The Dragon's Demand

Reckoning with Roaghaz
Sofie's Journal

Starday, 25 Pharast, 4723

I beat the kobold chieftain with my staff until it shattered over his ruined skull. I've had that staff for a month, since I landed in Taldor. It was to accompany me on my scholarly expedition into the Verduran Forest. Now it's just another victim of my beserker episodes. But I get ahead of myself.

We awoke in the kobold caverns where we'd pursued the Witch Tower saboteurs yesterday. We left Nighttail to watch over the prisoners, then cautiously descended to the floor below. Knives led the way thanks to her darkvision. Aldern cast his light spell on my signal whistle, so it could be tucked into my tunic to dim the light. A large stone pillar shielded us from sight in the chamber beyond. Knives crept around the corner and spied two kobolds and a pair of animated human skeletons by a profane altar. They seemed to be expecting us, but we had the drop on them.

At least until Aldern poked his head around the corner and complained how "tacky" their demon altar was. What is wrong with that wizard!

Tagnus and Lennox made short work of the skeletons and soon it was just the lone kobold priestess left. Her fell magic was strong, but not strong enough. Strange, though. When she was slain, her body vanished from her robes as if it had been summoned to join its master in the Abyss.

Knives and Lennox then scouted the corridor and disabled an ingenious oil trap, recovering several bottles of alchemist's fire. I have trouble imagining these foolish kobolds successfully concocting alchemical potions, but they have shown a certain raw cunning.

Our friends' scouting attracted the attention of a guard slurk (Odobenus Bufo) and some kobolds protecting the egg chamber. Knives and I had a firsthand experience with their slime spray, which was more odoriferous than the texts had described. The sensation of being coated in sticky, viscous slime and then feeling it harden into resin is one I'd rather not encounter again. I was later able to go back and examine the creature's body afterward and discovered some fascinating signs of how kobold domestication has impacted this breed compared to the wild versions that Voadys encountered.

Anyway, after we killed the creature and the guards, we realized that we had captured the tribe's eggs. I proposed we use them as leverage to force the remaining kobolds to surrender—with one exception. We all agreed that Chief Roaghaz, the architect of Belhaim's woe, deserved only death. Aldern picked up one of the eggs to emphasize our point.

The clan's great hall was empty, save for two guards at the far end protecting access to the chief's area, which was separated from the rest of the hall by two boulders. Knives crept inside and dispatched one of the guards, while Lennox short down the other. Roaghaz was alerted however, and as the red beserker mists closed around my vision, I held up my nithing staff and called out a challenge. Roaghaz responded in kind and his followers, though rattled, refused to surrender.

My memory of the battle is spotty. I know that the kobold chief summoned up an enormous spider web that filled the great hall and made reaching him challenging. Especially for Tagnus, whose beard kept getting tangled. Knives and I cornered Roaghaz, but he used a cheap sorcerous trick to conjure up mirror duplicates that made it hard to strike true against him. There were other kobolds, too. I think Lennox killed one. Aldern was trapped on the other side of the web and had to slowly burn his way through.

The kobold chief had this nasty wand that battered Knives and myself again and again with missiles of magic energy—similar to Aldern's magick I believe, but in a less attractive color. Only my berserk adrenaline kept me upright, but I delivered the final blow, breaking my nithing staff over Roaghaz's head. 

While I recovered from the ordeal, the last kobold surrendered. We handed him over to Nighttail and gave her control of the eggs. She scrawled "Aldern" on the one that he had carried. We plundered the chief's gear and discovered a treasure chest which contained several dragon scales: an ancient, enormous black one and several smaller, fresher green ones. Aeteperax, the tribe's "god," was said to be a black dragon, so the green scales are unexpected. A new mystery?

It will have to wait. We have a long trek ahead of us back to Belhaim, where I am in definite need of a bath.

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Into the Wizard's Manor
Sofie's Journal

Starday, 25 Pharast, 4723

I have never been happier to take a bath than I was today. Aldern's magics were handy in the kobold tunnels, even if they tickled, but nothing gives you than deep clean feeling like a nice cold bath. When I closed my eyes, it almost felt like I was floating in the sea off Dragon Claw Point. Then I opened them and I was still in Belhaim.

With Chief Roaghaz dead and the surviving kobolds following Nighttail deeper into the forest, we trekked back to town. On the way, we agreed not to meet with the baroness until tomorrow, after we've cleaned up and recovered. We also agreed not to investigate the wizard's manor until after speaking to her. For some reason everyone thought this was my idea, but it's just common sense.

Talia, the proprietress of the Wise Piper Inn, had drinks and baths quickly drawn for us. She has been a most attentive and gracious host. Once I was convinced that the slurk slime, kobold viscera, and other assorted pollutants had been thoroughly cleansed from me, I ran some errands around town.

The town's only leather worker is abusing his monopoly power to inflict his sense of "humor" on the town. I must be cautious when I see him next. Pranks aside, he does good work and I have commissioned him to make a scabbard for my new longsword. Ordinarily I would not go to such lengths, but I have the spare coin and a matching scabbard would be most elegant. If I am to be dealing with the baroness and Aldern and others of refined taste, I must dress appropriately.

The town blacksmith is a half-orc with a gruff manner and a stubborn persistence in trying to press more wares upon me than necessary. We had a brief cultural exchange about ax handling and nautical terminology, and I unfortunately had to put my foot down to walk away with just two throwing axes and a chain shirt. I honestly wish these weren't necessary, but it is clear that even more dangerous creatures than kobolds are lurking in the vicinity of the village. If I am to continue my research here, I must be well-armed and protected. I haven't worn ring mail since my shield maiden training four years ago. 

