time, I was forced to race back down the hallway and shoot arrows from there. Unfortunately, a demon soon pursued me and I fell. Déor and Aerizell stood alone against a horde of demons.

When I awoke, with Déor bandaging my wounds, the battle was over. I looked up and the half-elf shook his head, a dismayed look on his face. I looked around. Greth sat nearby, blinking and recovering slowly. Then I saw them.

Aerizell knelt, his helmet thrown to the side, cradling the unmoving body of his closest friend, Ferrin. The eladrin wizard was dead.

In that moment, Shani, I felt such an overwhelming sense of loss. I have not felt emotions of any kind that strong since that day we all lost so much. I have known Ferrin for less than a year, and his fey “otherness” at times annoyed me, but a truer comrade could not be found. And to lose him so soon after Vimak’s death and Baladov’s departure… only Aerizell and I remained of our original band. And as I looked at Aerizell’s face and the tears streaming down it, I wondered if it was all over – everything. Our quest to find Paldamar, our growth together as a team, my hope in gathering strong colleagues for the eventual battle I know must come some day… all of it seemed to have no more substance now than Ferrin’s limp body.

I think I shall never forget that sight. It is engraved upon my mind like nothing else in this long, dark quest.

Yet Aerizell had not fully given up. He blamed himself for failing to protect Ferrin, as a Paladin should (in his opinion). Déor told me, in whispered words as we searched the room, of the last desperate moments of the battle, where Aerizell took wounds that were meant for Déor and fought with the passion and fire of a warrior much greater than he had shown before today.

We found a pair of silver keys. Déor claims to have had a vision about how to use them – that they are the keys to finding this rogue wizard Paldamar, in his secure abode. I have no doubt that we will go there soon.

(By the way, I also found a fine elven cloak like the ones Chabar used to make. I don’t know how it came into the possession of that accursed gnoll, but I have claimed it as my own.)

Aerizell insisted on carrying Ferrin’s body alone as we made our way out of the Well of Demons. It was a silent journey back to the Seven-Pillared Hall. The newcomers, Déor and Greth, remained quiet out of respect for Aerizell’s grief. I remained quiet as it was my job to find our way back in these twisting tunnels.

Curse this darkness. I cannot wait to see open sky again. While my skills at navigating in the dark are growing, I hate it all the more.

Back in the Hall, Aerizell led us straight to the temple of Erathis in hopes of finding someone who could perform a ritual to raise Ferrin before his spirit slipped away forever. The priestess, Phaledra, welcomed us, but seemed most reluctant to resurrect Ferrin. She had the gall to ask for 1,000 gold pieces in return for her help! I know very well that ritual can be performed for half that in our homeland. And she insisted she was offering us a bargain!

In vain did Déor attempt to negotiate with her. Aerizell’s pleas fell on deaf ears. I even stepped forward and offered her my bracers (you know the ones), my most prized possessions, in exchange for her help. But she refused. 1,000 gold pieces or nothing, it seemed.

Aerizell stormed out of the temple, still carrying Ferrin’s body. He led us straight to the place where the wizards of this place could be found. With violent imprecations, he demanded they show themselves. A representative approached us calmly and listened to Aerizell’s recounting of how they owed their very freedom to our work (which is clearly true). The wizard seemed unmoved, but eventually presented Aerizell with two gems that he said would cover the price the priestess required, as well as their debt to us.

As we went back to the temple, we were joined again by that annoying halfling, Rendil. His constant babbling seemed to lift Aerizell’s spirits somewhat, and he was not even surprised when the priestess demanded both gems as her payment.

Tomorrow, we return to the temple. She says Ferrin will be back. I am eager to see if this is true, and whether he is changed by his encounter with death. Did he meet the unknown god? I asked Aerizell about this, but he was still dealing with his own guilt and anger, and said he had only hopes.

We will see if those come to fruition. And then, I think, we have an appointment with this Paldamar. He has much to answer for.

Till the waves consume us all.

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The Dragon is Withered

Ah, Shani,

You’ll forgive me if I seem somewhat morose this time around. Facing one’s own mortality will do that.

As you may or may not recall, my comrades and I are deep below Thunderspire Mountain on a search for a rogue wizard named Paldamar, and seeking to end the corrupt slave trade in this area. We have destroyed the slaver industry for the most part, but some of the slaves are missing, and that seems to have led us to this awful place known as the Well of Demons.

Our new monk friend Greth continues to prove himself. As we were searching for these four artifacts (book, mask, dagger and bell), he found both the dagger and the bell. The bell was the final piece we needed, and it led to another tough battle against a group of demons.

The battle seemed to last forever, thanks in part to some horrendous pillars that constantly grabbed at us, spit acid, and generally made nuisances of themselves. Most horribly, the pillars seemed to be made of trapped souls or something. They attacked the demons as much as they attacked us. I didn’t know what to make of them, but I was glad to leave it all when we did.

