Realm of the Fellnight Queen

Wraith of Wrath
Sofie's Journal

Sunday, 30 Gozran, 4723

I let it loose. I woke the dragon and let it run rampant and nearly got all of my friends killed several times over. And even with all that unbridled fury, I still couldn't stop a fucking ghost from kicking the shit out of me.

I need a drink.

Anyway, as I noted in my last entry we were tasked with recovering the wedding band of Tula Belhaim's husband, to put his unquiet spirit to rest and get the late baroness' blessing to use her dragonslaying heirlooms. As we were transiting across the electrified chamber for what seemed like the seventeenth time today, something strange and terrifying occurred.

A flash of bright light surrounded Tagnus and he disappeared! All that was left was the bag of holding and a strange green gem. Lennox picked it up before I could stop her.

Aldern inspected the gem and determined that Tagnus was both inside and a part of it. Most terrifying piece of witchcraft I have ever seen. Lennox is keeping the gem in an exterior pouch in case the dwarf pops back out. We shall have to examine the jewel more closely back in Belhaim.

The sudden loss of one of our number cast a pall over our expedition as we delved deeper. I should have seen it for what it was—an ill omen of things to come.

The tomb of Tula Belhaim's husband was flooded in a foot of chilly water. Because of course it was. Knives scouted the chamber first, but retreated when heard fell whispers rising around her.

Aldern decided to take the lead, moving the light spell onto his staff and wading confidently into the flooded crypt. I was determined not to let the foolish wizard get himself killed, so I followed close behind with sword drawn.

I don't know why I expected him to have a clever plan, but that notion was quickly dispelled. As dark mutterings echoed around us, Aldern began calling out to the dead husband and trying to reason with him. As if angry ghosts answered to reason.

The crypt contained five alcoves at its far end, each holding a sarcophagus. The largest alcove was directly across from the entrance. But it was a smaller sarcophagus on the left that opened first, a Wight with burning blue eyes rising from it.

That was when I let it happen. While I was suffering under the attic whisperer's curse, the beast within had prowled restlessly without the strength to break loose. But now the spell had faded, and the sight of this abomination against nature filled me with such fury.

So I deliberately woke the dragon and opened the cage. I chose to go berserk.

It was exhilarating. I was upon the Wight in an instant, carving into it with my longsword and savoring the crack of bones against the cold iron.

More wights rose from the three other small alcoves and I welcomed them with glee. Aldern summoned forth a burning sphere that he sent rolling after them. I was dimly aware of Maffei gliding in to battle them, Knives throwing her darts, and Lennox loosing her arrows.

Before me was another Wight and we danced, each avoiding the other's blows. My sword could not find him, his grasping claws could not clutch me. I heard Aldern cry out in pain, but Knives was aiding him and my foe was at sword's reach.

Ultimately, Aldern got the kill, burning it with his sphere. But as soon as the final Wight was slain, the fell whispers rose into a howl as the wraith of Tula Belhaim's husband awoke from his tomb.

I was beyond fear at that point, even when I saw the wraith send Knives shrieking in agony with a touch. I leapt to confront it, but my cold iron sword was as useless as Knives' mithral daggers or Lennox's arrows. Only Maffei's magic weapons and Aldern's spells seemed to harm it.

Knives ran to the sarcophagus and pried it open. I think she was trying to retrieve the ring and flee, though I did not realize it at the time.

Unable to harm the wraith, my rage-addled mind decided I should harm its corpse. As I moved past the spirit, it reached into me with one dark hand. The pain was indescribable. It pulled something out, leaving me greatly wounded.

Undaunted, I sloshed over to the tomb, tore the head from the corpse, and taunted the wraith. "Got your skull" or something like that. I think that Knives, who was beside me, was furious at my attracting the wraith's attention.

As the spirit glided towards me, Maffei lashed it with her magic swords. The ragged wraith drove its spectral claws into me again, tearing away more life force. But moments later it was ablaze as Aldern's burning sphere rolled into it.

With no enemies left, my rage-reddened gaze landed on my companions. I swear that for a moment they looked like blue-eyed wights. I actually swung my sword at Knives but stopped when I saw the fear and surprise in her eyes.

Aldern approached me, flattering me in a soothing voice. Walking towards a berserker takes courage, but I was more confused than anything. The dragon returned to its slumber as the rage bled from me and I could tell friend from for once more. But now they know how dangerous I can really be.

They didn't say anything as we plundered the husband's tomb. He was some sort of spellcaster and Aldern got very excited about some rod he had on him.

We trekked back to Tula Belhaim's tomb, where she thanked us for laying her husband's spirit to rest. She gave us her blessing to take the equipment from her own sarcophagus to defend the village once more. Among the items were an enchanted breastplate that suits me, and a dragon-slaying longsword bearing the name Wyrmspite which I claimed as well. Lennox came away with a magic bow and some dragon-killing arrows.

All of us chose not to remark on the fact that Lady Tula's corpse was not wearing a wedding ring.

We have left the tomb complex behind now, but are taking a breather. Knives and I keep lagging behind. The wraith's vile touch has left us with no stamina.

I need to apologize to her, to all of them, for what almost happened down there. Were the situation less dire, I would have barricaded myself away somewhere less stimulating to try to avoid any more episodes. But the village is still in danger. Which means more fighting and more berserking. I can't even trust myself not to stir up the beast within; the primal power is simply too useful despite the danger. 

But I can't put my friends at risk. I need to come up with some sort of safe word or phrase like Knives said. It might not repair the damage I've done to our friendship, but it will hopefully keep my inner dragon from harming them.

Gods, what a miserable day. I hope we don't have to camp out here.

A Walk in the Woods
Sofie's Journal

Sunday, 30 Gozran, 4723

The hike from the tomb was torture. I couldn't take more than ten paces without needing to stop for a breather. I still can't. It is like that wraith tore the stamina straight out of me. Knives isn't any better, and even Aldern looked a little short for breath. Thankfully, I managed to find a sheltered place to rest.

Once camp was set up, I approached Knives to offer my apology for what happened during the battle. She was wary, but she didn't want me to abandon all contact with her and go into exile. So that is good.

We agreed on a safe phrase to try to talk me out of the berserk rage. I took Lennox's suggestion from weeks ago to heart, to come up with something that evokes my so-called "happy place." I focused on my memories of sailing with my siblings, watching dolphins dance in the sun-dappled waters. I am hopeful that "dancing dolphins" would suffice to conjure up that thought and quell my fury. Probably.

