The Harrowing

Unicorns are Real
Sofie's Journal

Moonday, 24 Erastus, 4723

Knives can be a scary person.

After that drunken treant stumbled out of the trees spoiling for a fight, my bestie used her most threatening voice to get the huge creature to back down. With violence averted, the treant introduced itself as Vinroot. He was not the most coherent, but we learned that he opposes the little gray creatures—spriggans—and thought that we were in league with them. I have a feeling he knew more about the strange mists that have descended on the forest, but was too drunk to articulate it.

When Vinroot learned we are looking for the druid Devarre, he told us that the druid's home is hidden but that dryads who dwell near the treant's apple orchard know how to reach it. Vinroot, it seems, cultivates and brews a strange beverage called nodrim. Gourds full of the drink were hanging from his branches, and he offered to share. Kubo took a swig and after making a strange face, his skin turned to tree bark similar to Tagnus' spell. Out of curiosity, I decided to try the beverage myself.

It was very strong. Kubo must have an iron stomach, because one swig left me impaired. My skin likewise turned to hardened bark, and there were other unusual effects. Now that I'm sober enough, I can confirm that the elixir caused me to grow an inch in height. We still have two more shots of the stuff in our jug, but I am in no hurry to try it again.

The barkskin, however, proved very fortuitous for as we approached the dryad grove we heard a woman scream. I instinctively rushed towards it through the fog, but was too inebriated to remember to use my winged boots. Kubo charged forward right behind me. We both tripped over logs scattered across a clearing. I fell on top of a spriggan, while our new companion nearly rolled into the fire.

A gang of nine spriggans had built a great bonfire, the heat of which was keeping the mists at bay. Burning in the flames were logs crudely carved in the shape of women, with more stacked haphazardly all around. Bound up near the fire was a dryad and what could only be a unicorn, both no doubt intended for some vile fate. 

Knives emerged from the fog and immediately tossed a dagger to cut the unicorn's bindings, but the poor creature was unconscious. Now that we have the spriggans' attention, two of them grew to giant size and attacked with their maces. The others moved to flank with their fellows or retreated into the underbrush to snipe at us. 

After freeing the dryad, Kubo squared off with one of the giants. I found myself flanked by the other and the spriggan I had landed atop of. Knives came to my aid with a cry of "Teamwork!" Despite everything, she is a good friend. 

The sight of such barbaric cruelty drove me once more into a rage and with Knives' help, I cut down the giant spriggan and its little friend. Then something strange happened. All of the berserker wrath and energy just drained away, like I'd reached the bottom of a wineskin. It didn't help that I was still drunk on nodrim. I turned and threw up on the ground, exhausted the way I usually am after a fight. But the battle had only just begun! 

Kubo made short work of his giant spriggan and went looking for more foes. While I was still puking, Knives tumbled across the logs to flank a small spriggan with the outlander. They cut it down together.

Then one of the little spriggan bastards crept up to me and went "boo!" with his fear magic. I could not help but turn and flee from his terrifying visage, stumbling out into the fog. This was all incredibly disorienting. Never before had the berserk fury left me while danger still threatened. I had not even known that was possible! Behind me I heard the shouts and clash of steel as my companions continued to fight against the thorny gray fey creatures. Yet try as I might, I could not bring myself to turn back around.

Finally, the fear magic had run its course and my will was my own again. I activated my winged boots and lifted off of the brambly forest floor to fly at top speed back towards the battle. As I approached, I couldn't help but think of the song of the valkyries in one of the plays mother was in years ago. I began to sing it myself as I burst into the clearing. Kubo was barely on his feet, facing multiple gigantic foes, while Knives had retreated to cover.

I zoomed towards the giant spriggan closest to Kubo, only to get the wind knocked out of me by its mace. Despite the terrible blow, I pressed on to hack at it with Wyrmsmite. My burning rage had been replaced with a grim determination to rescue my friends. Kubo cuts the other giant down with a single blow, stunning the remaining spriggans. With assistance from Knives, I slay my giant foe. 

The last surviving little spriggan tries to flee. Knives trips it with her whip, then she and I descend upon it to stab it to death as it tries to cast a spell.