I believe we all acquitted ourselves well in that particular battle, though it went on for so long. Greth was impressive, as I said, and Déor… I still get a chill every time I hear him bark a command in battle, which, as a warlord, he is wont to do quite often. So far, this has not created as much conflict with Aerizell as I expected it might. Perhaps because our choices have been somewhat limited. Though now that I think about it…

When we placed the artifacts on the circles or whatever, a series of traps were triggered that attempted to attack each one of us. Most were able to quickly leave them behind, but as luck would have it, I was stuck in the one area that contained the most annoying, most ridiculous, and most improbable traps of all. Skeletons on the ground would suddenly spring to life and seize anyone who passed by. But these were NOT like any other skeletons we have ever encountered, skeletons that fought like the undead monstrosities they are. Instead, these skeletons were totally impervious to any harm whatsoever. Whoever animated them in this way must be a supremely powerful necromancer, one that could rock the very world with his powers! I shudder to imagine what he could do if he set his mind to it. Think about it, after all – if he crafted these skeletons for something so simple as a minor trap… what awe-inspiring feats could he do if he truly wanted to cause real pain and suffering?

Yes, I’m saying “he” but I’m well aware that the very fact of this trap being so ridiculously annoying implies the strong possibility that the necromancer in question is a “she” instead. Happy?

At any rate, while I was struggling in the grip of the adamantine bones, a loud roar told us that some monstrous beast had appeared somewhere in the middle of our area. As all of us were scattered to the various circles, Déor came rushing toward me, calling out for the others to assemble on his location. That… was not entirely a good strategy, as he rushed right into the supremely-powerful skeletons that showed they were immune to all of his powers as well (and everyone else’s, as it turned out). I suppose Déor still has somewhat to learn about tactics.

The roar was the Shadow Dragon we had faced before, only this time we would not be able to escape it. It threw its concealing shadows here and there, assaulting us with claws, teeth, and necrotic breath. All the while, a massive ball of spikes or something was rolling in a circle around the hallways… yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds.

And this was where I failed. There is no other way to describe it. The dragon almost killed me. Though Déor and Aerizell were able to revive me eventually, I missed half the battle. I am told that Greth heroically dragged my almost lifeless body out of the way of the spiked ball, that Déor allowed himself to get attacked by the ball so that he could support the others in their battle against the dragon, and that the dragon was finally brought down by a combined effort of them all.

I should note that of course I had already done significant damage to the beast myself before it… almost killed me.

Here I am. Alive. But perhaps I shouldn’t be. Something happened to me in those brief moments when I was neither here nor there, neither fully alive nor fully dead. I do not know how to describe it yet, but I will ponder it. The others tell me they feel invigorated and that we are near our final destination. Déor is jokingly referring to our wizard as Ferrin Dragonslayer, since he struck the final blow… Aerizell is polishing his shield… Greth is meditating…

And I? I exist. That is all I can say for the moment.

Till the waves consume us all.

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Nothing but the Blood

Shani…

I have a rather large confession to make. When you shared the news about the goliath tribe some time ago, I grew jealous. The three of you are making significant progress on the search, while I have not even begun, really. So when I ran across a possible clue, I hid it from you. In fact, I have been lying to you for several days now.

Baladov is no longer with us. In fact, he has not been with us for days. I know this seems like an odd thing to lie about, but you will soon understand.

Baladov left us in the Seven-Pillared Hall around the same time that the mercenary Mizraim departed. They did not leave together, I should add, but Baladov apparently received a message summoning him home to Hammerfel. Something about his uncle who was also his mentor, I believe.

At first, we were a little concerned. Without a cleric, our party would be in severe jeopardy. What were we to do? The Seven-Pillared Hall is not exactly crawling with adventurers looking for groups to join.

And that was when Fate stepped in. (or else it was Aerizell’s unknown god… who am I to say?) While we were pondering what to do about the halfling Rendil’s offer of guidance, a half-elf walked into the inn alone. As he turned to face us, I nearly fell out of my chair.

Yes, a half breed. He later told us his mother claimed that his father was a noble elf from Nardous, but he had never met him nor knew his name. But I can hazard a guess. I am sure you know what I am implying. He is 19 years old. Think it through and you also will understand. The eyes and ears are nearly identical, and he has an intensity and charisma about him that is hauntingly familiar. When he shouts orders in battle, I find myself trembling. It is almost too much.

His name is Déor and he is a warlord in training. He seems quite skilled for his age and is a powerful addition to our party. Most of all, he is adept at healing, taking over for our missing cleric. It did not take much convincing to persuade him to join us, once he understood what we were about (and that obnoxious halfling vouched for us).

(Now that I think about it, however, I do not believe he ever told us what he was doing down here… and we have only his word that he does not know his father… is this some elaborate trick? Am I growing too paranoid?)