Certainly less embarrassing than having Aldern call me a "big beautiful viking goddess" again. he, by the way, doesn't seem to have been put off by the incident at all. Of course, I didn't take a swing at him. Yet.

I need to sleep. But more than that, I need a cleric. This sickly feeling is intolerable, and Tagnus keeps stubbornly refusing to emerge from that fucking green gem.

Moonday, 1 Desnus, 4723

We didn't die, so I suppose this counts as a good day. 

On our way back to the village, we were beset by another flame drake. Knives and I were in no condition to fight, so we ran as fast and as far as we could before our lungs gave out. Aldern and Lennox launched a few shots at it before following. Maffei easily slipped away. 

If we hadn't been able to lose it in the foliage, it would have been the end of us (no matter what Aldern says).

When we staggered into Belhaim, Knives and I immediately made for the Shelynite temple. Nilos was thankfully able to free us from the wraith's curse. Aldern got similar treatment from the House of Abadar.

We regrouped at the Wise Piper Inn, where Aldern was studying the green gem. He learned little more than the fact that it is fey in nature. I am rather concerned for Tagnus' safety, for the fey creatures we know in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings are cruel and capricious.

From there, we traveled to meet with Baroness Origena Devy. She was relieved to learn that the black dragon Aeteperax was very definitely dead. But there is still the issue of the persons or things holding the town hostage. If nothing else, their minions are very real. The baroness asked us to investigate the abandoned monastery the false Aeteperax demanded that we bring his ridiculous ransom. The others used this as an opportunity to extract a reward from the baroness. In exchange for this service, she offered to give each of us a joint share in the Hunclay manor. This satisfied the mercenary attitudes of my fellows, and we pledged our swords (and spells, and daggers, and arrows) to the quest.

Which means it is time to stock up on supplies.

Monastery of the Mad Monks
Sofie's Journal

Moonday, 1 Desnus, 4723

What the fuck am I doing? I'm sitting here in the Wise Piper Inn, with my magic sword, stowing away the potions of strength and healing that I purchased, as I prepare to go forth and fight monsters, where I will most assuredly go berserk. 

This is my father's life. I traveled thousands of miles to get away from this, to be a scholar. I came here to Belhaim to try to salvage my academic reputation. And now I am gearing up for battle like some viking! I even gathered woad by the river for war paint. Am I going mad?

I suppose I should summarize my day. After our conversation with the baroness, we all went our separate ways to equip ourselves for the coming quest. I went to the potions shop, where the very strange lady there sold me a potion of strength and two moderately powerful potions of healing. She seemed to have left something bubbling too long and had to run to the back of the shop. There was an explosion but she assured me she was fine. I am a little concerned by the fact that the potions lacked labels. Not that I should have been buying them in the first place.

I met Knives down by the river, where for some reason—tradition?—I was gathering woad leaves. Knives was washing her mithral daggers in the water. She said she had them enchanted at the temple of Shelyn, but there was a weird look in her eyes when she spoke about it, like she was bothered by something. She was holding the daggers like they were unclean. Perhaps the enchantment left some oils behind? She was going to try washing her chain shirt, but I persuaded her to let Aldern use his magic to clean it.

As if he was summoned, the wizard arrived. He'd just come from the House of Abadar, where he had opened an account to save his money. He wouldn't shut up about it, or about the silly heat-sensitive mug that they gave him. He looks really cute when he is excited, but Knives and I couldn't help but tease him over his officiousness. (We're still teasing him because he won't. shut. up. It's adorable.)

It was as we trekked back to the inn to meet with Lennox that this existential crisis started to set in. I'm a scholar, not a warrior. How did I let myself get so side-tracked?

Knives is starting to get drunk. I'd better set this aside to keep an eye on her.

Must write notes for self in morning. Knives—not merchant! Was lying whole time. Ran from gangsters in Oppara who wanted make her a prostitute to pay back father's debts. Very sensitive about appearance—which makes no sense. She was going to rob us when we first met! But now she's happy adventuring with us & making gold. Aldern is an ass.

Told them I didn't know what the fuck I was doing adventuring. Knives and Lennox encouraged me, Aldern said I'd find all sorts of creatures to write about. I started drinking. Drank a lot. Think I told them about Marcio, leaving university. Last chance.

Aldern got me to do something called karaoke. Very fun. Walked me up to my room after. Aldern is a gentleman. So pretty and tastes nice.

I will feel like shit tomorrow.

Toilday, 2 Desnus, 4723

There's another dragon! Tula Belhaim's relics will be put to good use after all. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I awoke late, feeling like shit as predicted. I finished brewing the woad dye over breakfast and stowed it away for later. Aldern teased Knives about her admission from last night. I don't think she remembers much. I don't either, really, aside from what's in my notes, which aren't exactly reliable.

After we'd finished our pancakes, we set out for the monastery. I tried to take us through a short cut, but the hangover threw off my sense of direction. So Aldern tried to help get us back on track, but was looking at his map upside down. We kind of wasted several hours. I wish Tagnus were here to find the path, but I'm glad he didn't see our fuck ups. At least, I think he didn't. We still don't know how that gem works.

Eventually, we approached the monastery grounds. I applied the woad to my face in the viking style, while Knives went in for a closer look. She gave us the rough layout of the perimeter, as well as the fact that the entrance was guarded by kobolds. 

While the rest of us were brainstorming a plan, that cocky fool Aldern just started striding towards the entrance. I hurried after him to make sure he didn't get himself killed, which is exactly how things started at the wraith tomb. Knives, Lennox, and Maffei followed stealthily after us.

These were some especially stupid kobolds, and we were able to talk our way past them by posing as people bringing the ransom. They directed us to the "pet human." We found him in the courtyard of the monastery, the same strange man with the bright red hat that we saw at the auction trying to get the forbidden books.

It turns out this is Azmur Kell, one of the missing druids. His pregnant wife is being held hostage to compel his obedience, but when we assured him of our intent and ability to vanquish his master he agreed to help us. The information he shared was quite enlightening.

