Blood in the Kingdoms

'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria is an anthology filled with tales of plunder and bloodshed that follows a mercenary company in it's attempts to find wealth and fortune in the Sylvanades. The author changed a number of times with the makeup of the unit.

Chapter I: The Archon

Part I: A Fateful Convergence

Through the swirling white tempest of the snowstorm, the companions spot a glowing light. A three story inn - it's source - seemed a welcome respite from the wild lands around it. After two weeks of hard travel through the Mestrian forest, this human settlement, although alien, seemed a gift to the two crimson-clad elves who tentatively approached it.From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter I

From the Journal of Sanguinia Briarheart

The grief of Sanguinus' death has settled in my heart like a searing coal - low, hot and constant. I now live solely for the pursuit of my revenge, and the taste of Archon Gaur's still-pumping lifeblood. I have left my foolish mother to her insularity. Let my sisters bicker over the spoils of her inattention.

I departed Vael some days ago in the company of Asrai, my tattooed warrior-guardian. Uncle Ylrad insisted, and though playing at sufferance, in truth I am glad of his skillful protection. After a week or so of travel, we had tired of sleeping under damp hedges or in leafless old oaks. We approached a human inn, the Four Peaks, with some reluctance.

Upon the bar there stood a ranting mercenary, quaffing ale from a boot and shouting at passing barmaids. The man was clearly mad, but playing into his delusions wins us a complementary round of wine. He is white-haired, mustachioed and grizzled, and slips from one personality to the next at the lightest touch. He scampers outside with stolen bottles of ale when the over-familiar innkeeper goes to ready our chambers. My suspicions raised at his long absence, I follow and find an empty landing. Cursing, I rouse Asrai to the prospect of foul play. Sure enough, our companion's shouts shortly warn of an ambush. Frederick has suffered a hatchet-blow to the head and is struggling with a bedraggled bandit. Archers fire out from the darkened tree line, but I quickly sight and dispatch of them with my bow. Asrai casually maims the last straggler, and Lady, my lynx, gorges on human's innards.

We quickly take up a pursuit, as the innkeeper and his wife remain at large. I track them through the snow till' the sound of dogs reach my ears. More bandits burst from the snowy woods ahead, their chieftain and his hounds barreling into our schizoid knight. Asrai dashes forward to engage his guards with whirling attacks, while my arrows find the eyes, hands and throats of more clumsy archers. The ringing of steel soon attracted further combatants, with a robed man and a thropish soldier joining the fray. The mage falls afoul of his own magic, but the bandits are nevertheless easily butchered. We elves give chase as the traitorous bar-staff disappear into the woods. Luckily their short, fat legs do not carry them far. I put a shaft through one ankle, Asrai severs another, yet still the disgusting creatures resist. Bleeding and squalling, I drag the sow back to the Inn, where Frederick has negotiated a tense standoff with the newcomers. He celebrates by raping the half-conscious female, a distasteful display I do not condescend to prevent. We all converge in the common-room, now a makeshift surgery where wounds are cleaned and sutured. Leaving the wizard to recover, Asrai, Frederick, the thrope and I make our way out into the snow once more, in search of the bandit's true hideout.

Part II: Unwelcome in Bralla


From the Journal of Sanguinia Briarheart

Our departure is stalled as we make our way out of the snowblown courtyard. Out in the mist, our ears catch the crunch of boots on ice, the heavy-gaited tread of a looming figure trudging slowly towards us. Asrai and I fall back quickly to the Inn's thick oaken door, and take cover to receive further attacks. To our surprise, a warm shout of greetings booms out of the distance. Ken San is a member of the Thaur race, his immense, shaggy form lumbering into view with arms spread wide. He claims to be an impoverished monk, as his rags would tend to attest, were it not for the heavy purse of silver at his belt. Nonetheless surprised at his friendliness, we accept his offer to minister his herbcraft in aid of our recent blow-in, the unlucky Carnyrmancer. As the Thaur prepares a healing balm, we hear further commotion outside.

The Inn is besieged once again by local miscreants, this time thugs in the employ of the local lord. Asrai calls out to them from the balcony, but I do not trust the placating answers they provide. Even when their Sergeant departs, many remain in place, eyeing us warily from the frozen trees. My suspicions growing, I decide to sneak out and learn what I can of them. My suspicions of the humans were well founded. On slipping away, I immediately spot a lynch-mob gathering in the town square. The rabble-rouser at their centre is surely the Lord of Four Peaks himself. I stealthily avoid their scouts and outriders and return to the Inn, firing headless arrows to alert Asrai of the danger. Before long, the whole motley lot have scrambled out the back door. Crouched and whispering in the snow, we debate our next course of action, but on beholding the well-guarded walls of Four Peaks, decide against a frontal assault. Prudently, we make for the bandit's camp instead.

After a journey of some hours we find a barren campsite in a sinister cave, clearly looted before our arrival. We pick over the remains and settle in for the night's rest, our moods soured by the poor takings. Overnight, the wizard dies in his sleep. In the morning we bury his body, and finally divested of any need to stay, Asrai and I continue on towards the town of Bralla. Evidently devoid of contrary business, Frederick and Ken hurry along in our wake. We travel in their company for several days, leaving the smouldering ruin of the Four Peaks in our wake. As the dense woods recede into farmland, Ken San's appearance startles one old countryman into flight. Before long though, word of his coming is passed around, and for many miles, we are trailed by an awestruck gaggle of human children and farm dogs.

Bralla emerges from the green hills before us just after nightfall. An impertinent guardsman charges us aggressively for entering late, and further for his racial prejudices. Such is - of course - to be expected, here in the less enlightened corners of the Empire, but it grates all the same. Laying a hand on Asrai's tensing spear-arm, I steer us to an Inn to avert violence. The Wenches Flagon awaits, warm and merry after a long and dangerous march. My Spearman's mood does not improve however, as he dickers with the innkeeper and complains about the quality of the local liquor. By morning, I practically drag him to the local adventurer's guild, just to get him out of my hair. I plan to meet with a contact from Clan Windblown, and can't have the party underfoot. Mercenary Captain Thruil Razorleaf has issued them with permits to plunder the nearby ruin of Bios Dael, and I have a few days to further my plans for revenge.

Part III: The Road to Bios'Dael

Beneath the towering oaks the dwarf stood solidly in the middle of the muddy road, his stubby fingers slowly sliding the chrome dragonette from his belt. The companions stopped wearily as he began to talk… From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter III

From the Journal of Asrai Briarheart

With the party going ahead to the ruins to the south the minotaur and I stay in Bralla to settle our payments with that troublesome innkeeper. When we set out the sun is high in the sky and the tracks of our companions are nearly hidden on the well worn road south. Our path is blocked some hours later by a dishevelled dwarven man with a tricorn hat, a dragonette pistol tucked into his gaudy belt. Ken attempts to communicate with the man, even going as far as to almost pay his "road keepers fee", but I notice that this is clearly a shakedown. As I rush the bandits hidden in the forests Ken picks up the deceptive dwarf and swings him like an axe at his companion, imploding both their chests as the two figures collide with bone crunching force. The ambush dealt with with reasonable efficiency we strip their bodies and head back to town to sell their wares. If we are to conquer Bios'Dael we will need all the finances we can get. With the proceeds I have the local elven smith fit some exquisite Drake Leather armour, a process that he promises will be finished in a week or two. Meanwhile Ken has developed a fixation with the quill and ink we stripped from our attackers, the pen tiny in his giant fingers. He tries drawing for many hours before visiting the local book store to purchase a larger quill. An expensive and beautiful Drake feather that fits well in his large hands. I feel disheartened in this drab human settlement and so Ken volunteers to accompany me to the nearest elf-glen, some miles north of town. There we find three blood trees and an oasis of flourishing Vaelessi plant life. Tending them is a red haired elven maiden, bearing the tattoos and attire of a priestess of the Life Mother. We give offerings to the trees and I discuss with her the moral implications of using the dragonette I took from the dwarf on the road. She tells me the Life Mother accepts the use of these objects in her name but blesses it for me anyway to do away with my doubts.

After the rehabilitating night at the glen we travel around past Bralla towards Bios'Dael, the road this time thankfully empty of trouble. Arrive at the ruin we find it to be a towering white tower some miles across. Around the tower sit three similar yet distinct camps:

To the north sit a Mestrian camp flying a red wolf on a white background, where armoured knights ride to and fro amongst their men at arms. In the innermost ring of tents the flag of the Lord of Bralla flies highest amongst the palisades and barracks. East of the tower sits a regimented and neat camp of dwarven mercenaries flying three black axes. There no horses are tethered and no structure sits above 6 feet, the typically stoic dwarves sleeping as close to their beloved dirt as possible. The camp we aim for is south of both of these, a ramshackle arrangement flying the leaves of Wind Blowers. Within it we find a mismatched group of tents housing mercenaries of all races and our contact; the quartermaster elf Irrevel. It would appear in our delay our other companions had been reassigned and that the minotaur and myself were to be combined with a halfling infiltrator, going only by the name Nightblade, apparently the only survivor of an attempt to steal into the dwarven camp two nights before. Our mission is to guard a local well, one of the few this side of the ruin and apparently an important military asset for the Windblown.

The well may be an important asset but it proves tiresome to guard. When I enlisted in a mercenary company I envisaged being part of a warband or at least serving in battles. As it stands the only trouble for the first few daws of guarding the well is a run in with some local wandering Viganne. They robbed Ken blind but as I have come to expect from him he holds no grudges and sits enjoying the hideous soup they supplied him with. It is a few days after our run in with the Viganne that we are finally challenged, as a band of dwarven thieves attempt to sneak into the camp and use the water supply. We all conceal ourselves from the ignorant dwarves and ambush them just as they begin to lower the pail. I kill two with vigorous spear thrusts as Ken is driven off by swings of their short swords. The others turn on me, driving their blades deep into my leg. I fall to see the Minotaur and Halfling driving off the would be thieves as my lifeblood pools on the snow beneath me.