At any rate, I did not want to tell you about Déor, so I continued to reference Baladov in my missives. I do miss the dwarf, strangely. He was… comforting and solid. Déor is much more reckless, it seems. And he does not appear fond of our current leader, Aerizell.

So I apologize for deceiving you. We should be sharing our information, not hiding it from one another. We both seek the same thing. I do not know if Déor will be any help in this quest, but he is a significant clue that must be investigated.

Before I must move on, I’ll relate another step in our current quest, briefly.

In the next room we entered, most of it consisted of a huge pool of what could only be blood. It was horrid. Standing over all this were two huge statues of minotaurs. On the far side of the room, we spotted two platforms. Lying atop them were what appeared to be two pieces of a broken dagger. Perhaps it was the one we sought?

The distance between platforms was rather extensive, and the blood looked ominous. Our new monk friend volunteered to demonstrate his jumping ability and set out to retrieve the dagger. As he did so, a number of carnage demons surfaced from the blood and attacked.

As we battled them as best we could, Greth picked up the first half of the knife, but at that moment, the two minotaur statues began moving, swinging massive flails. One knocked Aerizell into the blood. The other did the same to Déor, who quickly climbed back out. Aerizell took a little longer, being burdened by his heavy armor.

Greth soon was in dire straits, being attacked by both the carnage demons and the statue. He was far out of the range of being helped by our paladin or warlord. I did what I could to keep the demons at bay, but the statue continued to attack him, knocking him back into the blood where the demons could get him.

Aerizell launched his mystical shield across the room as Greth desperately grabbed the second half of the dagger. Both our new comrades were amazed at the shield’s capabilities. Greth rode the shield back to us and we escaped from this room.

We now have the mask, the dagger, and the book. All that remains is the bell. I have a feeling it will turn up fairly soon. And then what happens?

Till the waves consume us all.

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On the Cryptic Nature of the Supernatural

Dear Shani,

Kalarel, Kalarel. Who was he? Who IS he? I had thought him a minor annoyance, a brief test of my party’s prowess early in our adventuring. We conquered him with seeming ease, and that was when we were far less skilled than we are now. Yet his name keeps recurring… as if he isn’t dead. As if he is something more than we thought…

Let me explain what occurred today. I may not make it through all of our current adventures, as time is pressing and the Well of Demons awaits.

After defeating the demon of the altar, we ignored the tieflings’ disapproval and continued our exploration. The boar we had rescued and tamed had disappeared – seems a shame.

A strange figure approached us in a hallway. Instantly, we sensed something… unusual about him. He threw off some black robes and screamed something about his altar before attacking us in a most violent manner. He appeared human, but his attacks were supernaturally powered. It didn’t take a paladin to determine that he was possessed by the very demon whose altar Aerizell destroyed.

Realizing this, we made an effort to subdue the man, not kill him. Aerizell hesitated, not sure how to proceed… which is when I stepped in.

You remember, don’t you? It certainly wasn’t part of our standard training, to be sure, but for some reason, Risgar seemed insistent that we know this… and it came in very valuable when Darak wandered too close to the sea that day. I still shudder to remember what he went through, and what we had to do to free him.

This… monk that we encountered faced a similar battle. I guided Aerizell through the ritual. It was much easier this time, as the monk was no one I knew, personally. The demon left him, vowing to return.

The monk’s name was Greth, and he seems to have been extremely unlucky in regards to demons. He told of them overrunning the monastery which was his home (obviously, it must be near the sea, which attracted the evil in the first place). One of the only survivors, Greth set out in search of ways to defeat this evil, but along the way he became possessed himself.

And that is when Kalarel’s name returned. Greth says he does not remember much about the time he was possessed, but he does recall hearing that name over and over. I don’t recall Kalarel having much pull with demons, but perhaps I am mistaken. There is clearly much that needs to be explained.

For the time being, Greth has joined us. Once he recovered from his possession, he seemed competent enough in his odd weaponless fighting style. However, it’s hard to trust him, and who knows if he will stick around. I said “recovered” but… how do we know he’s truly recovered? Darak had side effects of his possession for months, as you well recall. And demons have a bad habit of returning when you least expect them…

Soon after Greth joined us, we encountered three cryptic ghosts. At first they tried to “test our worthiness” with a bunch of nonsense. They wanted us to prove we had what it takes to proceed, I guess, though I have no idea who they were or who appointed them the arbiters of what is “worthy.” Eventually, they conceded enough to tell us we needed to find a book, a mask, a bell and a knife. Then place those four items on some glyphs… it all seems needlessly complex and convoluted. Why do we need these things? Why activate the glyphs? What will happen? Is this the gateway to the Well of Demons? Some kind of ridiculously complicated trap? Why are ghosts more trustworthy than demons? Our cleric and paladin didn’t seem to question this all that much, so maybe they understand better than I do… I don’t know.