My final errand was to the local temple. There are actually two in town, an Abadarian temple and one to the goddess Shelyn. Having had my fill of paperwork at the university, I visited the Shelynites to inquire about putting to rest the bones of the haunted souls we encountered beneath the Witch Tower. The priest was most helpful and we jointly commended their remains to the earth. Afterwords, the red-headed cleric offered to discuss theological traditions with me—but it seemed like he was asking for a more "intimate" conversation than I was comfortable with. I had to quickly make my farewells. Though I do wonder if I should have stayed a little longer…

Unless he was purchasing supplies off other guests, Tagnus must have left the inn at some point. But when I returned he was seated at the same place when I'd left, just with more empty mugs and plates in front of him, and a bundle of new gear beside him.

Knives and Aldern had already found a table and were saving seats for the rest of us. I summarized my visit at the temple and we enjoyed more of Talia's delicious food. I didn't realize how hungry I was until then and ate like a starving wolf.

Sleep beckons to me now, so I must conclude here for the night. It is so good to be resting in a soft bed once more.

Sunday, 26 Pharast, 4723

I killed a magic bear by driving a sword up it's ass. And I suspect that will be far from the strangest thing to happen today as we explore the wizard's manor. But I get ahead of myself.

I had a troubled sleep last night, the same nightmares that followed me from Absalom, now with new details from my latest episodes. I went for a run to clear my head, followed by a dip in the river. The cold water did me good.

When I returned for breakfast, I found Aldern concerned about his owl Yuki. She had not returned in the night and he intended to search for her at the Malak Dairy. I was ready to go with him when Knives announced she intended to meet with the baroness about our payment. Knives may be a gifted merchant, but she is common born and a half-orc at that. I've seen how these southern nobles behave and I wanted to make sure our party was treated with respect. So I reluctantly tagged along to the Devy estate.

The baroness was cordial, and paid us our promised reward. She was very pleased that the kobolds had been ejected from the quarry, but learning about the dragon scales and the kobolds' worship of Aeteperax clearly shook her. I asked if there was more information available on the dead dragon, and was directed back to the temple of Shelyn. Oh, joy.

The baroness also told us that with Balthus Hunclay confirmed dead, his manor and worldly possessions pass to a distant cousin, who plans to auction them off. First, though, the manor's numerous traps and hazards need to be disabled and Hunclay's possessions cataloged. The baroness asked us to undertake the task of deactivating the traps and identifying Hunclay's magic items. For this, she would pay us 5,000gp. However, we would all be bound by contract not to take any items from the manor. The baroness would not back down on this point and despite Knives' misgivings we accepted.

On the walk back to the inn, I spoke with Knives about contracts, fringe benefits, and the importance of not being greedy. I felt that we grew closer as friends after that exchange.

At the inn, we reunited with Aldern, Tagnus, and Lennox. They had been down to the dairy, where Yuki had safely guided the freed slaves. Bophre's family had provided a reward, but the two traveling merchants had little to offer but their thanks. I trekked out to the dairy myself and gave the couple half my share of the baroness' rewards,to help them rebuild their lives. I also paid my best wishes to Bophre and learned that Aldern had seen her, privately, just a while earlier. She is still wearied from her experience, but seems to be recovering well.

Back in town, I commiserated with Lennox and Knives about the half-orc blacksmith's gruff attitude.

With little else to do, the five of us headed for Hunclay's manor, just a few spear-throws away from the ruined Witch Tower. The two idiot guards outside had failed to dispose of the dead kobold on the doorstep. The kobold, thankfully, had set off the door trap and we were able to access the manor with the wizard's key. The door opened into a lushly furnished living room with many fine rugs and a cage of exotic birds.

From the doorway, Knives and Lennox scanned the room to look for any "surprises" the paranoid Hunclay might have left behind. Once they determined it was safe, they entered—and promptly fell into a pit trap. Fortunately, the fall only gave them some scrapes and bruises. We moved more cautiously from then on, with Aldern using his wizard skills to help search for magical traps.

I couldn't help but check on the poor birds. It looked like they hadn't been fed in days. There was no bird seed nearby, so I just plucked some crumbs from Tagnus' beard and gave them that. 

After searching some well-furnished but otherwise empty rooms, we arrived at the kitchen. There was an alcove with sleeping space for two servants, which lay abandoned. I found some bird seed in the pantry and returned to feed the birds. Aldern detected a magical aura emanating from a gem around the the ankle of one of them, so Tagnus and I gently retrieved it.

The last door in the kitchen appeared to have been barricaded shut from the other side. Tagnus had purchased a portable ram the other day, and with that we were able to force the door open. Inside we found a terrified man named Mathezic, one of the wizard's servants. He confirmed that Hunclay met with kobolds before disappearing. Apparently the staff have been trapped in the manor ever since, too terrified of the wizard's traps to stray far. The two other servants left, perhaps going elsewhere in the building. Mathezic's knowledge of the tower was limited, but he was able to warn us of some of the traps. After escorting the jittery man to the door, we scaled the stair case to the second floor.

It turns out that the wizard has an impressive library of astronomical lore, all of it shelved on display. He also has an interest in taxidermy as evidenced by the large female Verduran grizzly bear (Ursus Arctos Verduricus) posed upright in the chamber. Knives unlocked the door to Hunclay's bedroom, but I had to stop her before she could enter so that Aldern could scan the room with his magic. Sure enough, there was a magic trap on the room which would conjure up another grizzly if anyone entered.

