The Dragon's Demand

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, Azmur 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 Bassy, 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 dragon-slaying weapons she is said to have stored there. Bassy 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 Bassy'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. Corpse flowers had grown over the statue and the tombs. Tagnus took a scoop of earth from beneath 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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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