Ken the minotaur carries me back to camp where the human surgeon does a surprisingly good job of setting my broken bone. After a few days I have regained mobility, although as I can barely walk I am given watch duty at the outer camp, my keen eyes scanning for targets in the surrounding forests. The rest of my companions return to the well and watch it for this fortnight until we can be reunited with our old party members. Once my leg is healed we are reunited, although Sanguinia is still reassigned, and sent deeper into the ruins.

Part IV: The Timeless Shroud


The gate opened before us, it's depths a swirling purple mist that twisted and turned like water at the bottom of a waterfall. The Thauryssian turned to us with one of his characteristic smiles and simply walked through…and with muttered prayers and curses both we followed him. From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter IV

From the Journal of Asrai Briarheart

We enter the ruins via a knocked down wall and find behind it only an open doorway, filled with a deep purple nothingness. Tentatively stepping through we are teleported to high domed room with three arches in the middle. Beneath these arches sits an elven automaton who refers to himself as "The Seneschal". He indicates that if we bring him Dwarven ancestor stones he will grant us a magic item each and teleport us back to Bios Dael, an offer we gladly accept stepping through the shroud in one of the archways at his ushering.

We are met by a gush of warm wet air as we step into a forest the likes of which I had never seen. Strange palms litter the forest floor. Bodric informs me this is referred to as a "jungle", the strange warm forests of the southern continent. Around this jungle sits a rim of white stone some miles across. Climbing to the top of a tree I spot a nearby structure and we make our way towards it. The jungle is dense, and we are forced to cut our way through at several points before eventually reaching the structure, revealed to be a large tree stump covered in vines. Ken thinks he spots something beneath the vines and he and I begin to slowly and carefully pull the off their host. They sting our fingers on contact but the effort is worth it when beneath the vines is revealed a doorway. Cautious and curious we step through.

Our next destination is somehow more strange than the last, a workshop of sorts littered with half built automons and metal legionnaires. Whilst searching this odd place we are met but an Elven lady in bronze robes, flanked by warforged automons. We speak for a time, discovering her to be from a noble house in the northwest of the Empire and shockingly that she entered this place some 30 years ago. We agree to help her escape but as we step through the next archway she does not follow, a sad look upon her face.

We appear in a hallway of ancient stone and proceed to loot the belongings of some dead Sylvan soldiers we find nearby. We are hesitant as the corpses each show multiple crossbow wounds but nevertheless take the armour, mage-vests and spellbooks we find upon their bodies. Ken passes through one of the doorways only to return quickly moments later, muttering about being "hounded by infernal ghosts". I am about to check the room when we hear from behind us a series of mechanical whirs and gusts of steam. In the other room of the hallway a set of bronze mechanical monstrosities were coming to life! Bodric and I quickly engage them, holding them off for long enough for the others to flee although the destruction of one rips our armour and weapons to shreds in a burst of sonic energy.

We flee through the now closed door that once held the ghosts and find ourselves in a large armoury full to the brim with glittering weapons and pieces of armour. The walls are carved in an ancient script that none of us can comprehend but we gleefully grab weapons and armour to replace those we had lost. Ken watches with an anguished look as I pick a new spear from a rack, attaching to it my red familial honour bond. I also take a matching set of armour, carved with twisting vines and almost impossibly light.

We pass through another door into a room with 10 dead figures and a stand holding a single silver chalice. The men appear to be northern Mestrian soldiers, although upon searching them we find their coins to be similar to those of ancient Vargar but surprisingly in mint condition. One soldier holds in his hands a tome within which is the ancient language of Vargar. Although none of us can read it Shadowblade manages to decipher some of it. It would appear that these men came here from the now Bloodlands some millennia ago searching for something in the ruins. The diary that he informs me belongs to a man named Jan Eisen, I tuck in my bag for later study. Perhaps it will help us understand the mysteries of these ruins.

We step again through a door and arrive in a black spherical room. Ken frowns and reports great sadness here, a sentiment I mirror. Eager to be rid of this place Shadowblade attempts to teleport away and we all reappear in what looks like a nobles pavilion. I vomit on the floor, feeling a great pain upon my soul in this place. Looking up I see what appears to be a human nobles pavilion. Within it sits a handsome young human with strange black skin. As we walk closer I notice he sports two pointed horns and his veins pulse with a strange blue light. He greets us-

-We step through the gates again, with Ken now leading the way. We each hold prizes from our interactions with the daemon except myself, barely holding in my illness as the thought of interacting with the creature sickens my soul. Bodric seems to be going on about his new glaive slaughtering even greater foes and with a gut wrenching twist we step through another gate and find ourselves back with the creature I refer to as 'the Seneschal'. We trade our dwarven ancestor stones for magical items and step once more through the gate. Giving some of our hard one prizes to the Razorleaf quartermaster we pass through to the camps medical tents, shaken by what we had experienced within the ruins.

We pay a visit to the Razorleaf technomancer who looks at our items free of charge. He says my spear is clerically enchanted and that my armour was once cursed but is no longer (explaining the sickness and weariness). The others also have their items evaluated but do not deem to inform me of their findings. Ken does seem to have gathered two small pouches on his belt that were not there however, one in green and one in red. As the party flounders in Bios Dael Ken and I head north towards Bralla alone to visit the Glade Mistress outside the city. A night of rest and prayer does both of us a world of good and she informs me the spear was made by an ancient and forgotten elven god and that wielding it is an honour. I bind my clan markings to it and we make our leave takings, intent on rejoining the others in Bralla the following day.

Part V: Magespire in the Marsh

The dry log crumbled beneath the foot of the knight and he fell, his armour making an unholy cacophony that could be heard a mile off. The heads of a dozen orcs swung about in outrage, and a hideous chorus of roars erupted in the ruin. Four figures, labouring through the clinging sump of the marsh, shared an exasperated look and charged forward to meet the challenge.
From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter V

From the Journal of Sanguinia Briarheart

It is with some reluctance that I resume my role as scout for the odd company of mercenaries Asrai and I have accumulated. In my absence they have had a whirlwind experience of dungeons and witchery that has rendered them stranger than ever. They have pilfered an array of unusual equipment in their recent mission, yet I cannot avoid thinking they have paid a dark price for it. If nothing else, they now have a vicious looking halfling in tow, mysteriously acquired in the course of their mission. My private endeavours were far less eventful, as in these past days I have failed to secure the support of my distant cousin's tribe against the Archon. But I will not be discouraged. Razorleaf has dispatched us into the service of a Dwarfish merchant named Bittersteel. With luck it will prove more profitable than our last.

We have travelled for many days and nights through the swamp towards Marshblown, a remote settlement where orcs are thought to raid on passing caravans. A working manaforge was stolen from our client, and I have led the group with little difficulty on their trail. Orcs stampede from place to place with little regard for the destruction they leave in their wake. Marshblow itself was a backwards and unpleasant place. Asrai committed some unknown transgression against the volatile human populace and was ejected from the local inn. He spent an unpleasant night in the stables while the rest of us took a rigid hold on our tongues. I despite the indulgence of human ignorance, yet there is little alternative. The drudgery of our slog through the cloying mire is broken only by a casual encounter with some priests on the road. The others share some conversation and news. I take the opportunity to slip away to a Bloodtree I've spotted from afar. I leave an offering to my tribe's god and return to the company before they notice my absence.

We arrived at last at a black stone tower, much worn by wind and water. From a hidden vantage I observe it's reconstruction at the hands of several scarred, loping orcs, and wonder aloud to the others who could be directing them. Frederiko and Ken San, to my surprise, hurry forward to introduce themselves. With a curse, Asrai and I sight down our bows and await the inevitable assault. Combat erupts across the muddy expanse, as the orcs come flooding out of the tumbledown structure. They are awful creatures, each needing two or three arrows to the brain to kill. It is laborious work, but Frederiko stems the tide upon his shield while Asrai moves through the ruck cutting and thrusting at exposed necks and joints. Ken San hurls an orc bodily through the fray and barrels through the breach when he spots a wizened figure emerge above. Grabbing and waving the wizard about like a rag-doll, he attempts to talk down the frothing orcoids. It is to no avail. Forced to defend ourselves, we kill the creatures to the last, with Ken finally hurling the broken Wizard from the tower with his slain protectors.

We bear the heavy magitechnological equipment back to the road with some frustration, but are rewarded handsomely for our trouble. We hitch a ride with some passing caravaners, pleased to take our weight off our feet for a few leagues. Before long, Bralla emerges from the surrounding forest, the return journey -as always - seeming shorter than the first. As we pour over Bittersteel's catalogue, our purses heavy with our payment, Ken San is passed a letter by a mysterious passer-by. Unable to read it, we entreat our new friend Bittersteel to do us the honour. The wiry dwarf takes a scant look at the document before catching his breath in his throat. "Some matters are better left untouched," he warned before hurling our letter into his fireplace. We react with outrage, demanding an explanation, but the dwarf seems seized with a sudden madness. He takes up his hammer and swings in wild arcs, the resulting ruckus drawing the attention of the guards. Frederiko, Asrai and Nightblade leave him wounded and bleeding, fleeing the scene of combat. Ken San stoically remains, giving our erstwhile employer assistance and accepting the heavy irons brought forth by the guards. I am spared incarceration, having been fortuitously absent during the altercation. Nevertheless, I am forced to cool my heels in Bralla while the others endure the sluggish process of questioning, remand and bail in the primitive town's judicial system. After several days I go to collect Asrai, Frederiko and the halfling who I hear have been detained a fair distance from town. Bittersteel, it emerged, was a wanted fugitive, and the boys had done a service to the crown by dispatching him. Nevertheless, greatly pleased to be out of their dank cells, the party quickly agrees to pursue the scant details of the letter as far from Bralla as possible.