The architect of Belhaim's woes is a young green dragon who has assumed the name and mantle of the dead Aeteperax. The green dragon is obsessed with something called the Dark Tapestry, which is inhabited by sinister alien beings. The monks who once dwelt here shared the obsession, hoping to use knowledge from the Dark Tapestry to reach enlightenment. Instead, they called something forth that destroyed them several hundred years ago. Now the False Aeteperax is continuing their work.

The dragon has gathered a number of powerful lieutenants, most of whom reside here in the profaned monastery. There's an alchemist and a lunar naga. There is also a missing key to the locked chamber where the monks did their summoning. The dragon relies on magic potions from the monk to turn ethereal and simply seeps into the room. The key might be with the abbot of the monastery, whose body was never found.

The green dragon also apparently fears the use of its true name. Discovering the name could give us an advantage when we confront it. (The False Aeteperax does not dwell here, but rather in a cave in the mountains.)

The druid Azmur has agreed to surreptitiously help us, and can be contacted by dropping leaves in the monastery fountain. I have promised to return his wife to him. I hope I can deliver.

An Ill Wind
Sofie's Journal

Toilday, 2 Desnus, 4723 

I was nearly throttled to death by living air from the inside out and my throat is still hoarse. But at least Tagnus has returned from that damned gem.

That was the first surprise of the last few hours, the dwarf poofing back out of the strange emerald. Apparently its some sort of cursed artifact that he can't get rid of, and it will periodically pull him inside in a sort of stasis. Why he never bothered to mention this complication during the six weeks we have known him is unfortunately quite understandable, given his nature.

Still, it was good to have him back at our side once more as we decided our next move in this not-so-abandoned monastery. The druid had given us a layout of the ground floor and some advice on where to find the lieutenants of the False Aeteperax. We decided that our first move would be against the enormous man-bat, based on the simple fact that he was closest.

Knives, Lennox, and Tagnus scouted ahead, making their way upstairs into the library. But the big grioth sensed their presence and let out a shriek. Aldern, Maffei and I raced to join the fray.

For the second time, I willing let the rage take me. The fury was perhaps too blinding—I missed every swing of my sword, save for the last one, which ended the monster. That time, I felt an icy wrath flow through me and saw frost gather on my blade. Sigrun's legacy made manifest in steel. The others must have witnessed it, but no one's asked any questions yet, for which I am grateful.

With the grioth dead, we explored the surrounding area and discovered the horrible fate that befell the dragon's half-orc minion, the one who dared to speak its name. He was locked inside one of the monks' sensory deprivation pod and left to die of hunger and thirst. A truly vile and dishonorable execution. I asked if Aldern or Tagnus had the power to make the dead speak, so we could learn the dragon's true name, but they lack such arcane knowledge. We left the body where it was, perhaps to retrieve it later so that one of the clerics in town could attempt the spell.

Traveling down a side passage, Tagnus discovered a secret door. Inside was a weird metal grid, and in the far corner was a long-dead monk. I thought this might be our missing abbot, but it wasn't. When I drew close to inspect the body, this vicious creature made out of air and smoke rose up to attack me. It jammed some sort of pseudopod down my throat and tried to choke the life out of me from the inside! I went berserk again, but could do little to harm it or break free.

Thankfully, my friends were there to slay the creature and release me from its grip. Aldern's magic once again proved to be a lifesaver. After the battle was done, we discovered that the dead monk had some power magic scrolls on her. Aldern also realized that the metal grid on the floor was intended to assist with summoning magic. Clearly this air creature did not stay bound to its summoner.

I must lay down my quill, Tagnus has some berries for me and we are about to move on.

Talking to Snakes
Sofie's Journal

Toilday, 2 Desnus, 4723

I grow very tired of being felt up by evil spirits while my mind is not my own. Yet it seems to be a recurring feature of this quest we have gotten caught up in.

We moved on from the secret air elemental chamber, we found what was once the monastery kitchen and which is now an alchemists lab. Clearly, this is frequented by the dragon's alchemist lieutenant.  Aldern recognized the brewing compounds as elements of a potion of protection against acid—perhaps an insurance policy against the False Aeteperax? We took the potion components and then trashed the lab.

From there, we found a bell tower and make our way up the inside. Halfway up, we found a side door. Knives discovered that it led to a rooftop garden and the lunar naga, [[:thaena | Thaena]], that [[:azmur | Azmur Kell]] had warned us about. She spotted Knives but mistook her for another servant of the False Aeteperax. 

Picking their words carefully, Knives and Aldern were able to extract the information we needed and gracefully exit the conversation with the naga none the wiser. I did my best to bite my tongue during the discussion, fearful that my expression alone would give us away. 

Through the naga we learned the dragon's true name, "Szangi." We learned the location of his lair. And we learned where to find the alchemist lieutenant. Knives and Aldern learned all this without spilling any blood, a credit to their negotiating skills. We're lucky Tagnus was distracted picking lint out of his beard.

We continued ascending the tower to confront the alchemist Pentosh in the belfry. She threw bombs, summoned biting vermin, and otherwise put up a good fight. Tagnus managed to get a good hit in with his axe before the damn gem swallowed him up again. This is going to be a problem, isn't it?

After scavenging what we could from Pentosh's remains, we continued our exploration of the monastery. I'd like to know as much as possible about the forces we are tangling with here and what Szangi is trying to get ahold of with his demand.

Unfortunately, the next chamber we explored contained some sort of horrible incorporeal undead creatures that left most of the party dazed and sapped of life force. Aldern and Maffei were able to destroy the monsters and save our skins, but at that point we retreated back to the safe room.

With Tagnus still in his gem, we signaled the druid Azmur Kell to come help us heal  up and recover from the draining attacks of the undead. I am on watch duty now, while the others sleep. We've made good progress in our efforts against the dragon, but I can only hope we are ready when the time comes to face him. What choice do we have, though, with Belhaim at risk and our swords pledged to this cause? 

I never yearned to follow my ancestor's footsteps, but I hope that I am worthy of her legacy and the dragon-slaying weapons that Tula Belhaim bequeathed us. Hopefully that, plus knowing his true name, will be enough to overcome whatever dark magics this Szangi commands.

The Aspirant's Path
Sophie's Journal

Wealday, 3 Desnus, 4723

There is nowhere I can go on this damnable quest that doesn't involve me getting wet somehow, is there? But after the last few hours of self-inflicted hell we've been through, a good soak in a pool could be just the thing to settle my nerves. But I get ahead of myself.