As we recover from the fight, the dryad reappears to free and awaken the unicorn. The majestic creature is introduced as Lord Palombier, while the dryad is known as Finra. I had heard tales of unicorns, but none of them matched the beauty and purity of the real thing.

Knives was likewise transfixed. She wanted to heal Lord Palombier, but couldn't get her wand to work and was starting to panic. So I slipped her my healing potions, which she gently fed to him. The unicorn returned the favor, healing us and curing me of my drunkenness. 

I had to explain to Knives that unicorns are not pets and that she wouldn't be able to take Lord Palombier with her. We did agree to seek him out again after the danger to Bellis is lifted, so that we could get a chance to ride him.

Finra, the dryad, told us that the druid Devarre's cabin is hidden on a fairy hill and gave us a magical flower whose pollen will reveal the hidden entrance. As a thanks for saving her from the spriggans, she also gave us some treasures that had been left by her previous admirers and paramours.

Completely exhausted from a day that began with a wedding and has taken an incredibly dark turn, we made camp nearby and cooked up Knives' squirrel. 

I mentioned how useful Aldern's magic would be right now, and got an earful from Knives about everything wrong with him and why I shouldn't miss him. Kubo even chimed in to support Knives, despite never having met the wizard! I don't need unwelcome relationship advice from people who don't know what they are talking about. I must remember to keep my thoughts about Aldern to myself if I don't want more lectures. 

I just wish he was here right now. I hope he's okay. 

Toilday, 25 Erastus, 4723 

During my watch last night, the ring Aldern gave me started to glow! He was thinking about me just as I was thinking about him. I wonder what he was doing up so late. Research, maybe?

Kubo and I started the day hunting for breakfast. I had little luck, but the outlander brought back a deer which we spent several hours dressing. Finally, we made our way to the hill where Devarre's cabin was hidden. From the outside, it just looks like a ring of standing stones. But using the pollen from the flower, we revealed a hidden meadow with a cabin.

I fell into a pit trap, but only got a few scraps and bruises. We're heading over to the cabin now, which seems strangely quiet.

Into the Woods
Sofie's Journal

Moonday 24 Erastus, 4723

So this has been a day. And it's not even over yet. I am starting to wonder if we should have made better preparations before marching into woods looking for this druid.

With the situation at the wedding under some semblance of control, we made our way back to the guest cottage so that Knives and I could change. It was difficult going, with that damn mist obscuring everything more than a few yards away. But I managed to get us following the right path. I couldn't stop thinking about those strange, thorny gnome-like creatures that attacked us. They are some kind of fey, but I swear there is more to them.

At the cottage, we had the men stand watch outside with the animals. Kubo chivalrously offered to ensure Tagnus wouldn't peek at us as we changed, but the dwarf confessed he'd seen everything already. I was mortified and just hustled inside.

The damage to my beautiful dress was more extensive than I thought, and Knives' dress is little more than a skirt now. She says we can just buy new ones, but I feel so attached to this one now that it's seen me through battle. Even with the low cut, I want to keep it. We will just have to find someone with a mend spell. I was going to ask Tagnus, but by the time we were suited up and stepped back outside, Kubo and his dog Daigoro were playing fetch with Tagnus' gemstone. That dwarf certainly knows how to pick his moments to disappear!

Knives tried to trick Kubo into thinking he was responsible for banishing Tagnus and the Minkaian warrior started to get testy. So testy, in fact, that Knives backed down and apologized. I've never seen her do that before! Kubo continues to reveal hidden talents. I do think he was being a little harsh on Knives, though. I shall have to talk to him about that.

With the three of us now ready for adventure, we set out into the Verduran Forest south and west of Bellis to find the druid Devarre, who the local leaders believe may know more about the strange events that have beset the town. The mists stretch even into the forest, giving it an eerie quality. Kubo believes the forest has changed from what it once was, but I'm not familiar enough with the flora here to make that judgment myself. I can see what attracted Vyncis Voadas to this place, though.

The deeper we traveled into the forest, the harder the going got. Kubo and I had to consult several times about the proper directions. During one such stop, Knives started to grumble about being hungry. Kubo offered her a pickled plum, a dish from his homeland, but it wasn't to her taste. She passed it to me and I admit I ate every bite and licked my fingers when I was done. It brought to mind a very sweet sauerkraut. 