We already have the book from the altar Aerizell destroyed, assuming it’s the right book. We found one of the glyphs the ghosts described in a room with blood-stained floors. From there, we entered a bizarre mirror-filled room. The mirrors were magical, somehow, sending Baladov into a strange place where he fought yet another gnoll. It moved the rest of us across the room where we fought a pair of living skeletons and found the mask the ghosts described.

Another room, another glyph… things were proceeding according to the ghosts’ prophecy. It all seemed rather… predictable.

The next room broke that idea, but that story will have to wait until next time…

Till the waves consume us all.

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Bacon, Deep Fried

Dear Shani,

As we continue our journey to find the Well of Demons, it seems to me that we miss our former comrade Vimak less and less. Either his absence has stirred the rest of us to superior battle tactics, or he wasn’t as vital a part of our company as we thought, or… we’re simply lucky that we haven’t run into anything too dangerous? I’m not sure what to think. I can say that I am increasingly impressed by my remaining three comrades’ martial prowess.

When I left off in my last report, we had decided to take a lengthy rest to recover from our insane chase and battles of the day before. Unfortunately, that rest was interrupted by yet more gnolls and hyenas. They seem to fill this place. (And this after we destroyed an entire army of them!)

That particular battle was fairly innocuous. No one struggled greatly, and we dispatched the enemies with practiced efficiency.

Since we were already awakened, we decided to move on into the twisting hallways before us. I listened at a few doors and determined the one most likely to hide more enemies. As we burst into this next room, we found more gnolls and hyenas, of course, but they seemed to be harassing a large boar that was chained to the floor in the middle of the room. Aerizell recalled that someone in town had complained about a prize boar being stolen. Perhaps this was it.

I don’t see how it matters much, though. This battle was a bit longer than the last, but the outcome was never in question. We defeated the foes and released the boar. It was quickly tamed by my easy manner with beasts, but it did not seem to want to venture from the room where we found it. We left it behind and moved on, though Baladov grumbled a bit about “bacon.”

We next encountered a pair of tieflings, who did not seem interested in fighting us, but responded readily to Aerizell’s “diplomacy.” Personally, I see no reason to trust them, but they told us a few details of what remained ahead of us, including what was behind two more doors in the hallway.

Behind the first, we found a bone altar to some pagan deity. Our righteous paladin could not bear the sight of it, so he smashed it to pieces and we moved on. In the next room, we found some kind of gnoll demon conjuror or whatnot. I’m not entirely sure what he was meant to be, but he began calling for some demon as we attacked. Midway through our fight with him, a demon did indeed show up in the hallway!

I have no idea how to classify the monstrosity, but it was definitely demonic in nature. (No wings, though…) It began seizing my comrades in its powerful arms and slamming them against the walls. I believe I was the only one who escaped that particular fate.

This was the only battle of the day in which we had to call on our all. At the climax of the fight, I nailed the creature with a splintering shot that near crippled it, Aerizell bashed it with his “magic” shield, throwing it to the ground, and then Ferrin threw an orb of energy above it that spectacularly decapitated the unholy spawn. All in all, it was quite a showing. I said that I was becoming more impressed with my comrades, and this battle showed it quite well.

One bizarre happenstance is worth noting – as the demon died, it cried out the name of Kalarel! We defeated Kalarel months ago… could he have somehow returned?

The tieflings don’t seem happy by our actions, but I can’t say I care for their opinion. We are moving on..

Till the waves consume us all.

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The Castle Chase

Dear Shani,

Our fame here in the Seven-Pillared Hall is growing. People are hearing how we have broken up the slave trade.

This morning as we broke fast, we were greeted cheerily and annoyingly by Rendil Something-or-other (you know how I am with names), a halfling we had rescued from the slavers on our first day here. He knew that we now sought the Well of Demons in our continuing quests, and offered to lead us to an unguarded passage to this destination.

To no one’s real surprise, the mercenary Mizraim had already departed. I suppose he was true to his desire to merely find the way out. We still feel the loss of Vimak most keenly, but no one expressed any real disappointment that his “replacement” was gone. In fact, the party seemed… united in a way I haven’t seen before. Even quiet Baladov seemed filled with new vigor, as though he was pondering his true purposes once again.

Without any suspicion of guile, we followed Rendil through twisting passages until we reached an amazing underground castle surrounded by a monstrous chasm. As we stood on the drawbridge and realized the castle was abandoned, Rendil suddenly changed his form, sneered something rather nasty, and dashed away. Our halfling was a shapechanger!

With tremendous noise behind us, we turned and beheld our doom. An veritable army of gnolls and hyenas was bearing down on us, perhaps hundreds of them! As if that was not enough, with an ear-splitting roar, a shadow dragon ascended and came toward us (it looked to be the same dragon that Ferrin had banished before; I am not sure how that could be true).

So there we stood, facing an army and a dragon, just the four of us… Yes, I know your party only has three members, but have you ever faced such odds? … If so, tell me about it. I would be most interested.