Part VI: The Ghost in Chains

There dwells out there, somewhere among the trackless trees of the South, or lurking 'midst the serrated edges of the Steps mountains, some monstrous child-eating thing. It has outlasted the efforts of human lords, outlived the dedication of churchmen, passed unseen by hunters, rangers and rogues, and sat smiling before the faces of outland heroes and remained undiscovered. I am seized by a dread, that my life will become a mere footnote in the history of horror this being has visited upon the people of this province. - Argus Abellic, Nightwarden


From the Journal of Sanguinia Briarheart

The entreaty Ken received has led us deep into the southern wilderness, far from any roads or marks of civilisation. We have been forced to forge through untamed wilds for many miles, sleeping rough and suffering under night-time sleet. The slim morsel of information we are following told of a village troubled by a haunting, some spirit or daemon apparently stealing children from their beds. I have my doubts, as provincial humans are always chasing new heights of superstition, but the burly Thaur is insistent that we lend our aid. As the days have rolled on, he has situated himself more and more at the forefront of the group's decision making. Though occasionally ponderous, he strikes us all as a worthy enough leader and we have largely fallen into line behind him.

Following the river for several days, we pass though old ruins, a stretch of wetlands and a line of rocky foothills. To the north of us, the Nine Steps mountain range disappears into the stormy distance, their jagged peaks clawing coils of dense, snowy cloud down from the sky. I sense their beauty is lost on my companions, save wildblooded Asrai. I am almost disappointed to spot the wooden palisades of Andal's Gift, having grown accustomed to sleep and travel beneath the eaves of trees. My companions scurry eagerly up to the gate and declare themselves, while I, feeling cautious, decide to remain hidden. Asrai agrees to meet me in the village square after nightfall to explore the town.

At dusk I slip under the nose of an oblivious night watchman and spirit myself into the settlement. Several of my companions are already performing a reconnaissance, informing me of their growing suspicion towards the local lord. Our employer - a church Watchman in a frayed cloak and boiled leathers - holds fears that his beloved town is haunted. Having canvassed the townsfolk, the party have learned that no children remain in [x village]. One by one, they have disappeared over many years, often on the eve of the lord's monthly departure. Asrai has also discovered a single link of cold iron in an abandoned house, seeming to confirm an old folktale of a hungry ghost loosed during the regions' infrequent vampiric invasions. Nightblade has endeavoured to sniff out the source of any haunting, but finds no aethyric trace to follow. Taking advantage of the lord's absence, several of us sneak into his empty manor, hoping for some clue. Alas, naught but dust and sheeted furniture are found within, and we return to our beds with no answers.

At dawn, the lord returns to the land, riding past my hiding spot on the road to the gate. He is accompanied by four hulking mercenaries with long swords and heavy, hateful crossbows. I climb into the treetops to observe my companions coming and going throughout the day, watching a confrontation between the nobleman and the pious Ken. An angry exchange occurs, and the lord storms off towards his manor. When I sneak back over the wall that evening, none of our group have met with any greater success. Asrai and Ken withdraw to meditate beneath an old barren oak at the centre of town. The skeletal thing makes me restless, and am glad when Bodric and Nightblade suggest a return to the manor. Perhaps we will meet with more luck, and the haughty old human will incriminate himself somehow.

While inhabited however, I find the manor rather more difficult a place to infiltrate. I barely avoid being spotted as I slink up to the walls, and find our old mode of ingress on the roof recently sealed over. I am forced to wedge open an attic window, wincing at the creaks given off by it's stubborn frame. Followed within by Bodric and Nightblade, we split up in search of evidence. The Lord and lady are ensconced in the bedchamber, and through the keyhole I see I can scarcely enter without alerting them. His one waking guard is distracted, staring into the hearth fire; even avoiding him, I discover naught else but the ordinary business of a sleeping manor house. We reconvene in the empty living room and have a whispered argument about our next move. I see no gain in killing the Lord and his men without proof of their deviancy. The others are less concerned, but they are eventually convinced to leave by the sound of encroaching footsteps. We creep back into the attic and escape across the roof, but are soon met by the disapproving expressions of Asrai and Ken in the square outside. They chastise our recklessness, but before I can defend the worth of our venture a bloodcurdling shriek pierces the night. A commotion quickly builds within the house, and it is clear a servant has roused the guards to some discovery. Keen to avoid any recrimination, I melt into the shadows and head for my now familiar bolt-hole in the old palisade. I whisper an urgent entreaty to follow me, but the others are intent on staying. I make myself scarce, forging out into the woods in search of a safe place to sleep through till morning.

The party emerge one by one from Andal's Gift the next day. Drawn to the noise, I meet them upon the road and join what has become an increasingly spirited discussion. Apparently, they have been banished. A guard was found dead within the lord's house, and his fellows had burst from the doors and attacked the oblivious party without. It seems that Nightblade, the inscrutable halfling spellblade, had been concealing a murderous streak, having cut the throat of a drowsing guard at his post. Faced with retribution, he had incriminated himself by bolting off into the lord's gardens and disappearing. Even nursing the wounds unfairly dealt out by the lord's men, the party had been cast from the town, tarred by association with the tiny deviant. Ken tells us of his inner turmoil, as his gentle heart recoils from the merciless violence Nightblade has committed. He lets out his slow-burning anger, bellowing into the trees around us "You are no longer welcome among us, murderer! Keep yourself from my sight!" If the halfling hears, wherever he is, he gives no sign. And the group is arrived at a crossroad. Though I find the halfling's actions distasteful, there are few acts I would consider unjustified if they advanced the cause of my revenge. "Violence is a tool, and human life is cheap in the despoiled kingdoms" I tell Ken without qualm. Frederiko shares my view, or at least the personality he is currently exhibiting does. "I don't see the problem. I kill people all the time, if they deserve it." The conversation continues, but it is clear to me that a divide has been opened up. We have failed in our mission here, and the question of means and ends remains unresolved between us. We agree to journey together back to the Razorleaf Company headquarters as friends, but thereafter to part ways in peace. I am saddened to lose the company of Bodric, who I have been teaching woodcraft these past few weeks. Worse still the loss of Asrai, who tells me my recklessness has endangered the life he is bound to protect. He asks me to release him from his bond to my house, and I do so with a heavy heart. We embark now in strange, anxious coexistence, familiarity and camaraderie overlaid by the knowledge bar these few short days, our paths may soon diverge forever.

Part VII: Reconstitution


A stranger group had seldom walked in Bralla. Two Elves, two Thropes and two Thaurs strode past the squalor and wide eyed peasants, their step a bristling with purpose.
From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter VII

From the Journals of Goldenpaw

I have languished for several days in the walled city of Bralla, a squat human settlement of black stone and clay tiles. It is greatly satisfying. My travels have been punctuated by inconsequential encounters and other delays that have kept me from my true business. I have been drawn here by the prospect of a lucrative exchange with my anonymous noble benefactor, a scheme which requires the complicity of an elusive Thaur cleric last seen in these parts. I am eager to see this venture begun. I am accompanied by my old squadmate Grit, a Gyomancer from the Dalmestri front. Together we have brokered a deal with a local jeweller to aethyrically raise the grade and purity of his gold. He has thrown into the bargain food and board while we wait for the elusive Ken San to arrive.

We have joined the company of Ken San without complication, the Monk and his savage sylvan companion apparently glad to avail themselves of our expansive skills. But my offer has been delayed in favour of a job offered by the Windblown Company. We are to meet with a Lady Lizbethe, distant relation of the Duke of Bralla, hidden in the wilds and surrounded by an honour guard of knights. Armed with a letter of introduction and commission, we venture into her camp. She relates her woes at the hands of the Mestrian Theives Guild, which has slain her husband, kidnapped her children, captured her lands and chattel and set a deluded church attack-dog at her heels. Fearing for the lives of her children, she cannot invoke on the intervention of the Duke, instead providing a comprehensive list of clandestine operations that will enable her to cast down her tormentors and retake her place at court. Our most immediate concern is stopping her pursuer, Magnus the Bright, a powerful but notoriously dim-witted Witchfinder. Equipped with her instructions and charged with utmost discretion, we set out with minimal delay.

Indulging the extortion of successive human guards, we gain reentry to the city. Hoping to discover the location of Magnus and his entourage, Grit pens a coded letter to the Duke's household asking for information. Grifted once more by the doormen, the pair of us take a booth at the Silver Otter and soon receive his representative. The snarling Elf seneschal berates us for our lack of subtlety, and suitably chastened, we flee the town to ready an ambush for Magnus.

On the road to Bios'Dael, we attempt to waylay the questing knights, but the gruff straightforwardness of Asrai and the booming certainty of Ken set the warriors on edge. With some effort we are able to convince them to take us on as guides, hoping to lure him into the obscurity of the ruin, but Magnus' more crafty attendants soon fill his head with doubts. Our garbled and contradictory efforts at appeasing him raise suspicions ever higher, until Grit, sensing trouble, decides to pre-empt the moment of violence. The crack of vacuuming air, so familiar to me from the battlefield, announced the ignition of his fearsome spellcraft, and the beginning of combat.

Part VIII: Fall of the Bright

The whirlwind was fierce, the long stagnant stones of Bios Dael now spinning amongst the struggling forms of the armoured knights. As we watch a flourish of red appears in the maelstrom as the armoured forms begin to collide again and again… From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter VIII

From the Journals of Goldenpaw

We are hurled from our feet by the whipcrack release of Grit’s spell, as the fierce counteraethyric charms borne by our foes are overwhelmed. The screaming starts almost immediately, as their antimancer claws at his own skull. Unerringly, small stones and other debris begin drifting up from the earth around Magnus and his attendants. They are locked in place, stunned for a moment as dust swirls around them in an upward column. Then they too begin drifting.

Grit, his eyes aglow, his voice otherworldly and resonant, turns to us and speaks; “See to the others.”

Ken and Bodric lurch to their feet and rush to the outer gate. Shouts break out as they stampede into the Knights there, those who remained with the horses. Lithe Asrai flickers forward as an armoured woman staggers free from the spell’s area of affect. He darts out with viperous strikes from his spear. Sparks fly up as she blearily parries, but it soon becomes clear she is no match for his speed; he caves in her face then runs outside to aid the others.

As Magnus and his Knights drift ever further towards the ceiling they begin circling, hurtling about with increasing speed. Their shouts of alarm turn to howls of pain as their heavily armoured forms collide, lightly at first, again and again with mounting velocity. Soon, a seething mist of blood-drop particles obscure the spinning cloud of broken limbs and battered metal.