While we took a breather, an inordinate number of squirrels had all gathered and were all watching Knives. It was about the time I recalled that Knives was carrying Tagnus' gem that she nailed one off the creatures with a dagger. The rest of them scattered, but it was quite unsettling. Knives plans to eat the squirrel later and I gave her some tips on how to skin it. This whole forest excursion is very much outside her comfort zone, but I am glad she is here with us.

We pressed on a little further, arriving in a semi-clearing where the trees thinned out a bit. That was when the ambush happened.

A trio of crossbow bolts flew out of the mists, wounding Knives and I while Kubo was shielded by his armor. It was more of those thorny, gray gnome-like creatures. 

I was so angry to see those things again so soon that I just let the dragon in me take hold without a second thought. I charged the fey creature that had emerged behind us. But he was slippery and dodged my sword.

Knives slipped around behind him and nicked him with a dagger. Kubo, meanwhile, charged a different evil gnome thing and tore into it with his big curved sword. Then another trio of the little fucking monsters popped up to shoot more arrows at us through the mists.

Being fey creatures, they had fell magics at their command. One of them snared Knives with some spell that made the roots of a tree entangle her. Then the fuckers kept casting spells that sent a wave of fear rushing through us—even through my berserker fury. The first few times I was merely rattled, but finally, and to my great shame, my nerve failed and I was driven to flee in sheer terror. Thankfully, I did not get much farther than Kubo's position before Knives dispatched the monster that afflicted me and I was released from its spell.

Kubo had set up a badly wounded foe for me to cleave through, though in my anger and frustration I treated him most uncharitably. We got into an argument that turned into a bet over who could kill more of the remaining fey creatures. I charged forward while he dropped his sword and drew his bow. He then started cursing in his native tongue, but I did not have a chance to turn back and see why. 

Lay into one of the evil gnome things and Knives appeared behind it to finish it off with a cry of "Teamwork!" It was a really touching moment to be supporting one another like that in such a dangerous situation. I think we really bonded as "besties."

But the little gray thorny monsters had to spoil the solidarity by afflicting Knives with their fear spell. She took off running and quickly vanished into the fog.

In my rage, I drove my sword through one of the fey creature's mouths. I turned around in time to see Kubo slay the final one with two well-placed arrows in each eye. I may have shouted something like "That still only counts as one!"

I really need to apologize to Kubo for my behavior during the battle. I was rude, aggressive, and needlessly competitive.

With the gnome monsters dead, the spell on Knives was broken, but she was having trouble finding her way back through the mists. We called out to her, and she was very insistent that I recover the dagger she jammed in the tree. Eventually, Daigoro managed to find her in the fog and brought her back. He is such a good boy.

We searched the bodies, but aside from mundane weapons and armor, all they were carrying were vials of strange green oils. Knives then graciously used her magic healing wand to restore us after the fight. We're still taking a breather now. You know, two long fights so close together has really worn me down. It's hard to tell through the mists, but the shadows are growing long. We should make camp soon.

A tree just fell down! Wait, it's getting back up…

Not the Bees!
Sofie's Journal

Moonday, 24 Erastus, 4723

Why does this always happen? Kubo says he is cursed, but it seems like danger and violence follow me wherever I go.

Just as the Shelynite priestess was delivering a beautiful song on the topic of love, two swarms of very angry bees swept out from behind the gazebo to attack the crowd. It was quickly apparent that the bees were not behaving naturally. They had been awakened by some fell magic.

My thoughts turned at once to smoke to drive them out. I called out a warning about their magic nature and then dashed for the cooking fires behind the dining tent. The crowd was already starting to panic, which made the going difficult.

If I was thinking clearly, this would have been when I activated my winged boots.

Kubo started running after me, but was slowed by his strange heavy armor as well as the mass panic.

Then I felt something stirring in my purse. I hastily grabbed the green gem and pulled it out before Tagnus could erupt out of it with an "Oh yeah!"

The dwarf immediately took a long, ogling look while I tried to bring him up to speed. (Why did I get such a low cut on this dress?) Tagnus then waved his big dwarvish hands and suddenly a wall of wind surrounded us. The gale battered the corner of the cooking tent, ripping canvas loose and knocking plates, chairs, and tables over. But our druid had created a clever refuge from the bees and I shouted for the frightened guests to take shelter here.