After an uneventful night in the monastery "safe room," we awoke to a cold breakfast and then decided to continue exploring the grounds. We hoped to find out more about the monastery as well as the missing key to the forbidden room with the dark window that the dragon Szangi was using to peer into the Dominion of the Black.

Our first stop was an unexplored section upstairs, where we found a long-abandoned library. Any real texts of value had sadly been plundered. I did find a copy of Trastor's Basic Bestiary, Vol. II with some vulgar but quite anatomically accurate marginalia, which I've held onto for further inspection.

From their we headed downstairs and fund ourselves in a chamber full of monk statues. Aldern, surprisingly, recognized it as the start of the Aspirant's Path, a maze of obstacles that served as a proving ground for Irori acolytes. Once Lennox found the inevitable secret door, we decided to explore the maze.

The next chamber featured a large open pit and a narrow ledge around it. Knives had some trouble getting across, but wisely wore a safety rope. Aldern tried to show off by rigging a rope onto his crossbow and firing it into the ceiling. His attempt to swing across was rather painful to watch, and even more so for him.

Beyond the pit room, we found a network of hallways. Aldern once again recalled that they would all eventually lead to the same destination. Knives suspects that the wizard's familiarity with Irori doctrine was all due to his efforts to woo one of the god's followers at university. I'd like to think athletic girls are his type, but I'm sure Knives was just talking shit like usual.

The first room we came across in the hallway network was a strange chamber with three large stone daises holding octopus shaped pedestals that grasped globes of cloudy liquid. (The third dais had actually been smashed and its liquid long since stained the stone). A nearby cabinet contained three beads of force, these magic beans that explode into bubble of force when thrown. Aldern recognized this room as a test of wills, one of the most difficult and dangerous in the Aspirant's Path.

Knives' attempt to cross was cut short when some ill effect left her dazed. Aldern pulled her back to the corridor, then made his own brave attempt to cross while wearing a safety rope. Instead of being dazed, he was overcome with a compulsion to break the central glass orb. Lennox and I pulled him back to safety. I had to hold him tight until his senses returned.

We surmised that the orb contained a dangerous entity known as a brain ooze. Knives wanted to just leave and try a different path, but I foolishly persuaded the group to attack the entity. I thought that if we all struck it at one, we could bring it down. After all, how much damage could an exposed brain take?

I was wrong.

Our initial attack struck true, releasing the entity, which looked like a big flying brain with tentacles. But it was far from finished. Soon, Lennox and Maffei were dazed while the monsters oily grip closed aroud the minds of Knives and I, compelling us to attack our friend Aldern.

I hurt him. I cut him with my sword. The thing I have been fearing every time I entered a berserker rage I did at the creature's command, like a puppet on a string. I hope he can forgive me.

Aldern was amazing. His searing rays of fire lashed the creature again and again, finally bringing it down with a splat. It was like something out of mother's songs, except the wizard was the hero in this story. We owe him our lives. 

Things might have been different if Tagnus were here, but he remained frustratingly locked away in his gem throughout our peril.

The brain ooze room led directly into a ready room. Like a tour guide, he explained that this was where acolytes were told they had succeeded their trials. If they believed that assurance, they failed. There were two exits, one of them a door and the other another looping hallway. Believing the door was intended for failed aspirants, we traveled down the hallway to a chamber filled with water. Little islands of dry land served as stepping stones to get across.

Knives, Lennox, and Maffei made the jump easily, while Aldern used magic to aid his running jump. I was not taking any chances with getting wet.

I am a daughter of a seafaring people and enjoy a good swim, but over the last few months I have become more and more offended at getting soaked by accident while adventuring. So I asked the others to wait and stowed away my armor before making the jump. I landed high and dry on the opposite shore.

Aldern insisted on helping me back into my armor. He kept pulling things too tight, but I was too happy that he was still talking to me to say no. He has such pretty hands, too, so I didn't mind seeing them up close.

Stepping out of the water chamber, we came to a familiar intersection and realized we had been walking in circles. We'd traversed the water for nothing! I insisted that we take the long way back around to the ready room, feeling like a fool twice over.

Opening the door in the ready room, we found a magic spring that Aldern says will restore and refresh us if we soak ourselves for an hour in it. We were debating whether Aldern should wait outside while we ladies took our turn, but he just started tying on a blindfold. There are wet grioth footprints by the pool, though, so I don't know if a bath is the best idea right now…

They are coming!

Kill the Man-Bat
Sofie's Journal

Wealday, 3 Desnus 4723 

It it is a truth universally accepted that if there is a pool of water, Sofie Gundarsdotter will somehow end up in it. I just never imagined I'd be drowning a man-bat in a magic fountain. 

It has, as you have no doubt surmised, been a long day. 

My last entry left off with our discovery of the magical restorative fountain after braving the dangers of the Aspirant's Path. Aldern got ahead of himself and waded out into the fountain, half-naked, and blindfolded himself so we could disrobe and enter. But before that could happen, we heard the rustling sound of grioths, the man-bat creatures that have been our bane these past few weeks. 

Two of the monsters flew out of a hole in the chamber wall. Lennox took a shot at them and I decided to wade out into the fountain and climb up onto one of these three platforms that rose out of the water. My aim was to put myself between the beasts and the rest of the party, especially poor blindfolded Aldern, and provoke them into attacking me. I may have said something inappropriate.

Then one of those fuckers let loose a blast of piercing noise that rattled around the inside of my skull, leaving me stunned, with Wyrmspite tumbling from limp fingers. Just as I was starting to recover, the other grioth unleashed a wave of eldritch energy that seemed to sap the life from my veins.

Both of the monsters were upon us now, flying overhead just out of sword reach. Aldern, free of the blindfold, unleashed more of his magic against them both. His fingers danced through the air and suddenly a cone of fire leaped from them to strike both of the man-bats. Assailed by spells, arrows, and blades, one of the creatures fell. The second, however, remained and unleashed another wave of life-draining energy.

I had dropped my sword, and the magical assault had driven me once more into a berserker fury. So, weaponless, I hurled myself up at the surviving grioth and tackled him into the fountain, where I proceeded to throttle him under the water. The others tell me I strangled the creature, but I have the barest memory of Maffei's blade snaking out past me towards its throat.