Our first and most immediate recourse was to raise the drawbridge. All four of us struggled with the crank, but the dragon himself bore down on the drawbridge and our strength was no match for his.

A few of the hyenas reached us quickly and attacked. We swiftly disengaged from them and raced up the stairs of a nearby bell tower, since the main doors into the keep were barred. At the top of the tower, Aerizell cut loose the massive bell, which collapsed the stairway below us, killing a number of gnolls. We crossed a narrow board onto the roof of the keep, taking out the few pursuers that had made it to the top. Baladov kicked the board off to prevent anyone else using it. (Did I mention that Aerizell can now fly on his shield? It seems to have no end of magical powers. He even claims to talk with it…)

Below us, the gnolls were attempting to batter down the keep’s doors, so we shoved some stone gargoyles onto their heads to delay them, killing a few more in the process. This didn’t stop the dragon, of course, who flew up to the roof. We hurried down the stairs inside, but the dragon kept coming, smashing his way through the ancient roof! We hurried through other rooms, passing near the main doors again, which we attempted to further barricade with some bookshelves.

Once again, I was called upon to pick a lock, something at which I am showing a surprising affinity.

As we raced through the abandoned castle, we found numerous places to further delay any pursuit, such as hiding a pit with a tarp. But the dragon continued to smash his way to us. One of the final rooms we found contained a few barrels of oil. Baladov rigged a way to ignite the oil when the gnolls entered the room and we hurried on, finding our way across another drawbridge and out of the castle.

We turned back in time to see a massive explosion! Apparently, there was more than just oil in that storeroom! The entire castle caved in upon itself. I don’t know if any gnolls even survived the destruction. The dragon did, of course, swooping past us, but it pursued us no longer, apparently satisfied that we were now trapped with no way to return.

Baladov looked a bit down. When pressed, he admitted that his dwarvish heart had toyed with the idea of keeping this abandoned castle when our quests were completed. To a dwarf, I suppose, an underground castle is something to be desired. What a strange people they are. I wryly suggested we dub him Baladov Keepslayer from now on, but the others did not seem to appreciate my humor.

We entered the next area, apparently closer to the Well of Demons, whatever it is. This area had no light save the soft glow of the burning castle behind us. Ferrin cast some illumination spell which did not go far, but allowed us to enter cautiously.

Yes, I know. We should have lit sunrods then and there. But how were we to know we would be attacked by bizarre tentacled creatures? Because that is exactly what happened, and then there was no time to think of other light sources. Ferrin was snatched into the air by something that crawled across the ceiling. As his lighted staff bobbed and weaved, I tried to shoot the creature, only to have it use Ferrin as a shield! Another of the strange creatures attacked us, but before we could even figure out the best strategy for fighting them, tentacles erupted out of the ground, grabbing at us and exuding burning acid.

This was a most frustrating battle, but in the end we triumphed. One or both of the ceiling creatures ran away when badly wounded, but we vanquished the one below us.

After this, we ran into another small party of gnolls and hyenas, which we quickly dispatched with little effort. Now we rest before continuing our journey in the dark.

I was most interested to hear the news you had to report, from your interrogation of the goliath tribe. So he now has a goliath bodyguard, does he? Well, I learned much of them during my travels with Vimak. Perhaps his tragic sojourn with my party will result in some good, after all. Keep me apprised of any information you may come across, and I shall do the same. Perhaps the time is nearing when the search should begin in all earnestness. I hesitate to state that we are ready, though. Time will tell.

Till the waves consume us all.

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The Demise of Vimak

Dearest Shani…

When I told you that I would tell you of our adventures, I had no idea that it would be like this. Yesterday was nothing like I expected. Nothing could have prepared me for this. If there is a tremor in my voice, you will soon understand why.

I told you of my companions… Now… I’m not sure where to begin… I suppose I must just relate events as they occurred…

We set out to follow some clues from the slavers we defeated. There is more behind this and we seek to eradicate this evil at its source. I was able to lead our company through the tunnels to the destination we wished to investigate. How I wish that I had failed!

We entered a vast cavern and before us was… A sea. A sea beneath the ground. You can imagine my trepidation, and that only increased when we saw wraiths floating toward us across the water.

Vimak charged forward with his usual battle fervor. The others followed more slowly while I began letting the arrows fly. While I am proud of my skill in this battle, I cannot bring myself to speak of myself. For what happened next was horrible.

Vimak was surrounded by wraiths when Baladov ran forward and scattered them. Unfortunately, he was unable to thwart the wraiths’ master. It happened so fast. One moment Vimak was swinging his axe and eviscerating the undead; the next moment, the wraith master had seized him and dragged him into the sea. In seconds, he was beneath the waves and surrounded by wraiths once more. Before we could reach him, it was too late. The sea had claimed another victim.