Taking stock of the cooking fire situation, I used Wyrmsmite (still a sword cane) to cut a chunk of tent canvas, dip it in honey and wine, wrap it around a cooking skewer, and set it alight to create a smoking torch. That was when I saw what was happening to Knives.

The bees had swarmed her as she'd tried to flee and somehow in the chaos she'd gotten knocked to the ground. She was rolling around as they stung her dozens of times. I had promised to watch her back, but at the first sight of trouble I had "left her in the lurch" as the saying goes. The fury erupted in me like a volcano at the sight, taking hold in that all to familiar way.

In some mad attempt to fend off the bees, Knives managed to retrieve an alchemist's fire potion and detonated it against her chest. This was effective at driving away the bees, but it set her beautiful dress and hair alight. Tagnus called forth a ball of fire to further harry the swarm of bees.

With my torch ready, I had the presence of mind to vault over the wind wall to keep the flame from being blown out. It was the furthest I think I have ever jumped, all thanks to the primal rage within me. Tagnus was just looking up at me with wonder in his eyes.

Looking up. As I jumped over him. In my billowing dress. Fuck, I think I just gave the lecherous dwarf another eyeful.

The swarm that had been attacking Knives had turned its attention to the bride and groom's party. Elyin and the Foresthawks were ushering the nearby guests into the small chapel to Shelyn, trying to screen them from the insects. As I charged after the sword, hurling insults and challenges, the thought dimly occurred to me that I should have activated my winged boots but it was too late now.

Tagnus summoned a small fire elemental to attack the second swarm, which was chasing wedding guests around the side of the gazebo. Thinking back on it, it is rather amazing to realize that it was just a few months ago that similar fire elementals were scorching Tagnus and I in Tula Belhaim's tomb, yet now he can command them to do his bidding.

Knives managed to make it to the safety of the wind wall, the alchemist's fire having burned away most of the top part of her dress. It's the monastery pool all over again. She pulls out her wand of cure light wounds to start healing herself.

Kubo emerged from the wind wall after me, shielding a smoking torch in one hand and holding a bottle of expensive brandy in the other. I got between the first swarm and the chapel, swinging with my torch. It did minimal damage to the bees, but the smoke seemed to be keeping them at bay. Kubo arrived to flank them with me. Then he took a swig of the brandy and spewed it out across the torch where it ignited like a miniature dragon's breath. Kubo said he saw this at a festival once. He is a little too enthusiastic and manages to singe my dress.

On the other side of the gazebo, the second swarm and the fire elemental have engulfed each other in a storm of flames and bees. The bees get the upper hand, and the elemental is banished back to its plane.

Tagnus emerged from the wind wall and called fire forth into his hand, then threw it at the first swarm while Kubo gave it another douse of burning brandy. The swarm disintegrates.

The remaining swarm closed in on the chapel, but we were able to put it down with fire as well. I am overtaken with rage and continue to swing at stray bees until the fury subsides.

We regroup at the battered food tent, where Tagnus scavenges what remains. Knives has used a scrap of tent canvas to bind up a makeshift top for herself. We have little more than a minute to recover before the disembodied voice of Tenzekil harangues us, warning that "Queen Rhoswen" will wreak havoc on Bellis and envelop it in her fellnight mists.

It is at this moment that a wall of thorns sprung up around us, sealing us off from the rest of the wedding party. We hear strange battle cries—possibly Sylvan?—and shouts of alarm from the guests. This time I activated my winged boots. As I took off, Kubo asks if I can carry him with me. I obliged and hauled him up and out of the barricade.

Three little gray gnome-like creatures with brambly, almost plant features (what is up with that?) had run out of the wood and were attacking people. Kubo charged one of them and cut it in half with that strange curved sword of his.

Tagnus transformed into a giant vulture and carried Knives up into the air, where she threw daggers at the two survivors. The two gray gnome creatures reacted by growing to gigantic size. One of them lumbered after the Foresthawks while the other lingered to tangle with Kubo. I swooped after the former, but wasn't able to get into sword range. I was close enough to get swatted by its enlarged mace, though. Ouch.

Kubo continued to to be murder with his sword, dicing up the giant in front of him.