Whoever was responsible, both grioths were now dead and we hauled their bodies from the pool. Its magics swiftly cleansed the water of blood and gore, allowing us to pursue our original plan of bathing within it for an hour. The fight, on top of everything else today, had left us spent. I noticed Aldern in particular was in poor shape as I tied the blindfold back around him. If it weren't for the injuries, he'd honestly look quite fetching. Not that I exert much thought on such things.

This was also the first time that we women had bathed together. None of them mentioned the birthmark on my back, though all had chance to see it. That is a conversation waiting to happen, I'm sure of it. For the moment, though, we enjoyed the cool water and its refreshing magics. Aldern actually fell asleep, which created a bit of a bother waking him since he was out in the middle of pool, leaning against one of the platforms. I was about to strip back down and fetch him when Knives broke out her whip and cracked it fiercely, startling him awake. It was better than her original plan of throwing things at him.

We investigated the hole in the wall where the grioths had entered and deduced that it was some sort of secret entrance to the dragon's lair. Before pressing on, however, we agreed for the need to rest up and investigate the remaining loose ends in the monastery.

We have retreated back to the "safe room" that Azmur Kell had shown us. We've signaled for the druid's help, in order to make use of his healing magic. I hope that tomorrow proves to be mor productive, or at least lest painful. And I wish Tagnus would return—we could really use some of his unique talents.

Oathday, 4 Desnus 4723 

A dead old man just beat the shit out of me with his bare hands and I couldn't touch him. Thank Desna for Aldern's dancing fingers and their magic, otherwise I might not even be here to write this morning's events.

Bolstered by Azmur Kell's magic, we rose early and decided to continue our exploration of the monastery. So far, we hadn't found either the chamber with the mysterious "Dark Window" that the dragon had been communing with, nor the remains of the abbot who had vanished with the key to the room.

Knives and Lennox scouted ahead, as is their fashion, and discovered a large and seemingly empty Irori temple. Just as Knives declared that there was nothing of interest,Lennox found a trap door hidden beneath a prayer rug.

With her keen half-orc eyes, Knives descended and explored the tunnel beneath, which ended in another ladder leading up to another trap door. Warily peeking inside, she saw a small room and a figure seated in a stone chair. She reported back to us and together we traveled down to investigate. I was concerned that it might be a zombie monk—and I was right!

The mummified body in the chair did not react until I tried to tap it on the head with Wyrmspite. Then it spoke up and said that if we seek to confront the chamber of the Dark Window we must prove ourselves up to the challenge. I told him that we had overcome his damn Aspirant's Path and he responded by attacking me!

For an elderly man who's been dead for 200 years, he hit pretty hard. The first punch knocked me into a blind rage, but he twisted out of the way of every sword strike. Knives and Maffei came after him, but with no better luck. Once again, Aldern's magics were a godsend as he burned the dry old mummy down to the bone. But the bones kept moving! It took another round of spells to finally put the monk down.

We salvaged several magic items from the ashes, plus the key. This was the abbot after all! Knives searched the cupboard in the small room and found ingredients for herbal poisons. I should probably make sure I sit between her and Aldern's drink from now on. She was kind enough to share a health potion, however, for which I am grateful.

I'm still aching all over from the beating the monk dished out, but I don't think there is any debilitating damage. Would be nice to have Tagnus around right now, though. We've managed to return through the trapdoor into the temple and are taking a breather.

The Dark Window
Sofie's Journal

Oathday, 4 Desnus, 4723

A lot of things were laid bare today. Some things I had thought would be kept hidden, and others that were right out in the open. I'm still a tangle of emotions, and getting my ass kicked halfway to Valenhall hasn't helped me collect my thoughts.

Having retrieved the key to the Dark Window chamber from a mummified but surprisingly sprightly monk, we decided to investigate the last major section of the monastery we'd not yet visited. It was a long hall with a vaulted ceiling that let in dim light through stained glass windows. There were statues of monks in various alcoves, but the more pressing feature was the four grioths hanging upside down on the ceiling. I deduced that the man-bats were most likely nocturnal creatures, and were thus sleeping on this bright spring morning.

We moved into position to ambush them, but I was a little clumsy on my feet and stirred them to wakefulness. It made little difference. The fight was brief, and I thankfully played little part in it. Lennox's arrows and Aldern's magic brought down one of the creatures. Knives snapped the neck of another with her whip. Aldern called forth a flaming sphere and then bounced it into the air to scorch a third creature. Lennox pinned the fourth to the ceiling with an arrow. My sole contribution was throw an axe and miss.

Once the dust had settled, we examined the hall and its statues, finding little of interest. This was when we realized we'd searched more or less the entire monastery and had not  found the Dark Window chamber. We must have missed something. While Aldern set about leafing through his spellbook for options, I pulled out the key I'd gotten from the dead monk, hoping that there might be some hidden clue on it. The key itself, however, felt strangely warm—more than it should be, even "pressed against my thigh" as Knives put it. After some experimentation in the long hallway, I realized that the key grew warmer or  colder depending on the direction I moved.

Aldern cast a spell, the oddly specific detect secret doors, but was a bit premature—the key was pointing us towards the other side of the monastery. His spell would only last five minutes, so I grabbed his elegant hand and dashed off with the key held in front of me. The rest of the group hurried along after us. By the time we reached the monastery library, the key had grown uncomfortably hot. Aldern's magic was able to penetrate the illusion hiding the secret door and with a turn of a key a hidden passage was opened to us.

There were tracks in the tunnel—grioth man-bats—all of them leading out but never in. It was not a difficult intuitive leap to suspect that whatever lay at the end of this passage was where the grioths were coming from. But first we were confronted with a steel door inscribed with a warning that "dark oblivion lies beyond." We debated whether to press further, with poor frightened Lennox hesitating a long time before finally opening the door.

In the chamber beyond, a strange rectangle hung suspended in the air, looking like a hole through reality to a realm of murky darkness and fading, distant stars. The rectangle was bound within a square made of magic runes carved into the floor. Two smaller squares of runes lay in front of it. I kept my sword drawn while Aldern spent a few minutes studying the window and the runes.