When it was clear we had no means of disabling the trap, I volunteered to set it off but Tagnus beat me to the door. The dwarf has picked up a huge wooden tower shield, and though he is quite clumsy with it, the shield proved sufficient to protect him. The bear skin rug in the bedroom animated into some sort of corrupted Verduran grizzly, which clawed at Tagnus' barricade to not effect. I used the dwarf's broad shoulders as a springboard to leap over the beast, but caught my foot on a bedpost and ended up face down behind it. Lennox harpooned it with an arrow, Knives stuck it with her daggers, and Aldern blasted it with his magic. Then I lunged up from the floor to jab it with my sword, destroying the conjured creature.

Scouring the bedroom, we found the wizard's treasure. Most of it will still be there for the baroness' auditors to count. We also found a strange scrap of paper on his desk, with an incredibly bawdy and vulgar set of limericks. I immediately found this suspicious—wizards can be as lecherous as anyone else, but as academics their tastes run towards classier forms of erotica. Or so I've been told. Knives disagreed, but Aldern was able to confirm that the limericks were some sort of illusion, which could be deactivated with a code word.

The answer lay in the next room. The lock was warded with magic, so I just cut the door down. Inside was a wizard's laboratory, where we found alchemical devices, potions, and Hunclay's set of spellbooks. Aldern found a spell called Secret Note, which had code words scrawled in the margins. "Aucturn," "Eox," and "Carcosa" were all crossed out, so we spoke "Dominion" aloud to dispel the illusion. (Aucturn and Eox are both planets in the heavens, appropriate given Hunclay's interests, but this Carcosa I only recall as a city of ill-repute on another plane.)

We spoke the last code word, "Dominion," aloud to dispel the illusion. The note is a to do list, including Hunclay's meeting with "A's kobolds" and something about a "Dominion." "A" most likely means Aeteperax, which is concerning. What this "Dominion" is, I don't know.

Aldern practically dived into the spellbooks, and he's still poring over them, scribbling notes into his own book. His elegant eyebrows are furrowed in concentration more fervent than any any he displayed in the kobold clanhold.. I think he may be some time at this, so I'm going to take a look at this library. Perhaps I can find out more about Aeteperax and the "Dominion."

We still have the third floor and the cellar (which Mathizec warns is trapped) before we can be done with this place.

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Fish in a Barrel
Sofie's Journal

Sunday, 26 Pharast, 4723

I can now add "demon-slayer" to my resume, thanks to the recklessness of Balthus Hunclay. And I'm still seeing spots in my vision after walking through his blasted wall of light.

Following my last entry, we pried Aldern away from the wizard's books and ascended to the third floor of his manor. He maintained an impressive observatory there, with a crystalline dome and a complex rotating telescope mounted on a track in the floor. The telescope, of course, was trapped with magic, but we found a way to set it off without summoning an angry bear. Doing so provoked a vicious little winged creature to hurl a lightning bolt at us and then swoop down to bite me. It didn't last long. Aldern claimed it was some sort of construct called a homonculus, likely a creation of the wizard.

We lingered in the observatory awhile as I tried to train the scope on some distant mountains. I spied a ruined fortress of some kind, and a treant walking confusedly in circles. Both were quite far off, so I doubt I will have the opportunity to investigate any time soon.

From there, we continued into the manor's cellar, wary for traps both physical and arcane. Knives found one such magical trap on the door to a storage room, but Aldern decided to blast it open with one of his spells, setting the trap off before Knives could clear the area. Things got very heated between the two and I had to intervene. Knives has a quick temper that is all to familiar to me, and Aldern, for all that his knowledge has proved valuable, is too reckless. I tried to talk some sense into both of them, but I may jut have been tripping over my tongue. Again.

Knives and Lennox found a strange door in the cellar made of steel, with some kind of magic on it. We opened it and entered the room, eventually finding a pit from which a voice spoke, calling for them to release it. The creature proved to be some sort of goat-headed fiend, and entering the room broke the seal to release it!

Perhaps seeking to make up for his earlier mistake, Aldern arrived and swiftly translated the Abyssal runes over the chamber entrance. He spoke the creature's true name, causing it to stand rigid. While he repeated it over and over, Knives, Tagnus and I were able to flank the demon and end it. So good for us to be working together as a team again. I hope Aldern noted how his knowledge, not his spells, was crucial in aiding us against the fiend.

From there, we pressed deeper into the hidden caves beyond the cellar proper. Knives and Tagnus found a grotesque devil, sort of a cherub crossed with giant fly, trapped within its own binding circle. It was dead before the rest of us could reach it. In the same chamber, Tagnus found Hunclay's journal, but we had no time to peruse it.

After Knives and Lennox unlock the last chamber, we found arcane symbols covering the walls. Aldern recognizes them as a spell for a "wall of light," with the eponymous wall stretching across an opening in the south side of the chamber. We also found a very exotic suit of leather armor, along with two magical weapons: a scimitar and a short sword.

When Aldern was reluctant to venture through the wall of light, so I volunteered to go through first and was temporarily blinded. I immediately heard a voice from an entity called Maffei, a Shae from the plane of Shadow. She was trapped in here by the light spell, summoned and held prisoner by the wizard Hunclay who was interrogating her for information. He kept asking about the "Dark Tapestry," wrongly thinking it was connected to the plane of Shadow. 