The Tag-Vulture flew over to the remaining giant and bit it with his magically enhanced beak. Knives leapt off him to deliver the finishing blow to the giant's face with her dagger.

We had little time to celebrate, however, for a strange mist swept over the entire town. It's still here. You can't see more than a couple dozen paces in front of you. At the time I was still caught in my berserker madness, but Knives managed to talk me down. She's a good friend.

Thankfully, Yuki and Kubo's dog Daigoro each made it through the chaos in one piece.

Elyin informed us that the town council wants us to investigate the situation. The others haggled for a reward, which ended up being 1,000gp each plus a few expensive bottles of brandy for Kubo. Such mercenaries I am surrounded with!

We have two leads. Tenzekil is clearly involved, and has a small bee farm outside of town. There is also a powerful druid, Devarre, who lives in the forest west of town and may know more about the mists, the strange size-changing gnome creatures, and this Rhoswen character. After some internal debate, we decided to seek out the druid.

First, though, Knives and I must return to the cottage to change and collect our gear. Both of our dresses are in bad shape, Knives especially. I need to ask Tagnus if he knows the mending spell

All in all, this is the second-worst wedding I have been to.

Kubo and the Two Stings
Sofie's Journal

Starday, 22 Erastus, 4723

It has been a long, hot couple of weeks riding through the Verduran Forest in bumpy carriages. We played boulder, parchment, shears at the start of the trip to see who would carry Nilos' wedding gift, and I was the loser. So that made the trip extra entertaining. I did acquire a gift as well, a wedding goblet for bride and groom to share. Knives didn't bring anything, so we are sharing the gift.

Despite the summer heat, I was able to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest as we passed through it. We spotted a pair of beautiful West Taldan herons on the ferry ride across the Sellen River.

Now we're arrived in Bellis on the Andoren side of the river. It is a charming town, at least four times the size of Belhaim, with flower gardens everywhere buzzing with bees. We are staying with the bride, Kailah Winmede, in her guest cottage.

Kailah tells us that honey and mead are major exports in Bellis. I practically cheered when I heard they have a meadery in town! It has been far too long since I've had a good horn of mead. Knives and I are going to check it out this evening.

Sunday, 23 Erastus, 4723

Drank far too much last night, paid for it in the morning. The mead here is reeeally good and I could not help myself. I think I went on a ramble about how much I missed Aldern. I keep worrying that now that he is back in Absalom, he'll meet someone else, someone more sophisticated and better suited for him. It is a selfish worry, I should be more concerned about his ritual to save his sister. 

I guess I got so morose that Knives got a little fed up with me. I recall her asking why I simply didn't go to Aldern and be his housewife in Absalom. I tried to explain that I have my own work here, and that I intend to balance relationship and career like my parents and my brothers. But I don't know how coherent I was. Knives did walk me back to the cottage and got me settled in bed, which was very kind of her and a reversal of our normal roles.

We spent the day scouting out the rest of the town. They have the usual amenities – a smithy, a tavern, an apothecary, and so forth. But they also have more unusual facilities like a candy store and a lumber mill.

During our exploration, we encountered a very harried bard by the name of Parma. He's apparently responsible for coordinating entertainment at the wedding and has been quite frazzled by it. He urged us to mix and mingle with the guests and encourage them to have fun. He also suggested that we might need to step in to break up some fights. I did not expect that to be an issue at weddings here in the south. 

Well, I had best get some sleep. Tomorrow is the big day!

Moonday, 24 Erastus, 4723

I'm having major second thoughts about the cut of this dress, which is probably far too low for the occasion. Knives assures me that it is fine, but I have been getting looks. A lot of looks.

I'm glad Knives is wearing her dress, the purple and black number we picked out. It really works with her figure and complexion, and it's just good to see her out of her leather armor for once. I hope she enjoys the chance to dress up.

Our first stop was to greet the bride and groom, where we also met Elyin's former adventuring group, the Foresthawks. Apparently, he was their leader until retiring to settle down with Kailah and now they are trying to figure out who should succeed him. 

Next, we encountered a fascinating individual in exotic blue armor, a strange long sword. Even his hair is blue! I wonder if it's blue all over.

He introduced himself as Kubo, a warrior from distant Minkai. He has an adorable pet dog! He is a strange man, not 100% fluent in Common, very much out of his element. (I can relate.) We invited him to join us as we "mingled."