Knives must have heard it first, for she perked right up and stared towards a shadowy corner of the chamber just before the rest of us as a frightful monster seemed to literally step out of the shadows as if through a door. It stood a good 12 feet tall and looked like a tree crossed with a spider by way of a squid. It threatened us, so I moved to put myself between it and the group. Lennox struck it with an arrow, Aldern blasted it with a lightning bolt and Maffei hit it with her own magic. Knives… hesitated. Letting the dragon off the leash, I took a raging swing at the creature with my sword and cut open a sightly gash in its bark-like skin.

Then the monster let out a terrible howl in our minds that rattled our thoughts and sent pain lancing down our spines. Aldern collapsed, and poor Yuki the owl with him. Still hurting from the fight with the dead monk, I was nearly knocked out as well. The psychic blast left me disoriented to the point that I attacked Maffei by mistake. Knives, meanwhile, was under some kind of spell of the creatures and was denouncing us for harming it.

By the time I went from befuddled back to berserk, Lennox had mistakenly shot Knives with an arrow and knocked the half-orc woman unconscious. The tree-spider-squid thing had attacked Maffei and I, but lost its footing. I was able to leap behind it to flank the aberration with our shadowy friend. Then it rose back to its full height, despite our best efforts, and grasped me with a tentacle. 

I've seen enough Minkaian erotic woodblock prints to know where that was going and wanted no part of it, but I was barely on my feet. 

Aldern and Knives were both out. Maffei was having trouble cutting through its bark. Lennox had rush over to Aldern to search the wizard for a potion to revive him, only to realize it was Knives who had the healing potion. I thought that this was the end for us, killed by some monstrosity from the blackest depths of reality here in this musty monastery. But in my mad fury, I was determined to make such an end of it to be worthy of entrance to Valenhall.

Gorum must have been with me in that moment as I swung Wyrmspite again and again, hacking at the abomination until I had cut through its trunk like a lumberjack. 

Lennox used Knives' potion to revive Aldern, but the half-orc could not be roused to consciousness. Aldern then identified the dead monster as an eldritch aberration known as a yangethe. We were indeed lucky to be alive!

Our wizard then put his talents to good use, determining that the smaller runic squares on the floor would enhance any force magic aimed at the mirror. We used our last bead of force, followed by one of Aldern's missiles, to shatter the window into a thousand thousand pieces.

In order to recover from the pummeling, we then trekked down to the magical restorative pool at the end of the Aspirant's Path. Aldern, the cheeky boy, tried to argue that he didn't need to wear a blindfold, but Lennox set him straight. We undressed Knives and carefully propped her up in the pool so that its waters would heal her, then stripped down to join her. Lennox asked after my birthmark, a question that was bound to happen sooner or later.

I told the story of how the ancient founder of my House, Sigrun, battled a white dragon and ate its heart. I told them how she had been wounded over her right should by the dragon's claws and some of the wyrm's blood had seeped in to mix with hers. I left out the fact that she had carved her way into the dragon to get at its heart. Seemed too gruesome. I explained that the blood had imbued Sigrun with part of the white dragon's primal fury, which she passed to her descendants. The birthmark appears on those who carry the curse of the berserker, something I never wanted.

When I shared my plans to eat Szangi's heart to honor my ancestor, Aldern spoke up. He was more subdued and humble than I'd ever seen him before, even under that blindfold. he explained that he needed the heart as a reagent for a ritual to cure his sister. She had been stricken with some magical affliction after one of Aldern's experiments had gone awry, and he has a limited time to concoct a cure.

Before I had time to process this revelation, however, we had an unexpected visitor.

The gem that Lennox was inexplicably wearing around her neck in the bath suddenly flared a bright green. This was followed by a splash, and then a soggy dwarf head spluttering up from beneath the water to gawk at us. I shrieked and tried to cover myself, then clumsily tried to get to knives to cover her, failing at both. Lennox did the same, and our cries sparked Aldern to tear off his blindfold and fumble for his crossbow. I went from shrieking to cursing at Tagnus and tried to cover his eyes with his beard.

"Calm down lass," the hairy little man said, "I've seen more titties that you've seen people."

Tagnus set about casting healing magic on all of us there and then. Given these were "touch" spells, it was quite uncomfortable. Though I will admit that under my anger and embarrassment, I was so very glad to see our druid once more. I may have scooped him into a hug after he healed up my wounds.

Aldern, gentleman that he is, put his blindfold back on. While I'm sorry the others also had their modesty compromised, I don't mind that he got a quick look. It's not as if I hadn't taken a few peeks at his delicates, either. By accident, of course.

Tagnus was able to get Knives revived as well, much to her dismay. The dwarf mentioned having been up to adventures in the First World, which he only half remembers. Much as the sight of his first leering look will haunt me, I'm very glad to have him back. We need his magic, his strength, and perhaps even his rough and ready attitude if we are to face this dragon, rescue Azmur Kell's wife, and save all of Belhaim.

Today's pretty much shot, however, so that will have to wait for later.

Delivering the Dragon's Due
Sofie's Journal

Oathday, 4 Desnus, 4723

Despite the cheer of Tagnus' return, things took a mordant turn when we settled in to rest. It's mostly my fault.

While we were all soaking in the monks' healing pool, we brought the dwarf up to speed on our events. He was rather disappointed we hadn't acquired more plunder in his absence. 

Tagnus told us that his experiences within the gem weren't particularly interesting due to the lack of violence, and the ale was disappointing. Much to our dismay, he told this story while undressing to join us in the pool. I suppose that makes us all even by this point, but I would have preferred to leave the balance unclaimed if I could.

Knives asked if Tagnus has tried to destroy or abandon his strange gem. He explained that it always returned to his possession and was impervious to damage. Knives insisted on tossing it against the stone wall. The jewel bounced off the wall and skipped back across the water to Tagnus as if drawn by a magnet.

One the pool's blessing had thoroughly soaked in, we dried off and retrieved our clothes. Or, in my case, retrieved my clothes and then dried off. Aldern's prestidigitation spell is just so handy, even if it always tickles. I've just gotten so used to him always being there with that spell. Which is good, since I have a habit of falling into any available pool of water.

We regrouped in the safe room upstairs to rest after our long day of fighting. That was when I decided to start a conversation about death.

It is a reasonable thing to discuss before fighting a dragon, yes? And I wanted to be sure that should I fall, my remains would receive a proper Ulfen burial if my corpse proved impossible to raise back from the dead. I also wanted to give Aldern the letter I wrote to my parents to send if I perish. He is the smartest among us, and always stands at the back, so he is the most likely to survive. At least, that is what I tell myself.