For several torturous minutes, Grit maintains his spell. The grunts and moans eventually recede and only sickening cracks emanate from within the gravity cloud. Salthoof’s arrows have disappeared steadily into the cloud, and I have stood mutely in defence of Grit all this time. I am aware that our survival rather depends on his successful killing of these powerful warriors. When he finally releases his grip, mangled corpses splatter to the earth amid a steady shower of blood. Somehow, horribly, Magnus has survived. Someone steps forward to cut his throat, as his eyes burn with uncomprehending rage and accusation. Outside, Ken, Bodric and Asrai sit about, blood-soaked and exhausted, more bodies scattered around their feet. No one speaks. We quietly gather up the fallen weapons and armour, wrap them in cloaks, and load up the restless horses. Asrai conducts a short ceremony over the bodies, before we dump them in the crackling time vortex and hurry off.

We decide against returning to Bralla, sure the distinctive warhorses of our slaughtered foes will be recognised. Winding around the now-familiar city takes us far from Lady Alzbeth’s encampment, agreeing that passing back and forth that way too often will draw undue attention. We will make for Vargoviste. The Lady’s lands, title deeds and artefacts likely await us there anyway, in the clutches of the elusive Whisperling.

As we travel, I rifle through the documents borne by the Knights. They have blood-damaged maps on which likely sites of Alizbethe’s camp are circled. There is a document charging ‘Boris the Sensible’ with the defence of Magnus, for a fee of 200 dragons. There is a loveletter to a freshly minted knight of House Szislenki, commissioned for this chase. Archon Gaur has taken on a considerable expense to fund this little jaunt, it seems. I wonder why it is so important to him.

We make camp in the woods some distance from the Walls, settling down after days of travel on horseback. Bodric and I venture into town, where I shortly arrange the the quiet sale of our stolen horses. I rather boggle at the price an up-market horse trader offers, but I err on the side of caution. A discrete but well-financed businessman from the Dwarven Quarter meets me at mildly respectable stable on the morrow, and a large quantity of gold changes paws. We both leave satisfied, and I distribute the spoils to a joyful party. We will make our home in Vargoviste for a few weeks now, as we wait on the production of various articles of specialist equipment that have been commissioned. As for me, I have begun drafting a letter to the Lady Alzbethe. I bring the regretful news of Magnus’ disappearance, vanished while delving the labyrinthine ruins of Bios Dael. I will bear the letter in a few days, to assure her of our continuing efforts to advance the mission she gave us.

Part IX: A Short-Lived Fellowship

Gold brings power, but also attention. - Old Mestrian Proverb

From the Journals of Goldenpaw

We spend a few days at ease, but in the typical manner of adventurer's lives, such peace is not to last. As we await the completion of our commissioned equipment, the party begins receiving mysterious letters. We are obliquely against trusting in our deal with Sten, and giving in to worry, we gather to discuss our options. As we sit in congress, Snipe, the street urchin I have been employing, arrives with an ominous letter addressed to Goldenpaw; the Thieves Guild summons us. Asrai vanishes onto the shadowy rooftops overhead, hoping to head off any ambush. The rest of us go out in the small hours, to meet the Whisperling's envoy.

We are issued an ultimatum; renege on our mission and kill our employer Lady Alzbethe, or the Guild will allow the identities of a small group of mercenaries known as 'the Brightslayers' to reach the ears of the Archon's Magistrate. Sten has apparently tried to fence our stolen horses back to the royal household, giving our names and descriptions under torture. We are given 24 hours to consider our response. The group scatters across the city, trying various methods to avert our fate. Though we consider it, the firm words of Ken avert any talk of betraying Albethe. He and Asrai entreat a respected priest of the Living God to aid us. Grit takes refuge with the Mage's Guild, having successfully crafted a new identity for himself. I learn that we have been blacklisted by the network of information dealers on the street, and make preparations to leave the city with our remaining bounty. I offer to await the others, if they survive, in our woodland campsite outside the city limits.

I have risked a few hours sleep in our cart, and awake to the sounds of several party members settling in to camp. Asrai reports his skilful infiltration of the Archon's dungeon, and his slaughter of the informant Sten and his Guild-aligned interrogator. His escape was heroic, but has stirred the authorities like a vexed nest of hornets. We agree to reconvene outside Bralla, where we will make a report of our failure to our Lady employer. I begin composing a letter to Grit, asking him to remain in place using his cover identity, to collect the equipment several party members are still awaiting.

I have explained the situation to Alzbethe, who has borne ill news with good grace. We have been extended a small fee for our efforts thus far, and discharged from her service. We return to the Windblown Company and are likewise honourably dismissed. Ken and Asrai have experienced a kind of spiritual distress in this journey, sure that this latest situation - the third major stumbling block to be found in their path - is a sign of their God's displeasure. Ken has renewed his vow of poverty, stating that avarice has led us into this accursed state. Angrily hurling aside many of their worldly trappings, they have abandoned the party in favour of a long pilgrimage to a distant holy site, to renew and reinvigorate their faith. Bodric and I bid them farewell, settling into a hidden campsite to await the return of Grit and Salthoof, that we may journey West to outrun the Archon's hounds.

Alas, we ran neither fast nor far enough. We were awoken by the thunder of encroaching hooves, forced to abandon our camp as shouts forewarned of our discovery by an armoured company. We bolted into the wilderness, and I slipped on the magic ring I scavenged from Asrai's abandoned trappings. Without this advantage, Bodryc is captured and dragged back to the road. I watch from a nearby treetop as the wily cat demands a trial by combat for his alleged crimes, easily slaughtering the poor, unfortunate judicial champion with blurring, sparking strikes from his lightning-glaive. Begrudgingly, the guards let him go, but remain in place, staking out for my return to the road. For ten days I am forced to rough it in the wild, growing weary and sick with exposure. When they finally give up, I wearily follow, invisibly padding back to the bulwark of Bralla. When Grit finally arrives, I do not recognise him. He has obtained a new face to match his royal persona. I spot Salthoof in his escort however, and after significant confusion, the four remaining party-members set out, reunited for a journey Eastbound. They hear of Ken and Asrai's departure with sadness, but remark that there is now little to keep us here within the Archon's reach.

Volachia has become somewhat hectic of late. We opt for a change of pace, making way for Mordimar, where we hope to find a kinder reception and better fortune.

Interlude: A Grateful Rest

Snow can seems as soft and warm as feather down after a long enough a journey, I recon. Tain't called the 'blue embrace' fer nothing though.- Roadwarden, Northern Volachia
From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Author Unknown

[The party decide to summon a daemon]

The group fled with haste through the northern border of Volachia on the back of their newly purchased cart and it's stalwart steed, Atlas. The journey north was hard, though made easier by Goldenpaw's generous bribery of the Volachian border guards and various road wardens. Winter was breaking and as the group travelled north they saw the first rays of spring sunlight and valiant green grass pocking its head up from beneath the blanket of snow. The group plodded steadily away from the Archon's grasp. As the party travelled further north into Mordimar however, they spent many hours huddled around a flickering campfire in the vast forests and steppes of the Northern Province.

In their travels, the group encounter two fellow travellers. Aldus was an enigmatic knight of courtly but mysterious lineage. His black armour and slick dark hair hide a diminished but capable frame. He has a sinister smile. His comrade Cornelian is equally aloof, clad in mage's battle armour but disclosing no history of warcraft wizardry. His long robes robes are lined with bottles and casks of strange liquids and hung with magical miscellanea. The newcomers prove their worth at an inn in Horod, when a wandering Death Cultist slid his poisoned blade into Bodric's sleeping form. Aldus showed surprising knowledge of healing, clutching tight in his hand a winged heart amulet as he stitched the Thrope's wound. After this incident the party made double time towards Mordimar, ever wary of assassins and spies shadowing their path.

Upon arriving in the city of Alkai the group part company, going to ground to spend their ill-gotten gains. Grit used his Volachian nobles papers to gain entry to the local Mages Conglomerate, advancing his thesis on 'Aethyrikinetic Component Decay in Chronal and Gravitic Distortion Arrays'. Before the party would meet again he would study under the ancient elven naturalist Cyianot the Venerable, greatly increasing his abilities in the area of Gyomancy. Bodric used his newfound infamy to gain entrance into the Alkai fighters arena, indenturing himself to the thrope pitmaster Groth and earning many accolades before finally purchasing his freedom. Goldenpaw entered a mentorship under Coinmaster Arkenstone, associate of the Dwarven Trade Embassy. At the behest of his benefactor, his lessons would include rigorous instruction in the curvesword, as befits all of Arkenstone's proteges. Of Aldus and Cornelian little was heard, though Goldenpaw was called to witness the signing of transfer deeds for title to a small manor house in their favour. Of the previous owners, nothing was said. The two were also often seen deep in discussion at the noble library, buried in ancient tomes for days on end.

One and a half years after the group arrived in haste in the city they met once again at Aldus' manor, as the summer leaves began to fall from the trees and the cold winds of a Mordimari winter buffeted the white stone city. They were summoned from their various postings by an abrupt letter and the promise of 'wealth and glory beyond imagining…'

304017.jpg Alkai

Chapter II: The Daemons of Mordimar

Part X: Red Eagles and Jak'o'Shadows

"Iron, salt, dragon-glass,
toadstool milk, razorgrass.
Mothers who teach rhyming tunes
to recall the rules, and tie rough hewn,
elm cuttings in the eaves.

But above all else, we hate the leaves,
that turning gold, our reign retrieves,
when green, demand we slumber.

Away from blighted, rotten sun,
while summer solstice songs are sung,
in earth as dark as umber."

From a well-known Mortimari opera, this song, performed by "ice witches" is often cut from the performance. The melody, which the playwright claims to have heard on the wind in a snowstorm, is said to cause nightmares.

The Journals of Goldenpaw
[The party needs several artefacts to learn the name of a suitable daemon]

I have received a letter from Aldus with an offer of work, a venture that will reunite long-absent companions from the wilds of Volachia. Having just completed my course with Master Arkenstone, I am available. I understand the summons has arrived at an equally fortuitous time for the rest of us.

Aldus' eerie manor-house has seen little repair since my last visit, the reception chamber spider-webbed and devoid of wine. I greet Bodric, Salthoof and Grit as old friends, having been companions through difficult times. With the dramatic arrival of the sinister Aldus and his accomplice Cornelian, we begin to hear details of our quest.