Knives was I think trying to set the two of us up (she has been very pushy all day), but it turns out that Kubo is married. We learned he has been away from home for 10 years, having gone off to war to help rescue his lord's wife from kidnappers. He then suffered some kind of curse or ill fortune keeping him from finding his way back. He was newly married when he left, but is not sure he still has a wife to return to on his private island where he himself is lord of a town the size of Bellis.

Given the kidnapping of his lord's wife and Kubo's own separation from his spouse, we realized that the wedding must be kind of traumatic.

Our next stop was grabbing some food, where we decided not to stay around for the box social. We came across dancers and learned that Minkaians don't dance. Returning to the food tent to get drinks, we saw that the box social had ended, having raised funds for Kailah to serve as her dowry. This drew us into an extended conversation with Kubo on the topic of dowries.

From there, we went to compete in a horseshoe throwing contest being run by the local blacksmith, a half-orc named Halak. He wanted help convincing people to join. I tried persuade them to take part, but was clumsy as usual and even dropped Tagnus' gem as Knives helpfully alerted me. I must have done something right, because once I picked up the gem we managed to draw in a few more participants.

Kubo won the game handily, but Knives had less success and accused Halak of rigging the game. I defused things and then took my turn, but lost one of the shoes over my shoulder. It flew off in the direction of the dancing and I heard someone shriek, but Knives assures me the noise was unrelated. With her pointed ears she'd know best, I suppose.

Nevertheless, we rushed away from the throwing game to checkout the hedge maze. There were some beautiful songbirds throughout the maze, including this brilliant West Taldan Yellow-breasted Robin. The delightful song was interrupted by the sound of an argument, however. We found a strange pale gnome, Tenzekil, harassing one of the box social contestant, a lovely gnome named Lumi

When she rejected his advances, he started verbally abusing her so we had to send him on his way with a stern warning. Lumi explained that Tenzekil had been a champion beekeeper for many years, but after he lost the contest to Elyin two years ago, he entered a downward spiral and underwent a traumatic event the gnomes call the Bleaching. He has since grown obsessed with her.

We were so caught up in defusing the incident we nearly missed the sound of the wedding music calling guests to assemble. We rushed to our seats, where I have had a chance to jot down these notes on a scrap of paper. 

It is a lovely ceremony, but I am noticing an unusual amount of bees coming out from behind the gazebo. A lot of bees.

Gotta run!

Summer in Belhaim
Sofie's Journal

Toilday, 9 Desnus, 4723

I was kind of a mess yesterday, but today was better. I slept in after a late night drinking with Knives and Lennox, but I was able to get a run in and then a quick swim in the river to clear my head. After that, I returned to the Wise Piper Inn to really dive into the monk's library. 

Their focus may have been arcane astronomy, but their collections are quite comprehensive. There are some rare volumes on the creatures of the Dragonfen dating back to the founding of the monastery, as well as some more recent accounts by monks from shortly before the disaster. This will make for a great resource, especially to compare with my contemporary observations.

I just wish I had someone to talk to about this.

Toilday, 16 Desnus, 4723

He sent me a letter! Aldern wrote to me from Cassomir, where he has stopped to collect another item for his ritual. He had a good trip down the Sellen River, passing by the druid fortress-isle of Arenway. He is looking for something out in the Star Bay, something to do with the mysterious lights in the waters. The details are a little fuzzy. But he misses me as much as I miss him and had some very sweet things to say. I will be writing him back as so as I finish this entry.

It has been a busy week. Some servants have arrived to begin converting the Hunclay manor into a bed and breakfast, which is very exciting. Lennox has been keeping an eye on them, at least when she is around. 

Knives has had a little trouble adapting to life after the dragon, but she seems to have found her groove now and is starting up a new business venture in town. Something to do with finances I believe. I'm so glad that after all the trouble she has been through, she's finally able to make a new life for herself here.

Maffei has also become a constant research companion as I review the monastery library in the Wise Piper's basement. She is poring through their lore trying to find some method to return to her home plane and seems to think she has a good lead.

And as I promised Aldern, I have been taking good care of Yuki. She is such a beautiful bird, and her snowy feathers remind me of home.  I have been teaching her how to stay and to come when she is called. She is also doing a number on the local vermin population.