Anyway, I think I ended up spoiling everyone's afternoon with talk about death. Worse, I may have inadvertently planted the idea in Knives head of killing herself so that Tagnus could reincarnate her in a new body of a different race. That is pure foolishness, and I feel so sad that Knives thinks so little of her lovely green self that she would even consider such a thing. If we survive the battle, I must do something nice for her to remind her how amazing she is already.

I need to set down my quill and take up first watch. I'll write more tomorrow, I hope.

Fireday, 5 Desnus, 4723 (Morning)

We had a bit of excitement last night when Knives heard some noises from the courtyard during her watch. It was kobolds, investigating the disappearance of the grioths we killed. Knives woke Lennox, myself and (with some effort) Tagnus. Aldern slept like a babe through the whole thing, but he needs his wizard sleep.

I started to put on my armor, but quickly realized how foolish that was and ran out into the courtyard in nothing but a tunic with sword and shield to hand. By then, Lennox had already brought down one of the kobolds and Knives was chasing the rest. Tagnus suddenly swooped overhead using the cloak of the bat he had been obsessing over earlier. He swiftly vanished into the darkness. 

I could barely see anything in the dark of night, but I heard some sickening sounds up ahead. It was at this point that I realized we'd left sleeping Aldern and Maffei unguarded. To keep any other surviving minions of the dragon off balance, I let Lennox know that they should hide the bodies, then I returned to the safe room. Thankfully, nothing had gone ill since I'd stepped away.

The others returned not too long after. Knives, Tagnus and Lennox had managed to slay four kobolds, then dumped the bodies in the great hall with the dead grioths. Tagnus flopped down and was snoring immediately. A talent that I envy.

This morning, we broke our fast and then gathered back in the pool to gain its blessing. Knives and I had a friendly race swimming laps in the pool. Aldern, always thoughtful, prepared vials of acid resistance to protect us from the dragon's noxious breath. Tagnus likewise bestowed a spell of barkskin upon me, though he didn't have to pinch. We invited Azmur Kel to join us in confronting the dragon and rescuing his wife.

I also prepared the last of my blue woad to mark my face and arms with the colors of a shieldmaiden. We will set out for the dragon's lair momentarily. I'm ashamed to admit how very afraid I am. But I have never believed in anything as much as I do in this moment, defending Belhaim from this vile wyrm.

If I do not write again soon, I will see you in Valenhall.

Fireday, 5 Desnus, 4723 (Afternoon)

Ding dong, the dragon's dead! We cut him down and lopped his head! Ding dong the vile dragon's dead!

We did it. It is honestly hard for me to believe, even having driven Wyrmsmite into Szangi's brain with my own hands. But I am once again getting ahead of myself.

It was a long, nerve-wracking trek through the tunnel, with Knives and Tagnus scouting ahead. We finally arrived at a large chamber with two exits. We believed that the dragon's lair lay ahead of us, but there were grioth tracks leading to the left. We decided to go there first to clear out any man-bats and avoid having any enemies at our back.

That passage to the left opened out onto a large stone shelf overlooking a vast chamber with a pool in the far corner and stone platforms rising from the center. It was about the time the dragon swooped down from its perch on the ceiling that I realized this was indeed Szangi's lair.

The dragon was indignant and overconfident. Knives tried to trick it into thinking we were there to deliver the ransom. I attempted to use the distraction to drink my potion of resist acid. It did not go unnoticed.

Maffei closed in on the creature, but her blades couldn't get through its armor. I let my own dragon off the leash and charged the creature, channeling the icy fury in my veins to carve into its emerald flank while shouting its name. 

That seemed to leave the dragon discombobulated and when it tried to strike at mean it slipped and fell down into the chamber. That gave my friends a chance to spread out and take their positions.

The fight was a bit of a blur. The dragon kept moving from place to place, at one point swooping overhead to blast Maffei, Knives, Lennox and Tagnus with its acid breath. Lennox had trouble punching through its scales even with her dragonsbane arrows

We kept repeating its name, which seemed to distract it. Finally, we were able to pin it down on a perch long enough for Tagnus and I to get close. Aldern used a magic scroll to summon a powerful celestial creature, an azata he called it, which wounded the dragon with a gleaming arrow.

The green wyrm took flight and I leapt onto its back. I managed to get up to its neck and drove Wyrmsmite up through its chin into its brain. Szangi came crashing down and I somehow managed to roll clear. We gathered round the body to make sure it was dead; I resolved the matter by cutting off its head. Aldern wanted to get to its heart, so I sliced open its chest before the last berserk energy left me and I sank to the ground. Aldern took what he needed while Tagnus harvested scales and claws. 

Azmur took off across the lake to find his very pregnant wife Rima, who the dragon was holding hostage by his treasure hoard. She was very pleased to find the wyrm dead.

Once our business with the corpse was done, we decided to set out across the lake. I stripped down to a tunic to cross, while the others swam in their full gear except for Lennox who used her boots to walk across the wall. Poor Aldern and Knives had a little trouble in the water and needed to recover on the other end.

The dragon's treasure was arranged in a series of chests. The first few we investigated contained incredibly ancient and valuable books plundered from the monastery. I can't wait to pore over them!

The dragon also had some coins, gems and several interesting magical items. Knives and Tagnus were disappointed by the books, but their spirits lifted at the sight of the more conventional loot. Transporting all this treasure will be quite a logistical challenge, but with the magic at our disposal we should be able to manage.

That will wait for tomorrow however, as we have decided to camp here for the day. I had to borrow Lennox's boots to cross the lake and collect my armor where I'd left it, which was a little embarrassing. Now, I need to put this aside and start examining the monk's library.

Drengr Knights
Sofie's Journal

Starday, 6 Desnus, 4723

What a delightful day it has been! We woke refreshed in the dragon's treasure grotto and set about determining how best to transport the loot back to Belhaim. Ultimately, Aldern summoned forth multiple floating disks. I offered to borrow Lennox's spiderclimbing boots to carry him across, but he simply used the boots himself. The rest of us resorted to swimming across the lake. 