Dispelling the wall was beyond our arcane power. Eventually, Tagnus and I bashed down the wall so that Maffei could escape. She reclaimed her arms and armor.

While the Shae recovered, I took the time to read through Hunclay's journal. I'm pretty sure Knives and Tagnus slunk off to drink some of the wizard's wine. The journal explained that Hunclay was summoning these extraplanar entities for various purposes.

The goat-headed demon was meant to serve as his bodyguard for a meeting with someone called Barlau. Maffei was to be questioned about the Dark Tapesty. Other planar allies, from fiends to celestials, he summoned and dismissed for information to aid him with topics ranging from the creation of constructs, investigation's into Belhaim's history, and discussions of magic items and spells. But the most common reason for summoning creatures was to question them about the Dark Tapestry. At Aldern's request, I took down notes on the names and summoning preferences of three dozen different outsiders.

In the journal, the wizard repeatedly referenced a failed conjuration of a representative of the "Dominion of the Black." Hunclay had conjured it only to have to kill it when it attacked him. The notes stated that this took place in his "safe cave," a term that sends a shudder down my spine every time I contemplate it. The journal gave the cave's location, just under a mile north of Belhaim. 

Though it is not part of Hunclay's estate, it appears that the safe cave is our next destination. Knives surprisingly wanted to bring the cave to the Baroness' attention, thinking that we could get more reward. Aldern and I convinced her it would be better to keep it on the "down low" as they say in Absalom. But that  and is for tomorrow. For now, we have chosen to rest in the wizard's manor and set out tomorrow morning.

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Brain Dead
Sofie's Journal

Moonday, 27 Pharast, 4723

That fucker Balthus Hunclay was into some really vile shit. I can't help but admit that the kobolds were right to kill him, even if it was done for the wrong reasons. Given what we've come across today, though, I fear that the many evils he trafficked in have not yet been laid to rest. now that I've scrubbed the stink of rotting brains off my hands, let me summarize the day's findings

After a night in the wizard's manor, we set out to investigate Hunclay's "save cave." The trail was unmarked, but relatively easy to follow. As we neared the cave, however, we spied some vultures circling overhead. Gypaetus Barbatus, I believe. We warily advanced to find two badly manged human corpses lying near a pond. The bodies had been gnawed upon by wolves, which were still lurking near the kill. The pack consisted of two timber wolves (Canis Lupus) and a dire wolf (Canis Dirus). Steel, spells and arrows put them down quickly and Tagnus set to skinning the dire wolf.

Once we were ready to proceed, we waded through the pond to reach the cave. It was immediately noteworthy that no creatures appear to have laired in the caves. The wolves gave it a wide berth, and nothing else seemed to dwell there. Knives crept inside to investigate, finding an entrance to a larger cavern in the tunnel, with the air growing uncomfortably warm. Aldern detected a magical aura about the cave, being used to regulate the temperature in the cave leaving it hot and dry.

Knives heard a skittering sound in the darkness deep within the cavern. Aldern cast a light spell upon a stone and tossed it into the room, trying to provoke the creature. The monster lurched about, but did not approach. The light revealed it to be an enormous crab-like being, its shell a good ten feet in diameter, with transparent globules rising out of its chitin in which brains of various sizes floated. Lennox hit it with an arrow and it lurched about again, but failed to recognize us. Aldern used a web spell to pin it down, but the spiderweb filled up the chamber so that Lennox had trouble hitting it. We decided to wait out the spell until the webbing had vanished, at which point Knives strode out confidently to strike the seemingly oblivious creature.

That was also the moment that the light spell ended, plunging the room into darkness.

We heard Knives cry out and say that the creature was attacking her. Fearful for my friend, I rushed towards the sound with my sword drawn. This was in retrospect very foolish, as I could have struck Knives. At the time though, I figured I was more likely to hit the monster's bulk and in this I proved correct. The fight was harrowing, even after Aldern got the light spell going again, but in the end the abomination was laid low. Up close the stench of decay was unmistakeable. The thing was a mindless undead creature, which explains its lack of response until Knives entered the chamber, no doubt triggering its commands.

With the guardian dead, we scavenged the chests in the room. The spoils included four rare volumes on astronomy and a strange, tattered volume called "Secrets of the Dreaming Dark." The forward claims it was a translation of a much older book. According to Aldern, it is written in the foul language Aklo, with complex star charts, maps of strange distant worlds and illustrations of monsters and gods. Flipping through, it is clear that chunks of the book have been ripped out. 

Aldern's face scrunched up adorably as he looked through the book, then lit up when he realized it was written in Aklo. His excitement was all the more entertaining, since he couldn't actually speak it. Maffei, who is fluent in Aklo, says it would take years of intense study to really understand what it is really about in any detail. We asked her to study it in an attempt to give us the gist of what is within and how dangerous the text might be.

I warned the party that the book was likely too malign to sell on the open market, and we agreed that it should be sold only to an entity like a university which could properly secure and study it.

We've since returned to Belhaim and Talia Orem has gotten Maffei set up in the cellar of the Wise Piper Inn. We have decided not to tell the baroness that the mansion is secure until Aldern has finished his "survey" of Hunclay's texts. 

For the next little while, I have also decided too serve the section of the sky that was blocked out by the Witch Tower. After all, Hunclay is obsessed with the heavens and he was in a rush to bring down the tower after many years of complaining that it was blocking his line of site. There may be some sort of stellar even with arcane implications that may transpire in the near term. After all that has happened, I don't intend to be caught by surprise.