But the horror was not to end there. While the rest of us were able to finish off the wraiths (through no small effort of my own), Vimak’s body was gone. I dove into the water to try to find him… Yes, I know. I don’t know what came over me. But somehow I found myself in a submerged temple where Vimak’s body had been swept. Unable to retrieve him myself, I returned to my companions. For a moment beneath the waves I panicked, thinking I was drowning. When Baladov pulled me out, I choked and gagged… it was awful. And then it got worse.

As if gripped by a strange fervor, Aerizell insisted that we must retrieve Vimak’s body. Without even waiting for the rest of us or a plan of any kind, he dove into the water and disappeared from view.

I do not balk from telling you that I was paralyzed with fear. You understand perfectly why. The sea had taken our paladin, as well. I was certain Aerizell was gone. Ferrin tried to calm me and described a spell that would help us breathe and reach the temple far easily than my first foray. I had my doubts, and I was sure it was useless, but I allowed myself to follow them.

We found Aerizell, who, to my shock, was actually breathing the water, though he seemed unconscious or in some trance-like state. When we reached the temple, he shed most of his armor and sank deeper into a trance… and his arm turned blue. Yes, blue. I have no idea what that means. He told us later that he had experienced a vision related to his god. I have more to say on that matter shortly.

Vimak was dead, with no way to revive him. His body had been shredded by the wraiths’ claws and their vile magic had further deteriorated him. I shall miss him greatly. He was reckless and hazardous to us all, but his potential was immense.

Yet even as we mourned Vimak, I discovered someone else was present with us in the temple. Lying near what appeared to be some kind of portal was an unconscious figure. As I approached, he awoke and seemed somewhat disoriented.

In short order, we discovered that his name was Mizraim and he had no knowledge of how he had arrived in this spot. He sounds like some kind of mercenary, as he admitted to being employed to obtain something. But he refused to reveal anything else about himself, even his own face! He wears a black mask along with black robes that conceal every part of him. We have no idea what race he might be, or even if he is male or female (although his voice argues for the former).

And then the coincidences began to pile up. It seems this Mizraim had also come from Winterhaven, and had received the same quest from the Smithy there as had Vimak! That quest was searching for a certain type of rare ore… which just happened to be lining the walls of this submerged temple where Vimak’s body was laying! This cannot be mere chance. Something strange is at work here.

Is it Aerizell’s god? I know not. He told us that in his trance he was contacted by a “Guardian” that was sent to protect him. This is what enabled him to breathe under water. I have to admit – I was angered at this. Where were this god when our parents went under? Why did no “Guardian” protect Vimak?

Vimak is gone now. I shall never again see that incredible goliath charge into battle with his amazing rage, totally unconcerned for his own life. What sorrows follow us throughout this world. Why do we go on?

Vimak is gone. In his place stands this Mizraim. I can never trust him. He conceals too much. His arrival was far too coincidental. He says he is only with us until we show him the way out of the Underdark. And his battle methods are highly questionable, as well.

For we moved on from the temple. We next found a strange tower. Mizraim, seeking to prove his worth, I suppose, slipped inside and immediately attacked those within. Aerizell realized, however, that these were not enemies, and he rushed in to stop the fight. He and Baladov were able to apologize for Mizraim’s actions and obtain some aid from the woman in charge of this tower.

She told us of Paldamar, the missing mage (I haven’t mentioned that quest, but there’s not a lot to tell), who was actually trying to open a portal for evil (somewhat like we had encountered before – remind me to tell you that story some other time). He had enslaved six other mages and was using their powers to open the portal, guarded by a fierce shadow dragon. She gave Ferrin a mysterious orb that would aid us in this fight.

We moved on and soon found what she had described. The dragon attacked us and at first we were in grave danger from its powers. It conjured clouds of shadow that made it almost impossible for my arrows to even find it! But Ferrin was able to use the orb to force the dragon down into the very portal that the mages were opening. It was sucked down and we saw it no more.

It was extremely hard after that to defeat one of the shadow binders holding the mages enthralled. When we finally released one mage, however, he made short work of the rest, releasing all in no time.

Flush with victory, but still shocked with sorrow, we returned to our inn.

Till the waves consume us all.

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Aegnor Begins his Recount

To seeker Shani Qesheth, from your most humble servant, ranger Aegnor:

How delighted I was to get your message – and what an ingenious way to send it! I was always fascinated by your connection to the primal forces within our world, and I suppose it was my own meager tampering with those forces recently that allowed you to connect with me.

Not a day goes by that I do not think about you and the others. While I believe I have joined myself to a capable group of companions, I freely admit that they are not elves and they do not yet possess the bond that we Orphans have…

Although… I must admit that the bond is growing. We are a team, and we are growing more efficient with each battle. Our most recent struggle against a despicable group of slave traders was truly inspiring.

My companions number four and they are an eclectic mix.