The water was enjoyably cool, but it was about halfway across when Tagnus swooped overhead using his cloak of the bat and I realized I could have used my new winged boots to just fly across. I saw rueful looks on Knives, Lennox, and even Aldern's faces, as if we each simultaneously realized we had a better way across. Still, it was a simple matter for Aldern to dry us off with prestidigitation.

Other the other side of the lake, we reunited with Azmur and Rima Kel who weren't willing to return to town without escort. We were happy to oblige, and accompanied them through the tunnels and back up into the monastery. There we encountered the Sheriff and some more competent guards, who had finished off the remaining kobolds. We let the Sheriff know of our victory, and he detailed several guards to escort us back to the village.

On the way back, Aldern, Knives and I ended up having a fascinating conversation about finances. Aldern has this plan to use the Hunclay manor as a sort of inn, and Knives is interested in selling her share instead of investing in it. I had some trouble following the terminology, but I was able to find some analogies from the Linnorm Kingdoms. By the end, I think Aldern and I were really on the same page.

When we arrived back in Belhaim, we immediately spread the word that the dragon was defeated. It was so heart-warming to see the relief and joy come over the people of the village. 

We traveled to the Baroness' estate to report our success to her. I also let her know about the iron veins I spotted in the dragon's tunnels. The Baroness asked us to return the next day to receive our reward.

So we returned to the Wise Piper Inn, where [[:talia | Talia]] prepared a wonderful bath for us and then a delicious, sumptuous feast. We stowed the dragon's treasure down in the cellar where Maffei is staying. Aldern and I ventured down there after dinner to read through the monk's books.

Aldern and I got to talking about his plans going forward. He is going to leave within a week to return to his sister for this ritual. I wished him well, though I managed to put my foot in it by hoping that his sister forgives him. But after the ritual takes place, he will be free to do whatever he wishes. I invited to accompany me on my research and he said that sounded like something he'd like. 

I got a little flustered at this point. We both did, really, and wished each other and Maffei a good night.

It is so strange to think that Aldern will be gone in a few days. I've known him for what, two months, but it is hard to imagine him not being in my life. But it's been such a crazy time, with the collapsing tower, the auction, and then the dragon's treat hanging over our heads. For the first time in a long time, the threat of danger is no longer present and I feel a little unmoored by it.

But it is late and I do myself no good worrying into the night.

Sunday, 7 Desnus, 4723 

I have not had fun like today in at least a year, maybe longer. Everything just seemed to go right and I'm ending the day feeling wonderful.

Talia had another amazing breakfast waiting for us in the morning. We could see that the village was getting ready for some sort of celebration, and I hired a pair of local children to get some items for my own preparations.

Our first stop was the Baroness' manor, where we were greeted by significant personages from throughout Belhaim. The Baroness had gathered them there to serve as witnesses as she proclaimed us "Knights of Taldor." She addressed us all by our full names, even Knives, who spent the rest of the day paranoid about how her real name had been uncovered. 

I needed to do a little asking of my own to understand exactly what this new title means. I was concerned that there might be feudal obligations or something, but it appears to primarily an honorific that grants us the privileges of the lowest rung of Taldor's intricate noble hierarchy. It was a relief to know I hadn't suddenly pledged to serve the Grand Prince of Taldor or something—my only King is White Estrid. 

I explained to the others afterwards that we don't really have knights in the Linnorm Kingdoms, but we do have an honorific that our party has most certainly earned: drengr. The translation into Common is a little tricky, but my best rendition is "honorable badass." That seemed to go over well.

From there, we left the Baroness to join in the festivities the village had organized to celebrate the dragon's defeat. After feasting and drinking for awhile, I tried to teach the others how to play the Blind Viking Game, Jomswikinger

Aldern was the only one who volunteered to play, so we spent a good ten minutes chasing each other blindfolded around a chest trying hit each other with bags of leaves. It was amazing! I honestly could listen to him call out "Sofie, may I hit you with my sack?" all day. He always made it sound different and special every time. He did not do too badly for his first game, landing a solid hit on me before I vanquished him.

A little later in the day, I pulled Knives aside to let her know that I would keep her name secret and would defend her from any enemies that come looking for her. The others pledged to keep her secret as well, even Aldern. The two of them seemed to have a real breakthrough moment of mutual respect. Unfortunately, in the midst of the celebrations Tagnus somehow vanished back into his gem.

I figured our group needed a name and tried to get "Drengr Knights" to catch on, but was having trouble making headway. The rest of the party seemed to like it though, so maybe it is just a matter of time.

The festivities were interrupted when Rima Kel went into labor and was rushed to the temple of Shelyn, where she safely gave birth to twins, Briar and Briany. 

It has been a truly joyous day, but an exhausting one as well. I am going to take an early night of it, and I cannot wait for what tomorrow will bring.

Moonday, 8 Desnus, 4723

He's gone. I'm still not sure it has really sunk in yet. Aldern is gone, and I'm still here in Belhaim.

I got up early to go for a run by the river and found him packing up. He said he needed to get going sooner than expected, as was going to leave Yuki in my care until he returned. It was such a shock. I had thought we would have an entire week before he'd leave.

I was so shocked that I completely forgot myself and pulled him into a kiss. It was one of the sweetest I have ever had, but one of the saddest, too. I didn't truly understand how much he meant to me until I was about to lose him for weeks or months or longer.

And he wasn't just leaving Yuki, he was also leaving behind his portion of the treasure, too! Part of it would go towards buying out Knives' share of the manor and the rest is to be split among us. He literally left a small fortune on the table for us as he was going off to cure his sister. Aldern can be a bit full of himself and he says mean things from time to time, but underneath all that he has a kind and generous soul. And he left Belhaim with more than just the dragon's heart.

After he was gone, I stayed in the common room to tend to Yuki. Knives came down a little later and I explained that Aldern had left. "Did you fuck him?" were the first words out of her mouth. She cynically believes that men abandon you after getting what they want, and was pleased that I was not intimate with Aldern. I got a little flustered when I told her how wrong she was about him and showed her the money he'd left behind. 

That at least changed Knives' opinion of him and of my relationship with him. Now she wants me to fuck him, to keep him happy and "generous." She can be so crude and money-grubbing sometimes, though I know it's just from the hard life she's had to live.

And she's right about one thing. I was so foolish to dance around my feelings for so long. I'm not a silly teenager, I am twenty years of age and I should act it.  When Aldern comes back, I'm going to steal more than just a kiss.

I miss him already.


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