Toilday, 28 Pharast, 4723

Following the baroness' advice, I also returned to the Shelynite temple to consult with the priest Nilos about the town's history. I approached with some trepidation after our last awkward encounter, but the cleric was a perfect gentleman. He told me about how many centuries ago, the famed dragon slayer Tula Belhaim and her mercenary company came to the Dragonfen to slay the dread black dragon Aeteperax. They apparently had a terrible battle in the marsh, and Tula returned with her surviving companions. 

After the battle, Tula was made baroness of the region. Unfortunately, her life took a tragic turn, with the early deaths of her children. She became obsessed with building an enormous tomb for herself out in the Dragonfen. After her death, the barony passed to her relatives, including the awful Canteclures, before it was taken up by the current Devy family.

It was noteworthy that at no point in the story did they describe Tula bringing back a head or other proof of the dragon's demise. This is a stark difference from the practice in my fatherland, and a discrepancy I should raise with the others.

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Auction Day
Sofie's Journal

Oathday, 30 Pharast, 4723

Today, our group nearly came to blows over who would carry a magic bag that we don't even have yet, but we resolved the dispute with a compromise and a Tian game of chance. It's been that kind of day.

We started the day by visiting Baroness Origena Devy to report that the wizard's manor had been thoroughly searched and secured. She paid us each a sum of 1,000gp and invited us to participate in the Hunclay estate sale scheduled for 29 Gozran, where she would front us 7,500gp worth of purchases.

We persuaded the baroness that some of Content Not Found: hunclay were too dangerous to be placed for auction, particularly the Tales of the Dreaming Dark, which Maffei is still reviewing. The noblewoman said that she would have the books locked away in a secure location.

On the way into the Devy manor, I noticed the interesting horticulture in the gardens, including extensive use of aloe plants. The baroness referred me to her groundskeeper, a half-orc by the name of Benito. 

After the audience with Baroness Devy, with our pockets weighed down by gold, we prepared to split up for some purchases. Tagnus broached the idea of acquiring a bag of holding and the whole thing turned into an argument between Aldern and Knives. Neither trusted the other to hold the bag—which I should stress again, we had not yet purchased—and so Aldern suggested I be tasked with holding it, which was very kind of him. 

Knives questioned my impartiality, which did sting quite a bit after all we'd been through these last few days, and she suggested Tagnus hold the bag. I would have gone along with it, had the druid not called me a "barbarian." At that point I was clamoring for the bag as well. We tried to get Lennox to cast the deciding vote, but she suggested a compromise: that we share custody of the bag, one week on and one week off.

Then the argument turned to who would first take custody the magic bag that we had not yet purchased. To decide that matter, Aldern cleverly recommended a strange finger-game from Tian Xia. Tagnus and I played against each other until one of us got three victories. I came out ahead, and will be the first to carry the bag as soon as it arrives.

For now, we have been left to our own devices until the auction day, one month away..

Fireday, 31 Pharast, 4723

I've made some inquiries around town about the cold iron longsword that I recovered from the kobold den, but it was not known to anyone in Belhaim. The Brass Bull thinks it is an old weapon, possibly from Andoran. While doing my rounds, I spread word about the burial of Hunclay's two unfortunate servants, so that any kinfolk of theirs know of their fate.

I also met with the baroness' gardener, the red-headed half-orc Benito Skullcrusher. Not only did he have some insights into the local flora, he proved to be a skilled botanist who has found a way to cross nightshade with poison ivy! I took extensive sketches of the hybrid and inquired about preserving some presses of leaves as well. This truly marks my most significant find in Belhaim since I arrived in the village, and I promised Benito that he would be credited when I present my findings in Absalom. The university seems farther away than ever, though…

7 Gozran, 4723

The big excitement today was the arrival of the bag of holding. Per the contest, I took possession of it for the first week. I must confess I did spend some time in my quarters simply playing with it. There is something unnerving yet exciting about thrusting your hand into a pocket dimension, in defiance of all the normal physical laws of our material plane.

Aldern was furiously scribbling something in the Wise Piper's common room. He was chewing on his lower lip the way he always does when he is completely focused on a task, so I decided not to bother him. I do want to have a talk with him soon, though. It's so rare to catch him in a spare moment away from his study at Hunclay's manor, I admit I miss being able to philosophize with him.

8 Gozran, 4723

The first of the spring rains arrived today. The clouds rolled in like a gray blanket and deposited a soft, steady shower that lasted half a day. There is nothing like the smell of a forest after a good rain, the water mixing with the rich scent of the earth and the fresh odor of the plants. 

As I expected, the rains drew out the dormant snail population. I found a particularly big one emerging from a soggy fallen tree trunk that I suspect might be feytouched. Its shell was four inches in diameter and iridescent like a swirling rainbow, while its body was a vibrant green striped with gold. 

I took extensive notes and sketches and asked around the town about it. Such a snail hasn't been seen for at least 20 years, which makes me suspect they have not been officially described in the scientific literature before. I only wish Aldern or Knives or Lennox were there to see it, but they had no interest in tramping through the muddy woods. Tagnus, of course, had disappeared like he has been the last couple of days, probably communing with nature further from the town. 

12 Gozran, 4723

I have been hearing very strange accounts from the townsfolk about strange beasts being spotted outside of Belhaim, mysterious tracks and claw marks on the trees, and odd noises in the woods. But the tales are maddeningly contradictory. I need to catch Tagnus before he heads out on another of his jaunts so that we can investigate these reports. If there truly is something strange out there, it could be a major find!