Well, that's enough for today. Now to write Aldern. I hope I come across okay—somehow I always end up ink-tied when writing letters.

Wealday, 24 Desnus, 4723

We bid Maffei farewell today. She had discovered a ritual to send her home in the monks' texts. Lennox and I spent the past two days helping her prepare the ritual, which we performed today at sunset after a farewell dinner. I am so happy that she was able to return to her homeland, but a little sad to see her go. I had grown so used to having her around like a friendly shadow.

Speaking of absent friends, continued experiments by Knives, Lennox and myself to release or lure out Tagnus from his gem have proven fruitless. Worse, the gem has gone missing twice, each time ending up in Tagnus' private garden in the forest. Part of me suspects that the dwarf might be appearing at night and checking on his plants. Which would be creepy, since I keep the gem by my bedside. It is also possible that his nemesis the squirrels are taking it, but I would hope Yuki would discourage them from getting close.

The manor is finally ready to begin hosting guests. Thankfully, we have people to see to most of the day to day operations. Of course, honor demands that as a good hostess I will need to help serve our guests at dinner, like we did at Father's longhouse. 

I haven't heard from Aldern since his first letter, but I have sent two on their way to him. Is that too much? I just want to keep him the loop on what is happening here. And I am a little antsy to hear how things are going with him; Cassomir is a bit of a rough and tumble place from what I saw passing through.

Ugh, the summer heat is starting to roll in. It was bad enough in Absalom, but at least the sea breeze provided some relief. It is just going to be a miserable few months for a northern girl like myself.

Toilday, 30 Desnus, 4723

Another letter from Aldern arrived today. He has moved from Cassomir to a small coastal town called Ridonport, where he is trying to track down some bit of arcane detail at the museum there. He hasn't gotten my first letter yet, but it will be forwarded to him from Cassomir. There was some sort of trouble in the Star Bay that he is talking around, something in the water, but he still has all his adorable fingers and toes. 

I wish he was here to talk with, but these letters are close enough for comfort. I've read and re-read his first one at least a dozen times. Knives makes fun of me for it, but I can't help myself. I've really fallen for that crazy wizard. I hope he has an easier time of it in Ridonport. I worry about him sometimes, now that I'm not there to watch his back and keep him from doing something foolhardy.

Instead, I am here in Belhaim watching Knives' back. There are a lot of new faces in town as the Baroness is beginning to survey the iron deposits below the monastery. Knives is especially paranoid about any new people, and with good reason. That gang in Oppara is still after her for running out on her father's debts. But if anyone does come for her, they will have to through me first.

This has been a good opportunity for the two of us to bond, actually. In the morning, when I'm finishing my run, I will often come across Knives washing things in the river. I've even persuaded her to join me for a swim a time or two. And in the evenings, after I am done with the agonizing task of playing hostess to our small menagerie of house guests, I accompany her to the Wise Piper for a night of drinks. 

Knives is an endless font of inappropriate tavern songs, and I've shared a few Ulfen ditties as well. I've been trying to teach her to play tafl, but we've yet to complete a game. She drinks too much, from the weight of her anxiety no doubt, and I have to be careful to walk her home and see that she makes it into her bed safely. 

I have seen less of Lennox these days. Whenever we're in she seems to be out. Whenever we're out, she's in.

Moonday, 5 Sarenith, 4723

Hard to believe that it was just one month ago that we struck down Szangi the False Aeteperax in his lair. Everyone seems to just have gone their separate ways since then. Aldern is off on his quest, Maffei and Tagnus are in other planes of existence, and Lennox is gods know where half the time. 

I've been kept busy with my research. The monks' library is almost completely reviewed at this point and I have been spending much more time talking with our local druids about the local wildlife. The fucking heat has tempered my attempts at further fieldwork, especially later in the day.

Toilday, 13 Sarenith, 4723

Aldern got my first two letters! Finally, I have some replies. He is doing well, but is in Oppara now trying to track down a rare potion. Or something. He was glad to hear how the manor has been doing as an inn, and provided instructions on placing its profits into a merchant account at the House of Abadar. For some reason he was less enthusiastic about Knives' new business and suggested I keep an eye on her. I supposed it was too much to think that the two of them had let go of their old suspicions. He also had some additional experiments to try on Tagnus' gem, though he doesn't expect much will come of it.