And a quest it is, for we are charged with the recovery of an array of magical artefacts that will reveal the location of a greater (and undisclosed) treasure. Aldus offers each of us our usual mercenary fee, but adds that we will share in the spoils of his overarching scheme. I happily agree. Having paid even one semesters' tuition, I am rather less availed of coin than I am used to. As the others quickly reflect, adventuring can be as lucrative as it is risky.

The first artefact is in the possession of a rogue Volachian warrior named Volkmar the Proud. Once a hero of the Volachian Tournaments, he turned rogue, slaughtered his opponents and disappeared into the wilderness that borders Mordimar. He was last seen by members of the Red Eagles Company, an adventuring band that swelled to become a mercenary army. Scrying reveals his rough location, but further inquiries are required. Grit soon learns that the Red Eagles' mission was issued by the Mages Collective, pointing us North East. I carefully see to our supplies and purchase a map before we depart.

The Red Eagle Company is encamped within a wooden palisade some days out of Alkai. They happily permit entry to our merchant wagon, and we disperse among the men to learn what we can. The commander reveals that Volkmar has slain their commander in a duel, casting the men into a despair, their mission forgotten. Concerned that many of them would die if faced with combat, he entreats us to complete it in his stead. Each cold season apparently brings down swarms of creatures called “ice tricksters”, the spawn of a fabled witch of the nearby frosts. They are thought to come in the early storms as the seasons change and are considered an ill omen for the coming winter. Many heroes have gone to their deaths attempting to slay this witch, the Captain tells us, with latter generations simply culling her offspring when they trouble local communities. In exchange for the location of Volkmar, we agree.

The night is spent huddling in a ritual protection circle erected by Cornelian. We are warned that the strange beings are attracted to the warmth of bodies, so we set a bonfire and await their attack. The coals burn low before distant howls rouse me from my sleep. Thrown open before us, the secret compartment of our cart has been pilfered. Upon leaping outside, a crowd of capering sprites are revealed. The creatures – known in some lands as Jak’o’Shadows - are made up of swirling frost, stolen objects and old animal bones. Our blows often pass harmlessly through them. With great effort I shatter one or two, and Bodric’s cold iron accounts for many more. But Grit’s magic seems only to strengthen them, with the horrific, congealed form of several Tricksters emerging from his vortex spell. It is blasted apart as Salthoof peppers it with fiery arrows.

On the morrow we return to the Red Eagles camp and deliver the glad news. The grateful commander points us East, offering the services of his scouts as guides. After a few hours, an old stone bridge stretches before us, astride a misty river. The armoured form of Volkmar awaits us there, atop a destrier. His challenge rings out across the span and Bodric roars a reply, but they shortly fall to dickering over the terms. The knight will not give up the advantage of his lance and mount unless Bodric cedes the advantage of his crackling polearm. Neither willing to take the first step, Salthoof sends an arrow spearing into the horses’ brain. As the steed collapses, Volkmar leaps free and the duel begins afoot.

The back and forth continues for several minutes, with the Volachian hero raining whirlwind blows on Bodric’s impervious armour. The snarling cat replies with scything attacks that are constantly parried aside. Lighting arcs off the pair, grounding itself in spouts of melted, misting snow. Finally, Bodric sunders the man’s shield and hurls him from his feet. As electricity sizzles through him, Volkmar looks up helplessly as the Knightslayer blade is grounded through his heart. His corpses joins a pile of his victims rotting beneath the bridge. Salvaging what we can from his meagre camp, we turn tail for Alkai, huddling in our wagon, borne by faithful Atlas.

Part XI: Scourstone

“It is common in enough in war - though hardly the conduct of gentlemen – to burn an enemy’s lands and salt the earth where he once brought forth crops. This was something else entirely.”- Attributed to an unnamed Captain of the Red Eagle Company, on visiting the site known as Scourstone. From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XI

The Journals of Goldenpaw
[Imprisoned while on trail of a daemon-smith/ artefact]

Upon our return, Aldus rakes through the remains of the snow-daemon with glee. He purchases several small vials of the daemon-bile from Cornelian and pays out of small mercenary fee. With no more ceremony than that, he turns around and slashes the throat of the young Diviner who has been helping him. We watch in shock as the boy's lifeblood spurts across the map he had just been dowsing, painting clear paths and pools that mark the location of the remaining artefacts. Having had some truck with mages before, I am nevertheless taken aback. But taking my cues from the others, I make no comment. I am no priest, and every man's soul is his own to trade, should he be offered good enough a price.

This time the search is for a dwarvish enchanter by the name of Kazrim, somewhere in the north-west mountains. I learn that the old tinkerer inhabits a far-off elvish ruin into which he has built a small workshop. Bodric and Salthoof are excited to hear of a tournament taking place in Alkai these next few days, and anticipating little trouble in the Kazrim affair, we agree that they can stay and try their luck. Cornelian and Grit will accompany me, and I make the usual preparations.

We arrive at the ruin with little difficulty, stopping only to trade with a few refugees from a rebel sacking to the west. Kazrim is descended from the Eastern earthen; dark-hued, quill-furred, tattooed and favouring the scimitar. His many guards are bronze-armoured and formidable, with impressive technomagical implants and combat-limbs. His welcome is indeed warm, and we are received for dinner alongside his attractive elven wife. We note that the tower’s mysterious other visitor is absent, but think nothing of it, launching into negotiations for the purchase of our prize. Regretfully we learn that it has been disassembled for materials, but Cornelian assures me it will still function for our purposes. Our good-natured haggling continues as the dark ale flows, and I feel myself becoming disproportionately drunk. Feeling the effects suddenly, I look up into the hungry, beady eyes of our host and realise we have been poisoned. I see Cornelian, uncomprehending, stagger a few steps out of his chair, curse and collapse, before I myself slip into unconsciousness.

I awake in a darkened cell, dimly aware of the scratching of rats and the steady drip of meltwater. I act the part of the outraged nobleman, attracting the interest of an unsightly guard. Unfortunately he is so dull-witted as to ask for his superior’s advice when I attempt to bribe him. Staunching cold-iron whip-welts, I make a private pledge to behead them both. Hours pass and I sit near-frenzied with boredom and rage. I hear intermittent shouts and scuffling echoing down the stone corridor, deducing that my companions are near, and bristling at their imprisonment . But it is a cowled stranger who finally awakens me, reaching through the bars to pass me an adamantine blade inlaid with rubies and a snowflake sigil. He disappears before I can ask any further thing of him, and I set to sawing apart the lock on my cell.

Upon freeing myself, I am accosted by my ugly jailer, whom I disarm, cripple and kill. I take his armour and weapons and go in search of my colleagues. Down a moss-covered stairway, a row of overgrown mage-cells are guarded by the whip-wielding warden. Catching his lash across my eye, I beat aside his scrabbling hands and choke him to death. My blood drips into his purpling face. At the end of the corridor I discover my companion’s handiwork, one door warped and scorched from within and a guard turned to stone in the act of delivering rations. They are overeager to be freed, clothing and arming themselves as I put our jailer’s heads on spikes on the wall.

We stalk from chamber to chamber, Cornelian vanishing behind a veil of magic and deactivating or warning us of traps ahead. We burst into a large chamber to discover the Enchanter’s workshop, Karzim himself scurrying off as our flurry of spells and missiles snap forth in his wake. Disappearing into a mag-lift, he escapes us.

Happening upon a treasury room, we gladly reclaim our trappings and make for the uppermost level. Cornelian slips in first but gives up a shout as a wave of magic feedback ripples against his cloaking spell. Within the vast, arched chamber, an Infyromancer is completing a summoning ritual; the body of a Minotaur lurched to its feet, possessed. I rip my sword free of its scabbard, but the mages make short work of the foe. Cornelian casually flicks a spell at the wizard and knocks him soundlessly from his feet. Grit makes a casual motion that sends the daemon host hurtling between the floor and roof with bone-crunching velocity. He eventually discards the pulpy corpse with disinterest.

Between them, my companions proceed to slaughter and demolish the enchanter’s entire household. Grit evokes a shrieking tornado, which Cornelian viciously seeds with nauseating daemon taint. The first the guards know of the matter is when the manor doors erupt from below, and a howling vortex full of writhing, tortured faces smashes into the foundations. The guards are sucked helplessly into the storm, torn limb from limb and consumed by the winged, tainted beings within. The manor house collapses inwards, imploding as the blizzard of blood, wooden fragments and bone shred it bodily.

Through the surrounding woods, I pursue a lone pair of figures fleeing the destruction. As Kazrim stumbles, he falls and breaks an amulet. I watch as the other figure, his petite elven wife, screams in triumph and leaps upon him, tearing open his ribcage with tooth and hands. I reach the pair as she collapses, shivering in mute horror and falling unconscious. I reach down and pull the artefact from around the corpse’s neck, but leave the problem of the girl to the mages.

Having claimed our prize, we return down the southern road. We have allowed Analise, a guard named Fulgrim and a lone slave to survive, better to spread the tale of the Brightslayers’ vengeance. Fewer will take the name Brightslayers lightly hereafter, and that can only go well for us.

Part XII: The Man in the Cellar

The vortex changed colour as it ravaged the men within it's flaring arcs. First purple, then red, blue and green in quick succession. A chill went down the spine of all who witnessed Cornelian's magic that night, knowing they were witnessing something truly unholy. From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XI

From the Journals of Goldenpaw
[Successfully collect several daemon artefacts]

As I pen this record I am abed, recovering from a deep and abiding wound. We have recovered the 7 trinkets forged by Kazrim from the fragments of Daemonmail, though I have decided that in favour of prudence I ought to leave any future ventures to the Brightslayers alone. Allow me to explain.