Toilday, 11 Gozran, 4723

I was led on an elaborate snipe hunt today, and learned of a mysterious disappearance, but it ended with a healthy serving of cider. 

I had recruited Tagnus to help investigate the reports of strange beasts outside of town. He seemed weirdly unfamiliar with the rumors, but was eager to assist. It was more than an hour into our journey before he admitted that the weird tracks were his handiwork, the result of him practicing his druid shapeshifting.

We met another druid, also investigating the rumors, an elf woman named Emarthine Willoway. She knew Vyncis Voadys! Together they explored the waterways and deep into the forest, encountering dryads, treants, and wyverns etc.

She also revealed that another druid, Asmar Kel, and his pregnant wife had disappeared several weeks ago from their house on the edge of town. Tagnus and I took a look and found tracks leading away from the house that just stopped not to far away (as if they had simply teleported away or been carried off).

After this investigation, we retired to Emarthine's orchard to partake of her delicious cider and talk about her experiences with Vyncis Voadys.

Sunday, 16 Gozran, 4723

I had a good chat with Aldern tonight at Hunclay's manor while I was checking the telescope. I started by asking him about the creatures he's seen in his travels. After a bit of back and forth, I got to the issue that has really been troubling me. I asked him about Hunclay's demon-binding and whether he approved of summoning forth such planar creatures in pursuit of knowledge. I honestly was afraid of what I might hear.

Fortunately, Aldern has taken our experience with the imp to heart. He agreed that bargaining with fiends was far too dangerous, and generally dismissed Hunclay's approach. What a relief! I know I should be past such superstitions, but I had been worried that his passion for the arcane arts had atrophied his conscience. Clearly an unfounded concern.

I did kind of awkwardly turn the conversation to my father's troll-biting experience. I still do not know why. I just kind of started babbling and needed to leave.

Wealday, 19 Gozran, 4723

A strangely enthusiastic Tagnus asked to see my journal of creatures, particularly the illustrations. It was so fantastic to have a chance to review my research with someone else knowledgeable about wild creatures. He asked many insightful questions about their forms, behaviors, and instincts.

Moonday, 24 Gozran, 4723

I've gotten some rather troubling advice from Knives on how to handle anger issues. I had found her alone in the Wise Piper Inn and I figured it was time to broach the uncomfortable subject. I mentioned how I had heard many half-orcs suffered from anger issues and wanted to know if she experienced the same, in hopes we could commiserate. Knives emphasized the need to confront the source of her anger rationally, containing it when provoked with the thought of taking revenge in a more calculating fashion later. She scares me sometimes.

I explained about my family's history of berserkers, but had trouble convincing Knives that this "gift" is actually a burden. She argued that my anger was a useful tool, even when I told her about my childhood experience crippling young Wiglaf during one of my rages. Knives suggested we come up with a "safe word" word to narrow my focus during rages and restrain me from harming allies.

I quickly turned the conversation towards an emergency code word like my father would use on his trading voyages. Aldern joined in as I tried to pitch them on "ubiquitous." 

Starday, 29 Gozran, 4723 – Auction Day

The auction concluded early, with relatively few casualties, but the whole town is currently being held for ransom by a possibly fictitious undead dragon. Hunclay's manor has still not been put up for sale.

The event started reasonably enough. There were some travelers from out of town, including a trio of Kalistocrats in their strange white outfits and a man in a red hat who will become important later. However, most of the attendees were Belhaim locals. The auction took place in the auditorium at the center of town. Our party were given front row seats, and the affair was presided over by the baroness' clerk. The auction had the strange rule of requiring every new bid being increased in increments equivalent to the initial asking price. 

We got the wizard's exotic birds for a reasonable price, and the gnome woman Bassy did an unusual amount of bidding. The man in the red hat threw a fit when he found out that Hunclay's books were not part of the auction and stormed off. Knives went to follow him, as he was acting rather suspiciously.

Just as the wizard's manor was going up for auction, monsters swooped down from the sky. First, four mat-bat creatures attacked the gathered bidders. Thankfully, our group acted swiftly to fight them off. I had another episode, this one especially strange. Father spoke of the dragon stirring within him during his battles, but this was the first moment I experienced it. I hurled Gripa at one of the man-bats and watched the arc of the axe bend towards the monster unnaturally, as a terrible power blazed coldly in my heart. 

We put the monsters to sword and I collapsed afterwards, trying to recover from the exertion. Not more than a minute had gone by before the next fucking monster arrived. We thought it was a red dragon, though Aldern later recognized it as a lesser creature called a flame drake. It belched fire at us and I barely escaped being burned to a crisp. 

This provoked yet another episode and I apparently leapt up to attack the beast. Knives and Tagnus joined me, while Aldern and Lennox struck at it from afar. Apparently I was the one to strike the killing blow, carving through it and out the other side. When my senses returned to me, I was lying down beside it, slick with gore, being tended to by Knives, Aldern and Tagnus.

So it was at this point that a terrible roar shook our very bones as a huge black dragon, half-rotted, landed on a nearby house. The monster claimed to be Aeteperax and said that it had made an arrangement with Hunclay to take custody of five rare texts, particularly Tales of the Dreaming Dark, upon the wizard's death. The dragon said that its representative had tried to fairly purchase the books, but was denied a chance to bid. 