Our leader (by default, really) is the paladin, Prince Aerizell. (Yes, he is an actual prince. Try to restrain yourself. He’s human.) He shows great potential most of the time, both as a leader and a warrior, but he seems troubled by something from his home. I can identify with this, obviously. He also is devoted to serving a deity he refers to only as “the unknown god.” We have engaged in some discussions about this deity, and while it seems to reinforce his beliefs in justice, I have not seen much yet to recommend this god over any others.

Ferrin Moongazer is our eladrin mage, and he also serves this god. His connection to Aerizell is very strong, and as yet, I have little understanding of him. He seems competent enough most of the time, but very mysterious.

You probably never imagined me traveling with a dwarf, but our cleric, Baladov, has proven his worth many times.

The final member of our party is Vimak, a barbarian goliath. At times he seems to display vast potential in martial prowess… but that is equalled by his propensity for seemingly suicidal strategy (or lack thereof).

I know what you’re thinking. It is a bizarre group, to be sure. But we are growing together. Perhaps in time, we will be ready for… But you know what I mean. Do you have any word of… him? I know you search constantly and Tsaah has the same advantage as I do. (Did I tell you about that? Chabar performed the spell for me, as well.)

Tell Darak I’m gaining on him. Remind Tsaah that my arrows are as sharp as his swords. When next I write, I will relate some of our ongoing adventures here in the underdark. It is a foul place.

Till the waves consume us all.

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Baladov's Memories, as explained by Aegnor

Most Noble Baladov,

Aerizell has informed me of the unfortunate symptoms related to injuries you sustained in our most recent battle: namely, that you suffered a temporary disruption of your core personality and a confusing loss of short-term memory. The former I can well believe and understand, as you hardly seemed your usual self during the past twenty-four hours. The latter is a bit harder to accept. However, in the interest of supporting the camaraderie we have built here, I have taken it upon myself to recount for you what has transpired in this past day, so as to assist with your remembrances.

As you may recall (or not, I suppose), we set out on a number of ill-defined and confusing quests – to find an oddly-named wizard, searching for particular items of power, and, most importantly, finding this reprehensible Duergar tribe of slave-traders and putting an end to their abhorrent practice. We are now well on our way in accomplishing that goal, at the least.

In our travels through this sun-forsaken land beneath all that is right and good, we were attacked by a flock of bizarre, flaming bats. The dense smoke that surrounded them caused the battle to be especially confusing, and I was unable to use my bow. It took some time, but we were eventually triumphant, and Vimak was able to obtain a small portion of the mystical ore that he is seeking so greedily.

Continuing on our way, we eventually reached the fortress of the Duergar. It appears to include multiple buildings on both sides of an enormous chasm, connected by a pair of narrow bridges. We were hardly able to approach with any stealth, owing to the extreme limitations put upon us by this underground realm. As such, the orc doorwardens easily saw us coming and were prepared for our arrival.

The entrance was barred by a heavy portcullis. Vimak rushed forward and attempted to lift it, but failed miserably. I have noticed that when the goliath’s immense strength could come in very handy, it is often less impressive than expected. At any rate, the orcs behind the portcullis mocked him thoroughly while riddling his body with crossbow bolts. I dispatched one of the orcs, while Ferrin did his part in harassing them. You and Aerizell, after attempting to convince Vimak otherwise, finally joined him at the portcullis and were able to force it open. Unfortunately, as we rushed in to finish off the remaining orcs, one of them fled through the door (an event that was to repeat itself throughout the subsequent hours, much to our annoyance).

As we took a brief respite from our labors, we were disgusted by Vimak’s actions. As these were the first orcs we had defeated, he took great delight in thoroughly desecrating their bodies. Aerizell briefly questioned this, but as Vimak’s atrocities seemed motivated only by revenge and not by any false religious belief, the paladin shrugged his metallic shoulders and did not intervene. Personally, I am reconsidering the value of our large companion, as well as the paladin’s commitment to genuine righteousness. He told me of the differences between good and evil, but this seems to contradict some of what he said. It is… somewhat disturbing. Perhaps this “unknown god” is not as righteous as has been portrayed. Or am I attributing too much of the servants’ beliefs to the god himself?

Forgive my digression. This is meant to be a recounting of our exploits, not a philosophical treatise.

Moving on through the duergar stronghold, we encountered small bands of resistance, including a duergar smithy that we first took for some kind of leader. Nevertheless, he died quickly, despite Aerizell’s pleas to take him alive. (Once more, the goliath could not control himself.) Ferrin did seem pleased with the smithy’s bedroom, however, as he found some sort of skull scepter that is apparently instrumental to one of the side quests that we took on. Yet again, a duergar scout managed to escape our righteous wrath and fled deeper into the stronghold, alerting its denizens to our approach.

Our most intense battle soon followed. You, Ferrin, and Vimak burst into a large dining hall in which a number of duergar guards and scouts were ready for us, along with their leader, “Hrothgar” or some such nonsense. Unfortunately, Aerizell and I had made a tactical error, bursting through an additional door we assumed led to the same room. Instead, it led to an abandoned trophy room of some kind, filled with bizarre stuffed creatures. Still, it allowed us to come from behind and flank the dining hall, entering just behind the arrogant leader who was yelling in some pagan language that only Vimak appeared to understand.