Upon our return to Alkai, Cornelian performed a spell to decipher the dwarf's sales journal. We identified the buyers and made our way to the gates, posing as a deliver company searching out the recipients of letters. The local captain was favourably disposed and gave up a list of directions. We traded one of the damaged mageotech arms to a nearby shut-in in exchange for his amulet of protection from arrows. This led us further to Lord Zaxyriann Fellsnow, the nobleborn swordmage who recently aided our escape from Kazrim's dungeon. He cheerfully joined our quest, freely offering us the use of his fragment of armour. We broke into the abandoned shop of an enchanter name Silod, whose artefact was apparently a gift that slays the receiver. And so it went until we closed in at last on the club-house of an upstart gang called the Serpents. The last artefact, a cursed "lucky coin" had been in the hands of a gambler until his luck ran sour. Approaching their guards, Zax and I proposed some fraudulent notion or another than I cannot recall, enabling Cornelian to slip inside cloaked in a spell. His speedy search of the house went awry when a sharp-eyed guard noticed the eerie opening and closing of doors. With a shout, the alarm was raised and master Fellsnow leapt to the attack.

He and I went back-to-back in the melee, parrying and weaving furiously as clubs and daggers flashed back and forth. I thought wistfully after the powers of Grit Darkmoon, whose attention had been commanded by a Magic College faculty gathering tonight. Though outnumbered, our superior swordsmanship began to tell as thugs fell back staunching bloodied arms and faces. Cornelian erupted from the doors of the house with a bellowing gang leader in pursuit, but just as the man's sword swept free of it's scabbard, he was struck by the infamous Fiendblast. Several thugs simply ceased to exist, scorched from existence as Cornelian summoned howling purple flame. Others rotted visibly before our eyes, drained as yellow tendrils burst through their flesh. A few shuddered and spasmed before unleashing unholy howls, and I myself was hurled from my feet in a mind-numbing daze. In the ensuing chaos, several Serpents had been possessed by minor daemons, scattering off into the city. The Brightslayers had retreated to Aldus' manor, fearful of the response by the city's Magisters. A weeping burn wraps around my arm and torso, away from which my lustrous fur falls in clumps. Though it was well-tended by Aldus, I fear it will be permanently debilitating. He has offered me the use of a ritual in exchange for a blood-oath of loyalty, but I daresay my soul -along with my now molten ring of protection - has taken enough damage for one day. Suffering the few days hobbled by the process of disinfection and reapplication of bandages, I resolved that this particular adventuring band was perhaps too risk-prone for me. I consulted with Aldus one afternoon to turn over control of the party's accounts, thanked each party member for their companionship, and set out for the Sylvanates. I shall leave all matters of daemon-summoning to those more qualified in future.

Part XIII: Massacre at Haytecliffe

The scouts were dashing through the forest back to camp when they felt a sudden prickle in the air. Walking forward became harder and harder as stones and sticks fell sideways off the ground as if carry by some foul wind. The men had barely time to realise what was happening before they too were hurtling sideways through the forest, accompanied by the sickening crunches of bones hitting wood as they bounced from tree to tree in flourishes of red mist…From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XIII

Translated from the Recollections of Attilus
[A pact is made with a secondary daemon, then broken]

Having come to Mordimar a few short months ago, I have fallen in with ever-rougher folk. My late employer was butchered in a Straightsword ambush as we caravanned the tree-infested wilds. The warriors who survived were rounded up and offered membership to their ranks; the alternative being death, most accepted. Old One-Eye used us carelessly for some time before finally sending us on a suicide run. I should have figured when all us dwarves and thropes were ganged together. The Elves were waiting for us with their cowardly bows, and only I survived. I was put harshly to the question in their dungeons, but we Eastern dwarves are made of stern stuff. Finally they brought in a mind-reader, who asked me questions without digging in fleshhooks. I was glad when he offered to buy my release, and even more glad to help a cause that would bring about the death of Straightswords. He gathered together two elves - a manic spellsword and a dead-eyed wizard - a battlescarred Thrope and a sharp-eyed Thaurish sailor. They seem to me the most vicious bunch I've ever met, and doubt I'll meet rougher. They call themselves the Brightslayers, and I like them. Piling in to a wagon, we made our way north towards the hidden fortress of Haytecliffe.

As we rode, I divulged what I knew of the Straightsword camp. We travelled for a few days through the snow before spotting the first sign of Straightsword presence in the form of several mutilated elf-sympathisers. We arrange a series of attacks, and I revel in doing the ambushing for a change. We slay eight or so of their scouts before one or two escape the grip of Grits' magic and the reach of Salthoofs' bow. When the alarm goes up, Cornelian slips into the camp cloaked in magic and unleashes his destruction spells. Their cavalry are slaughtered, but we are forced to charge through a hail of crossbow fire and assault the palisades when his position revealed. Within the walls,we lay about slaughtering the soldiers while Bodric Knightslayer hunts out and kills the priest Father Tytus. When Cornelian emerges from the leader's cave, the camp has been stormed and a worthy victory won. He bears the artefacts and a strange and aloof expression.

Part XIV: The Long Night


Translated from the Recollections of Attilus
[The second daemon tries to take revenge]

I’ve had nothing but the conversation of wizards for several days, and I think ever more fondly of whiskey and a quiet smoke by the hearth. Cattington and Salthoof have pressed of into the wilderness some other business, leaving me to suffer long aethyrlogical debates between Fellsnow, Darkmoon and Quron. Much of our return journey from Haytecliffe is consumed as they compare notes on the ritual; I’ve since learned that they quest after the name of a wish-granting daemon, akin to the Djin of the East. It sounds as worthy a pursuit to me as any, and the spoils so far have been rich. We all share a laugh at the expense of the Duke's poor cavalry, whom we pass riding days out into the woods on their way to dispense with the Straightswords, but the rest of the journey, in which I agree to remain with the Brightslayers forthwith, is uneventful.

It seems that during the destruction of Haytecliff Cornelian has made several pacts with a daemon prince, one of which requires him to leave a crystal in the city mausoleum. He avoided giving a time commitment however, and goes to a priest to have the crystal examined. The priest confiscates the object and purifies Quorn’s soul, earning his ire. Stripped of the object, he is unable to uphold the bargain, and goes instead in search of the final artefact of the daemonmail suit. His various efforts turn up no good information, until the College’s Dean of Technomancy suggests he seek out Grit’s venerable mentor on the matter. The old Druid reveals that he once bore the boots, but sealed them away in fear of their evil. He will consider turning them over to purify their taint, but will not otherwise cooperate. Frustrated, we regroup for a sullen dinner.

On the dawn, I return to the forge to complete the work on my suit of plate-and-scale. I am still bleary-eyed when I witness the smith’s long-dead family, sitting and visibly rotting at the breakfast table. The Emberbraid is under a glamour, and I am forced to maintain my calm as I slowly don my armour and break for the manor. Around me, a plague of insanity has gripped the city. Men, women and children fall to the ground convulsing, only to lurch to their feet with gnashing teeth and eyes aglow. They leap upon their fellow citizens biting, clawing and bludgeoning in mindless rage. I burst in and rouse the manor, just as a sea of ensorcelled townsfolk close in behind me and begin beating at the doors.

Unaware of the location of our fellows, Cornelian, Zax and I begin cutting our way through to the citadel. Upon securing Atlas and few unaffected townspeople indoors, we advance through the chaotic streets sheltered by a wall of Quorn’s lightning. The mage rains destruction on the enraptured peasants, as Zax darts through the pack, his sword a blur. I remain steadfast at the spellwall, carving asunder any thralls who threaten the wizard. Before the gates of the College, we encounter the druid Cianot the Venerable. He promises to aid us in the ritual in exchange for our aid in ridding the town of the undead. We spend the day among the populace, Zax turning his acrobatic and sorcerous skills to the rescue effort, while Quorn and I march the streets destroying any revenant we encounter. It seems the daemon prince planned to raise the anti-mage warriors lying dead beneath the castle to slaughter the mages. With the mages still living, the city is free of possessed by sundown, though the blood will take some days of rain to wash clean.

Part XV: Return to Scourstone

A sketch of the group's arrival at Scourstone.

Translated from the Recollections of Attilus
[The summoning takes place, revealing the next goal in our quest]

Cianot is busied with repairs and healing in the city, giving us plenty of time to prepare for Aldus' ritual. Quorn collects a barrel of freshwater and rations and locks himself in the basement, from which nothing emerges for several weeks save brimstone fumes. Darkmoon continues to toil on his sorcerous thesis and Salthoof and Cattington are yet absent on mysterious business. Not content with a piddling mercenary wage, I consider taking on a student in swordcraft, before being dissuaded by lacklustre skills in evidence at Mercenary House. Instead, I build myself a wooden ring in town and issue an open challenge; a few coppers for a try at first blood, a golden drake the prize. Grit helps me by writing up a legal release for entrants and running off the guards who try to come skimming the prize pool. Many coins now glitter in my satchel.

Quorn has managed to somehow sicken himself with overuse of his magics, and Old Woodward the Cleric has asked us to chase down a few grave robbers in exchange for a cleansing ritual. We are on the hunt for ghouls gone digging after the freshly fallen of a logging town called Dimfallow, and have slaughtered some wolves on the road. On finding the Duke's huntsman - and our supposed guide - awaiting us drunk, Darkmoon grows angry and kills him with magic. We bury him in one of the freshly plundered graves and I lead the party off into the woods instead. A hill-dwarf's nose is at least as good a guide as a human's eye anyway.

Holed up in an old sawmill, a fledgling Necrymancer and his gang of accomplices and undead are ensconced with a cache of stolen weapons. A fight breaks out when the sound of my armoured charge rouses the settlement, but the wizards and I make short work of the beasts. Quorn strikes the last blow when a fearsome bolt of lightning arcs from his hand and cooks the fleeing sorcerer and his steed. We return victorious and drink to our triumph, forcing Grit to endure a disciplinary hearing when he drunkenly murders a couple of human assailants. He is confined to his tower, a punishment that seems lax even for this effete, elf-infested culture.

When we are finally ready, Aldus, Quorn, Darkmoon and I travel out into the wilds of Scourstone. There we meet Cianot and two paladins of the elven trinity, ready to hand over the final piece of the Daemonmail. The wizards busy themselves about the ritual site while I warily eye our visitors, but something goes awry as the spell reaches it's height. A booming sound erupts around us and horrific visions assault our minds. As we regain our feet, Aldus murmurs beneath his breath; "Karganath". He rushes outside, only to find the ruins surrounded by a sea of armoured figures, advancing from an evil, swirling mist. Little comprehending what has happened, we draw our weapons and reagents, ready to sell our lives in glorious combat with our hated foe.