So the dragon issued a demand: turn over the forbidden books, plus a 766,000gp indemnity, in two weeks time at the monastery across the Dragonfen, or it would lay waste to Belhaim. The dragon claimed that its minions had infiltrated the countryside and would kill all those who try to flee, save the emissaries delivering the books and payment. After making this ultimatum, Aeteperax appeared to cast a spell and teleported away. 

The townsfolk naturally panicked, and our group was split on what to do. To me, there seemed to be no choice—confront and kill the dragon. Knives, however, was talking of fleeing the town and fighting through whatever minions awaited us outside. Aldern then spoke up, noting that the dragon's teleportation "spell" amounted to mere gibberish. I remarked that its demand for 766,000gp, or 2,000gp per resident of Belhaim, seemed far beyond the village's ability to muster and questioned whether the dragon was even real. Knives at this point agreed it might be a trick and was now on board with investigating.

Aldern used his magicks clean and repair my poor outfit as best he could, while Tagnus supplied me with more of his delicious goodberries. Now that we are all refreshed after the battle, there is nothing left but to speak with the baroness on how to proceed. Oh, and to collect our exotic birds as well.

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Tomb Raiders
Sofie's Journal

Starday, 29 Gozran, 4723

With the village in danger, our band of misfits have been deputized as emergency archaeologists. This was not what I'd intended for my trip to Belhaim, but I will do what I must.

You see, after we had recovered from the battle at the auction, Baroness Origena Devy summoned us to her manor for an emergency meeting. We were joined by the gnome historian Content Not Found: bally, the Abadarian cleric, and the newly returned town sheriff Ben Hovy. It became clear that the 766,000gp indemnity that Aeteperax had demanded was far beyond what the town could pay. We confided in the baroness our suspicion that the dragon itself was some sort of illusion or trick. 

Nonetheless, the town is acting on the assumption the monster is real. (It's flame drake ally certainly was!) The baroness has tasked us with venturing out into the Dragonfen to the tomb of Tula Belhaim, to retrieve draong-slaying weapons she is said to have stored there. Bally provided us with a key to the tomb, which had been passed down from her grandmother. We have also been asked to seek out the bones of Aeteperax to confirm that the dragon is truly dead.

I am no warrior, nor do I ever wish to be, but I was trained as a shieldmaiden. And after getting a taste of drake fire, I made a point of procuring a round wooden shield from Baccus the smith. There is no time to paint the proper sigils on it, as we depart tomorrow morning. So I must end my notes here and retire for the night.

Sunday, 30 Gozran, 4723

Please forgive the frantic nature of my scribbles, but my voice has been stolen and I just need to get some words out. It has been a miserable day, despite our progress in the tomb.

It started well enough, as we trekked out into the Dragonfen on a bright spring morning. Tagnus and I led the party, being the most skilled at wilderness travel. Maffei also volunteered to join us. She's given up reading the "Secrets of the Dreaming Dark," saying that the book was literally driving her made. The poor thing is still focused on trying to return to her home plane, and I hope we are able to help her. 

The flora and fauna were fairly unremarkable for the first hour of the hike, but then we happened upon a rare sight: a moonflower! A carnivorous, mobile plant, found in only a half a dozen places in Avistan, and we had discovered a new site. I must return to the area for further study once this business is dealt with.

A short while later, we were ambushed by one of those man-bat creatures. A scout, perhaps, for our phantom villain? In any case, we brought it down with ease. Lennox's arrows, in particular, were quite deadly.

Finally, we reached the burial mound of Tula Belhaim, and made a startling discovery: the skeleton of a huge dragon was coiled around the hillock. Aldern investigated the bones and determined that the belonged to an old black dragon. Aeteperax, it appears, was indeed dead, his remains serving as a grisly trophy.

Unfortunately, Aldern's investigations stirred up something that lurked within the skull. A shapeless mass of flesh, eyes, and gibbering moths oozed out of the dragon's eye socket and towards our poor wizard. I was able to put myself between him and it, and drew its full attention. The vile thing howled a terrible, disorienting cry and oozed around me, leeching the strength from my frame. This allow the others to beat up on it, however, and I was finally cut free of the mess. Tagnus, thankfully, had some magic to restore my energy. And Aldern wasn't hurt, for which I am grateful.

Using Bally's key, we unlocked the tomb and found that the door opened into a pit. Knives scouted down below, finding a statue of a rearing horse and a chamber with four child-sized sarcophagi. Once we had all descended, we began exploring the room. Corspe flowers had grown over the statue and the tombs. Tagnus took a scoop of earth from beneathe the statue and a cut of the flowers, no doubt for some ineffable druidic rite.

I decided to investigate the tombs themselves, which all proved to be of Tula Belhaim's poor children—except for the last one I checked, which had something else entirely. Some horribly undead thing made from an agglomeration of rags and bones with a fox skull for a head leapt out of the grave and clawed at me. The little fucker stole my voice with some necromantic witchcraft and tried to trick the others into thinking we'd switched bodies. Its claws also drained the strength from my limbs, leaving me fatigued. After we dashed the creature to bits, I still found myself without a voice.

Tagnus assures me it will return later today, but as a healer his bedside manner is somewhat lacking.

After the ambush, Knives discovered a hidden door leading deeper into the tomb. The next level featured four sarcophagi of more of Tula's relatives, along with an elaborate mosaic of a dragon. Knives and Lennox warned us it was trapped, but only Maffei could undo the magicks placed upon it. At the back of the room were three pillars covered in alcoves holding funerary urns.