As the battle escalated, Aerizell and Vimak assaulted the leader with my support. Regrettably, this left Ferrin in a most disadvantageous position, being surrounded by a number of the other duergar in the room (none of which were weaklings, I might add). You were barely able to keep him alive, as you were also concerned (rightly so) with the presence of a female serving girl, the first actual slave we had encountered.

To our shock and amazement, the duergar leader was grotesquely transformed upon receiving serious injury. He grew to a substantial size. I was never clear whether this was some shape-changing power innate to him, or whether he was actually some sort of giant in disguise (the language issue I mentioned aforehand seems to argue for the latter). Nonetheless, we were able to slay him, though not without significant injury on our part. It was an extremely bloody battle.

In the end, not one, but three of the cowardly duergar chose to flee our martial presence at the death of their leader. Aerizell and I rushed back to the trophy room to try to overtake them before they could escape across the bridge to the next area of the fortress. Vimak, meanwhile, raced madly and blindly after them in the twisting hallways, bellowing his bizarre battle cries… which were suddenly silenced. At the time, we knew not what had transpired, but we were… resigned to the belief that we had seen the last of our large companion. Ferrin and Baladov were quick to follow him and the fleeing duergar.

We were able to dispatch two of the cowards posthaste, but as seemed our doom to repeat, one of them was able to escape and flee through double doors into the next building.

Bruised and bloodied, we turned to see the results of our battle. At that point, I beheld you perform the most amazing medicinal task I have ever seen. I could have sworn Vimak had breathed his last, but with nothing but bandages (?) you were able to stabilize his descent into darkness and restore a twinge of life into his battered frame.

From what we could deduce, upon overtaking the fleeing duergar, the already-wounded goliath had attempted to charge them, but had somehow instead charged a solid rock wall. (Upon reflection, this could be seen as enormously amusing, and no doubt the hilarity the fleeing duergar enjoyed was what allowed us to overtake two of them.)

We found a little loot on the giant/duergar, but nothing all that impressive. The slave girl had fled into a back room. I wisely proposed that, since she was human herself, our human paladin should be the one who approached her. Aerizell did so, finding her with two other female slaves. He assured them of our good will and was able to persuade them to come out. They had been vilely mistreated and desired only to leave the stronghold immediately. If we would not escort them out, they were willing to leave on their own.

As they seemed drawn to my presence, I escorted the women back to our guide and inquired as to whether he would escort them back to Seven Pillars and then return for us, as we continued on with our mission. (Although, I will say the women were horrified and much disturbed by the atrocity Vimak had committed in the foyer. Their reaction is something to be considered before we allow him such “freedom” again.) Our guide, whom I have always considered a greedy, manipulative, worthless denizen of this lightless realm, would not consider the task I lay before him without extra payment. Imagine the heartlessness of someone beholding the wretched state of these emaciated and mistreated slaves and then demanding payment to assist them! I make a personal vow that there will be a reckoning with this so-called guide before we leave this blighted domain.

In the end, I paid him a hundred gold pieces from my own supply and a longsword for his own protection. He left as we took a much-needed lengthy rest, especially allowing Vimak to recuperate. I am much disturbed that the guide has not returned as yet.

We then crossed a narrow bridge over the chasm only to encounter a heavily locked door. I surprised everyone with my rarely-called-upon lockpicking skills and we were able to enter. Faced with multiple doors, Aerizell made a random selection and discovered a room with another duergar guard and some sort of magic user. I maneuvered past Aerizell, let fly with a number of arrows that reduced the magic user to near-death, and shifted back out of the way to allow Aerizell to finish them off.

To our dismay, our escaped duergar guard then burst into our current room, followed by some more guards and two of the most bizarre creatures I have ever encountered. They appeared to be some sort of constructs, resembling nothing more than walking, self-loading crossbows. They were a serious threat, and this battle once again strained all of us to the breaking point.

Perhaps most noticeable in this encounter was a freak happenstance in which, while angrily whipping out another arrow to avenge injury done to one of my companions, I accidentally tore off my own upper armor, exposing my torso for all to see. This may have provided some small means of distraction for our enemies, as it was not long after that we were able to finally overcome them.

Having given our all in this battle, we once again retreated over the bridge to rest and recuperate. I am pleased to report that I have finally mastered a deadly splintering arrow strike that my old mentor once showed me, and the others are murmuring about feeling stronger and more enthusiastic about our chances now. The only doubt that plagues me now is the fate of the three slaves I sent away with our so-called guide. If he has not returned after this rest time, I fear my vowed reckoning will have to take place sooner rather than later.

I hope, noble Baladov, that this has been assistive to you in recalling your most recent memories, as odd as that concept may seem. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask Aerizell. I tire of this.

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