"A sea of blood washes against a city of humans, melting the skin from their bones in a cacophony of shrieks.
Faceless crimson creatures from the depths of hell clash with metallic dragons beyond number on a formless earth.
Dark blades rise and fall as fledgling races fill a bloody harvest.
Drakes of Gold, Silver and Adamantium stand above a chest with ten thousands keys, it plunges deep into the earth and they turn their backs.
A small white cat sits alone in a cage, forgotten.
Six figures stand around a purple eyed tiger with dreams greed and glory.
The Lord of Murder shall return.
First vision of the 3rd summoning. 1232EE.

Part XVI: A Daemon Slighted

Nine figures stood against one hundred on a field sown with ruin. They readied weapons and muttered prayers of protection and with a myriad of war-cries, the battle was joined.From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XVI

Translated from the Recollections of Attilus
[The second daemon intervenes once more.]

The field around Scourstone swarmed with enemies, Fiendtouched, possessed and other half-daemon things in clanking ranks. The Straightswords are returned to life in bondage to the un-god Cornelian slighted. Before we can react, Cianot and the clerics unleash their powers, raising stone bulwarks, walls of fire and columns of lightning all around us. We Brightslayers scatter into the ruins, buffeted by roaring winds. Cattington and I bunker down behind a wall as the first enemies hit, carving them aside as they clamber up. We are battered by many blows, but Bodric soon climbs atop the wall to better reach the foe. Grit and Quorn start slinging spells over our heads, and unholy bodies are sucked into the sky, hurtled into the distance and spontaneously disintegrated all across the battlefield.

Though a few bear scarred and dented armour, we all emerge from the melee unscathed as one of the firey barriers falls. Within, we witness Cianot being pierced fully through his torso by the blade of Olaf One Eye. Grit gives a shout of dismay as his mentor collapses, catching the old elf's form with a preservative spell of ice. Seeing the man who sent me to my death, I barrel forward to destroy him. Though possessed by a devil, I would still have my revenge on the man's body. My heavy blows clang aside from his flesh leaving barely a mark, enraging me beyond awareness; behind me, magic is being concentrated into a single point, cascades of power beyond what a mortal ought reasonably wield. When the demon's blow hurls me across the courtyard, my frenzy is broken and Quorn unleashed a blinding, deafening spell. Fiendfyre is loosed from the pit of hell itself. The first blast smashed the vessel from it's feet, as clouds of stinging insects boil forth from the portal. The second slams it sizzling into the earth, as superheated magma vomits down in a torrent. In the space of a few seconds, the One Eye is reduced to an ashen shadow in the bowl of a smouldering crater. Quorn collapses to one knee in exhaustion, wracked by the taint of the spell, and the horde breaks apart in fear of him. Those not slain in the confusion disappear into the wilds, or simply fall dead to the ground shorn of the power that ensorcelled them. The 2nd battle of Scourstone subsides.

Cianot, against all odds - and to the distaste of Cornelian - has survived, preserved by an oath to God of Death. He offers his thanks, and in the ensuing days his allies grant each of our party a magical boon to show his gratitude. Aldus tells us he has gathered all he needed from the ritual, and after a time to rest, retrain and recover, we will be in readiness for a long period on the road. I for one am ready for a change of pace.

Interlude: The Settling Storm

[The party prepare to travel to a distant temple]

After the events of Scourstone the group known as the Brightslayer's disbanded for some time, settling into Alkai to spend their wealth or further their interests. Aldus and Cornelian spent time with a cartographer, discussing the location of the 'Alikar'atat' or "The One Temple" that was to be their next destination.

New to the wealth this company seemed to attract Attilus set about upgrading his now weatherbeaten armour. His paranoia about the power of mages perhaps coming to the fore as he enlists the help of a Magister from college for a design of plate armour enriched with Cold Iron, the bull emblem he was fast adopting emblazoned on the chest. Once this was complete he took up with the Black Axe mercenary band, newly come to Alkai and attempting to spread it's influence in this Elven dominated nation. He spent some time teaching the blade to newlings but much of his effort was spent drinking and smoking with his fellow Dwarves. Realising that his adventures in Volachia and Mordimar had left him fabulously wealthy Bodric also commissioned a blacksmith to create a finely balanced glaive. Upon this glaive he had an enchanter mark the rune of lightning the daemon had marked his old blade with so long ago. Pleased with his new toy he employed the help of an injured Alkai soldier to teach him how to better use his weapon. His business of research with Aldus concluded Cornelian set about practicing his burgeoning skills at Cogymancy whilst also purchasing a great deal of magical supplies and one dusty and forgotten black and bone spellbook. Grit also spent most of his time in the college locked between the pages of a book. During the day he received a small pension to continue his research thesis and at night he engaged in frivolity around the college halls.

All in all the weeks passed without incident, the last snows of winter falling on a city just starting to recover from it's recent trauma. Fellsnow and Salthoof went abroad during this time, Salthoof as a guard aboard a river trader travelling through the perilous Mordimar steppes and Fellsnow travelling north as part of a political obligation with the Mordimari prince. With this business concluded they were ready to leave Alkai behind as they forged anew.

Chapter III: Across Desolate Sands

Part XVII: So Far to Fall

The light seemed to be swallowed entirely by the ever-present gloom of the Vaelenwood, the dense foliage above catching all by a speckling of light that flitted down onto the barge as it wove its way through the shallow river.From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XVII

Translated from the Recollections of Attilus

The Brightslayers have raised some commotion in these past few days, with the Mages irked at my purchase of a set of witch-hunter plate and by Cornelian's exhaustion of local reagent supplies. Amid competing power plays by the College and the Black Axes, Aldus arranges to hands over the keys to his manor to a local broker, Goldenpaw, and we set our first foot on the road to the distant One Temple.

Even in the short time I have known them, this group is much changed, festooned with arcane trinkets, glowing tattoos and a multitude of exotic weapons. So rarely arrayed together all at once, we draw much attention as we tramp through streets still scarred by the attentions of the now-vanquished daemon horde. We farewell Fellsnow at the airship dock, making arrangements to meet in a few months when we arrive at our destination. The rest of us draw alongside old Atlas, laden heavy with our many supplies, and take the merchant's gate to the teleportation chamber.

Magic is always in ugly business, but teleportation has to be the worst. Bad enough to be hurled across the earth - or 'disassembled' as Grit says - but to arrive hundreds of meters above the ground (and in a tree no less!) seems most unnatural. Over our objections, the Blood Elves of Vaelenheart pick each of us with a pin, a means of tracking outsiders in the city. Darkmoon refuses, and is escorted to a shabby inn outside the limits. The rest of us venture into the city, to purchase supplies, an inn, enchantments, a new cart and a map. I take my two precious platinum pieces to a Manaforge where I have my sword inscribed 'Yusaris, the Evercleaving'.

We learn the the Empress herself is presently in Vaelenheart, performing a ritual that will decide the destination of the Great Hunt. Her adamantium-clad soldiery are visible at each level of the immense city-tree, and the inns and stables are bursting with elves returning for what is apparently a holy war against human neighbours. Hoping to avoid trouble (as Grit and Bodric are spoiling for a fight) we leave as quickly as we are able, commissioning a southbound river-barge. The journey is weeks long, and save for rumours of a Daemonfey aboard, we sail uneventfully by the cavernous forests of the Blood Elves, the grasslands and wastes of the Yguroshi, and arrive at the oasis port of Valmouth, where the river empties into the sea.

Part XVIII: Here be Dragons

Out of the sun flew the beast. Twice again as large as the airship, it soared upon the hot desert air roaring a challenge. It crashed into it's flying metal prey, dwarfing it, spewing bouts of acid at any who dared to defy it…From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XVIII

Translated from the Recollections of Attilus
[A dragon attacks en route]

The downriver trip had taxed the Brightslayers, not least as the weather became muggy, the wind turned hot and the sun grew ever harsher. We took our rest in Port Valmouth, a scattershot of jetties where naught but weatherbeaten huts peek out of the shifting sands. For a few days we cause trouble about town: I by drinking, Bodric by provoking duels and Cornelian by condescending to the local Alchemist. We are all pleased to see Fellsnow arrive by airship, and by dawn the following day have prepared to depart South-East bound for the Temple. The Razorgale is a swift vessel, and an estimated three week journey is almost completed in one. But on the second-to-last-day a sandstorm blows up, and we are forced to take refuge beneath a towering desert spire. 

The first we heard was a sound like a hurricane coming down from the north. A primordial beast came out of the clouds,  the oncoming thunder of it's wingbeats a deafening whip crack against the roaring sandstorm. Glimpsed mere moments before it's bone-crunching impact against the outer hull, the dragon announced it's descent with the triumphant shriek, ripping and clawing at the walls of the Razorgale. The shouts of the crew were drowned out by the onslaught, scores of men consumed in it's first gout of scalding acid-breath.

Any dwarf should loathe dragons, creatures that have plagued our people for centuries, made their lairs in our ruined tombs and consumed our ancestral hordes. But I had grown used to the wizards in the party destroying any enemy we encounter, simply falling into the role of cleaning up stragglers. Keen to at least try my blade against the hated creature, this blasphemy against the Ancestors, I hurled myself forward through a blistering torrent of breath and laid two mighty blows into it's flesh. Yusaris cut true, and I was drenched in purplish blood and feathers as the monster's grip on the hull faltered. It fell, whickering, maimed and dying towards the earth, wherein Cornelian hurtled from the ship and sunk his dagger into it's heart mid-fall. Listing and aflame, the ship too crashed to the earth, just as the survivors leapt to safety in their aerochutes. We found the fledgling necromancer attempting to reanimate the dragon's corpse. He eventually gives up in frustration. We scurry into the scant shade of the mountain, when pained screeching overheard by keen-eared Bodric portends of a further twist to the tale

Part XIX: A Pound of Platinum


The sun sat high in the sky, casting hateful rays upon the weary travellers huddling beneath a sandstone cliff-face. Days worth of sweat and dirt stained their once-fine clothes as they trudged towards the coast, their torturous progress taking them ever closer to the cool relief and possible rescue they craved…From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XIX

Translated from the Recollections of Attilus
[Excavating the dragon-horde]

As the remaining sailors see about salvaging supplies from the wreck and burying their many dead we climb the rock spire in search of what we believe to be the dragon's cave. Above us, ferreted among the crags of the cliff was a tunnel. It's walls were dank and wet where the surrounding lands were parched; steam hissed from the cracks, serviced by a natural spring buried beneath the stone. Cornelian made to reconnoiter the tunnel, but returned with haunted eyes and sweat plastering the hair to his face. "There are more of them," he breathed, and the walls came alive around us.