Because I learned nothing, I decided to pick one up. Tagnus did the same, which does not make me feel better. This angered the fire elementals that were bound to guard the remains, and we had to put those creatures down.

I'm frankly fucking miserable being unable to speak. I've been able to communicate so far by scribbling notes in chalk on my shield, but it is a pale imitation of a true dialogue. I hate this awful undead witchcraft, I'm tired, and I just want to get Tula's buried weapons and get the fuck out of this haunted barrow.

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Crypt of the Golden Knight
Sofie's Journal

Sunday, 30 Gozran, 4723

Still can't talk. We are about to go acquire an angry ghost's wedding ring and return it to a friendly ghost so that she will give us her blessing to plunder her relics. Oh the things I would say if I could speak.

After my last entry about vanquishing the guardians of the red dragon chamber, we paused to plunder one of the mercenaries' sarcophagi. Aldern identified two magical items, a ring of strength sapping and a light steel shield of acid resistance. Neither was particularly appealing to us, so Tagnus stashed them in the bag of holding.

Next, Knives ventured down the spiral staircase to scout out the next level of the tomb. Lennox tried to tag along, but tripped on the darkened stairs and tumbled noisily downwards. I still had Aldern's light spell on my whistle, so I've no idea what the girl was trying to accomplish sneaking around a pitch black crypt. Thankfully, no guardians awaited her and the rest of us soon descended to join them. 

The chamber held an altar and a gilded tome, as well as a set of large double doors. Aldern recognized the altar and book as being dedicated to the dead god Aroden, who was once the patron of Taldor. He and I soon started arguing over the purpose of the chamber and whether it had sunk into the earth after it's construction. He can be such an arrogant ass sometimes! It's all the worse because of that damn twinkle in his eyes that shows he knows he's being an ass.

While we quarreled Lennox and Knives opened the doors to the next chamber, a strange domed room with metal walls and floor, save for three big glass mosaics of blue dragons inlaid into the floor and a door on the left. Knives warily stepped into the room and was suddenly shocked with electricity. She has such lovely long black hair, and it was all standing on end by the time she retreated back to our position. While I helped her get the matter under control, Tagnus and Aldern deduced that the room was designed to naturally build up an electrical charge. The only safe spaces in the room were the glass dragon mosaics.

Knives and Lennox easily made the jump to the central dragon, but I knew our other two companions would have a harder time of it. I offered to throw both Tagnus and Aldern to safety, but they declined. Aldern acquired some leather from Tagnus to wrap around the metal shield, then used a spell to coat it in grease. Using the shield like a sled, he pushed off out into the room. It was quite ingenious, I admit. Unfortunately, his slender legs didn't have the strength to launch him the full distance and he stopped short of the rightmost dragon. He tried to propel himself to safety with his staff, but it was easiest for me to simply leap over to the dragon and pull him to safety.

Tagnus, meanwhile, used his tower shield as a bridge to get across to the central dragon.

Knives worked carefully to unlock the door on the left, while Lennox noticed that the right side of the room held a hidden door. The hidden door led to small room with a circular staircase going down. The chamber behind Knives' door held a puzzle with four statues that she she and Tagnus manipulated to reveal a secret staircase going down.

Because we are idiots, we chose to split up and investigate both staircases at once. Knives, Tagnus, and Maffei descended the secret stair, while we humans followed our own staircase.

Our delve ended in a small chamber facing a stone wall with a keyhole. Lennox determined that the wall would retract once the key was turned and that she could not simply pick the complicated lock. Fortunately, the keyhole clearly matched the master key that Bassy had given us. So we started turning out our pockets looking for the key, belatedly realizing that Tagnus currently had it. Back up the stair we went.

This time I gave Aldern a solid shove to get him across the electricity room. Sledding across it on a greased up shield honestly looked fun and I was briefly jealous the shield wasn't big enough to hold both of us.

By the time we had caught up with the others, they had managed to get into a fight with another set of tomb guardians. I assume Knives set them off. The guardians were four dwarf-like creatures with flaming beards and skin like cooled lava. With our reinforcements, the entities were quickly overcome. Knives had taken some hits, so Tagnus healed her up with his goodberries.

Aldern recognized the crypt as belonging to Sir Ector the Golden Knight, a devotee of the merchant god Abadar. We looted his sarcophagus and recovered a glamoured suit of plate mail that went into the bag of holding. We also recovered a clasp that Aldern recognized as an amulet of natural armor. He and Knives argued over it, of course, but then they both graciously offered it to me instead. It was so kind of them, and I was glad to see their differences put aside, even for a moment.

From there, we made our way back across the electrified room, by which point I was genuinely jealous of Aldern and his shield sled. It was fun pushing him off and hearing him whoop with excitement, though.

Once we descended down to the chamber with the retractable stone wall, Tagnus retrieved the key and the wall was unlocked. It retracted and we stepped into what could only be the tomb of Tula Belhaim. That's when she spoke to us.

If I had my voice back, I would have cried out in shock. But her voice was friendly. She recognized us as fellow adventurers seeking to protect Belhaim, and promised to grant her blessing for the retrieval of her artifacts. First, though, we must descend deeper into the tomb and retrieve the wedding band of her husband, who is apparently some kind of angry ghost. His spirit can't be laid to rest until we bring his ring to the late Lady Belhaim.

Which means yet another trip across the electrified room. I wonder if I can borrow Aldern's shield sled?

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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 use 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.

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