I wish the mail traveled faster, but at last we are having a conversation again. I will write him some more tonight and tell him about my research findings. There are some very fascinating creatures indigenous to the Dragonfen region that I've had the opportunity to observe—and in one case, eat—in recent weeks.

Sunday, 25 Sarenith, 4723

While I was cooling down in the river today, I had a sudden realization. It has been more than six weeks since my last berserk episode during the dragon battle. I had grown so used to the rush of angry energy, it is strange to have gone so long without it again. 

I cannot complain. Certainly, I don't want the fury to take hold over something minor and I of course don't want more danger to walk into my life here in Belhaim. But it is so strange to have finally begun using my berserker "gift" as a useful tool, only to lay it back in the tool box to gather dust.

Oathday, 29 Sarenith, 4723

54 days. That's how long I was able to go without an episode. But now the counter is back to zero. I suppose now I have a record to beat.

In my defense, I was provoked. The yesterday I was out drinking with Knives, but she grew paranoid about all the new faces at the Wise Piper and decided to make an early night of it. As we returned to the manor, I noticed a light in my room that should not have been there. 

It appears one of our guests had sticky fingers and was going through our possessions. We caught him red-handed. The sight of him rifling through my possessions, with my head already clouded by drink, just let my inner dragon right off the hook. 

I defenestrated the man, then leapt out the broken window after him. Knives managed to calm me down before I killed him. Then I had to spend five minutes explaining to a drunken half-orc that "defenestration" is not a weird sex thing. We handed the thief over to Sheriff Hovy, and I have to testify against him tomorrow.

I have put one of the thief's teeth in a bowl on an end table in the common room, with a little sign: "Thieves will receive complementary amateur dentistry." Hopefully that will discourage any future irregularities.

Wealday, 5 Erastus, 4723

We're leaving Belhaim! Just for a little while, of course, but it will be good to get away.

We received a letter this morning, addressed to the Drengr Knights (our name is getting around!). We are invited to a wedding in the town of Bellis, across the border in Andoran. Elyin Ursage is marrying Kailah Windmede and our presence is requested. We have no connection to these people, but Knives suspects that we are being invited as local celebrities to serve as living conversation pieces.

My research in Belhaim is largely concluded, and there are several sites of interest near Bellis, so I was eager for the excuse to leave. Knives has decided to join me on the trip, having grown ever more paranoid about her presence in the village. We are of course bringing Tagnus' gem with us, and Yuki is coming, too. We couldn't find Lennox, so we left a message for her. I'm also going to write a note to Aldern letting him know where we've gone. Yuki of course is coming with me.

I'm so excited! I talked Knives into shopping for fancy clothes for the wedding. I was hoping to find something nice for Knives, who has always been so down on her own appearance. But I also indulged myself with something for myself to wear at the wedding and for evenings out with Aldern. 

You would think Knives would be in a cheery mood after the shopping, but she has been exceedingly grumpy. She also says I have been "scandalous and horny" ever since Aldern left. I haven't the faintest idea what she is going on about! Yes, the cut of the new dress is rather low, but it's not scandalous, not really. May she's been going through my personal papers? No, she would not betray my trust like that, not after seeing what I did to the last guy.

She's probably lashing out over something else. I will try to find out what is really bothering her on the carriage ride to Bellis.

We were also approached by the Shelynite priest, Nilos, who is a friend of the happy couple and asked that we convey a gift from him. The present is inside a gift-wrapped box, but Knives was able to delicately open the case and discover it was a rather impressive marital aid. She has re-sealed the case and we agreed not to speak of it again.

Drengr Knights
Sofie's Journal

Starday, 6 Desnus, 4723

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 7 Desnus, 4723 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moonday, 8 Desnus, 4723

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss him already.

Delivering the Dragon's Due
Sofie's Journal

Oathday, 4 Desnus, 4723

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fireday, 5 Desnus, 4723 (Morning)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fireday, 5 Desnus, 4723 (Afternoon)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dark Window
Sofie's Journal

Oathday, 4 Desnus, 4723

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kill the Man-Bat
Sofie's Journal

Wealday, 3 Desnus 4723 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oathday, 4 Desnus 4723 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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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