Dragonlings erupted from the rock, snapping and hissing, gnashing and rending our armour. Lightning, arrows and battle-cries bounced around the confined space, as nigh on a dozen of the creatures strove forward into our ranks. Almost at once, Aldus was slain, his head nearly severed by the jaws of a leaping reptile. Bodric and I carve swathes into the dragonlings' flanks, roaring our outrage, as the mages lay about themselves with ruin. Unfortunately, they smash a clutch of invaluable eggs as they do so. At the end, four of the lizard-corpses are intact enough for Cornelian to reanimate. We load the best of the dragon's horde onto hastily-fashioned saddlebags and return to the surface with the beasts in tow. We spend a few hours on guard, recovering, laying Aldus to rest, and fearing the return of the brood-mother. When it fails to arrive, we gather what bounty we can in dragon-ivory and other gristly valuables and embark on a week-long trek, hoping the cool water and perhaps a passing ship would be our salvation.

Part XX: Rock and a Hard Place

The weatherbeaten companions watched hungrily as the longboat approached the shore, their lips dry and dusty. For days they had wandered, scouring the coast in vain for signs of a caravan, a village, an oasis, anything. They were in the grip of their thirst now, as the oncoming sailors - wearing sly grins and raised crossbows - well knew.From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XX

Translated from the Recollections of Attilus
[Marooned, rescued by Dwarven sailors]

In reaching the sea, we end our forced march and begin the more difficult task of being rescued. It is several days since we were shipwrecked, and we have been forced to ration our supplies. Grit's abilities enable him to create fresh water, but I fear as he grows frustrated at our progress he may leave our fellowship. We set signal fires each day and trek further north each night, but it is difficult in the half-light of torches. Cornelian grows madder with each passing day, at one time making his bed in the stinking innards of one of the undead lizards. He rants and threatens the surviving crew constantly, even demanding the use of one of the dying sailor's corpses. The Captain he has inexplicably marked for death, and while I care not a whit about the crew, they could yet pose a problem if they refused to carry supplies for example. Tension mounts.

The worst has happened. Grit has departed in a cloud of vacuuming dust, launching himself north to await us in Valmouth. His cursory farewell leaves me in little doubt that he expects us to die. Well. Perhaps he has not heard tell of the legendary stubbornness and resilience of dwarves. After many days afoot, our supplies had run out. We survived on forage and whatever Bodric and the sailors have been able to catch in the sea. Our steps were dogged by lyons, coyotes, scorpions and snakes and the sun was as merciless as ever. Finally, at the point hope seemed poised to break, a sail was spotted on the horizon.

The dwarves who came ashore were heavily armed, and they knew they had us by the sort hairs. They demanded triple what a dishonest shipman would ask for passage, but we were in no position to refuse. They were returning to Kel Yurgosh, led by Captain Ironshadow in service of King Grimlock III and thus so too were we. While I stood watch over our precious packs and chests - bulging with gold, jewels and artifacts - the others negotiated some kind of agreement with the Captain, and when at length the dry land of port availed itself, Fellsnow stepped ashore with a scroll in his fist and the spark of confidence in his eye.

Part XXI: The Tomb of Ironcat

"Stop trying to seduce the enemy!"
Cornelian to Grit during the assault on The One Temple; From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XXI

Translated from the Recollections of Attilus
[Assault the Temple]

The strength and power of the dwarfish people is on display in Kel Yurgosh. Immense columns graven with Ancestor gods stretch into the darkness above, steam gushes from the mouths of strange industrial machines and black iron pours forth from the mines on the backs of a thousand slaves. We make our way into the Flint Quarter where outsiders are housed, finding rooms at the Sinkhole Tavern. Cornelian pens a letter to Grit, summoning him from the North. Bodric and I have gold and jewels to spend, heading to the technomancy workrooms where we meet with mixed success. Cornelian manages to tame his usually wild rage but simply fuming at how long we had been stuck in this "stupid town".

Fellsnow arranges to visit the island that is likely the site of the temple we are seeking. He purchases supplies and organises contracters and travel in his many days into the Merchants district. When the gyomancer arrives our growing delegation make for the docks. A burglar, priest, bodyguard and lady's maid have been contracted in for this venture. House Ironshadow has provided transport once more, and we are to be at sea for a few days.

We come across the island and to our surprise it is infested with trees, thick jungle and jagged rock tumbling right into sea as our longboat approaches. This serves as a stark contrast to the desolate wastes of Yguross' mainland. We advance into the overgrowth, Grit's new hireling discovering signs of orcish infestation. At the center of the island, hundreds of orcs have left a makeshift camp to besiege an archer in a tower. As arrows sail into their bedraggled ranks, Cornelian sneaks into their midst and reads a single word from a scroll. The horde crumbles into the dust as one. The Necromancer laboriously cuts their throats, then raises them as fodder to tests for traps in the dungeon. Zax, and Grit leap through the air to dispatch the Archer, a self-mutilating cultist of the Murder God and although a miscast almost throws Grit from the tower they eventually manage to take his life. Together, we press on into the temple. We push through the traps, carelessly spending the un-lives of the orcs.

We made decent time through the traps and corridors of the temple, even besting a champion of this temples patron before disaster struck. As we battled through the bloody corridors, we stumbled into a tiled chamber. Hungry to reach our goal, Cornelian prepared a spell to levitate Bodric past the tiles, which we thought surely to be a trap. Nary a whisker had passed over the first tile when a column of lightning seared down, connecting it with it's twin on the ceiling above. To our shock, Bodric -Ironcat, Knightslayer, and friend of many journeys - was consumed, vaporized in naught but a flash of light.

Part XXII: 10,000 Days of Blood

"Kill me if you must but the lust for blood won't be sated. It's in the bones of this place, in the very stones beneath your feet." -last words of Archimedes Diamondborn, Dwarven Explorer
From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XXII

From Riordan's notebooks
[Revealing the Temple's secrets]

I met a priest who had been contracted with the Seven Summoners for the exploration of the One Temple and although he was traumatised I managed to convince the majority of the tale out of him, although some elements seem too bizarre to be true.

I buy another pint and the story takes off just after the death of Bodric, as the valiant Thrope is rendered to ash by an ambyromantic trap. His companions waste no time rifling through his possessions whilst the arrival of Grumni the priest deciphers the puzzle and allows them safe passage. The priest follows the adventurers meekly through a number of dark corridors filled with Orcish corpses, each felled by a single sharp blade to the lower back. Eventually the flickering stone corridors give way to a set of two dark iron days with a single hand print etched in either. The party discusses a number of options before Grit puts his hand to the dark metal and destroys a portion of it with his potent magic.

Through the corridor beyond the ground hears roaring and rushes to find a might lindwyrm in the midst of crushing an orc to death, a dozen others and some four dwarves dead on the ground around it. Before the party can swing to action the lindwyrm seems to reform into the shape of a Thaur. He introduces himself as Kelgore, a druid, and informs the party of a presence stalking them in the room. The group quickly discovers and slays the presence, another assassin in service of the temple under the guise of invisibility. Now united by a wish to escape the One Temple the Thaur joins the group as they make their way further.

The other door proves more resistant to Grit's will but a limber Fellsnow crawls through and allows the party access. Beyond they find a forest of Blood Trees beyond that which any of us have ever seen. Even Grit's employee, a Vael local nicknamed "Sven", has his eyes widened by the vast forest in front of them. Even so the party makes their way through the forest towards a central building, realising too late the toxic fumes being emitted by the pale white trees. They rush through the forest before reaching the building only to realise that Grumni has fallen behind. Attilus valiantly volunteers to go back for him and returns with the dwarf some time later. Within the building they find another champion of the temple, this time a fully armoured human wielding a curved red blade. He offers Attilus a challenge and the dwarf accepts. Although both are fierce foes neither seems to be able to land a killing blow upon the other, the two great swords carving deep into the flesh of the other's wielder. Eventually Attilus manages to gut the swordsman, offering him a quick prayer before beheading him in a single bloody stroke. A staircase upwards leads to more death and ruin.

For above the group finally catches up with the last of the orcs, gotten past the swordsman below by the foul magic of the two Shaman leaders. Battle is joined nearly immediately, with Attilus charging towards the band without fear and cleaving aside any who dare face him. Kelgore transforms once more in the great wyrm and proceeds to bite and crush his way through a number of orcs, his animalistic wrath confronting to observe as he rips the heads of any who cross him. Cornelian vanishes at first sight of the orcs and reappears only when the foes are best. He is not idle however, electrocuting a horrific ogre and ringing his necromanctic bell of death to signal the end of the lives of many orcs. The orcs were not without challenge however, the two shamans bringing forth horrid daemons of flame to battle the party that are eventually distracted long enough by Fellsnow for Grit to turn them to stone. Another statue in the growing collection he speaks of often.

The party gathers on the central platform and after Cornelian deciphers a rune as High Sylvan for "sacrifice" he wastes no time in putting the thief Delvin to sleep and slitting his throat over an altar. The group barely blinks at this loss. With the sacrifice of this dwarf's lifeblood the central platform begins to rise off the ground into a tessellating hole in the low roof as a feeling of apprehension grips the group.

Grumni is particularly vague on the next bit. As I understand it the group comes up into a large library, the home of an unbelievably attractive human who greets them warmly. He refuses their business (which on pain of death Grumni was sworn to keep secret) and the group are surprisingly pleasant to him given their usual disposition. They speak of the man's purpose here, of his creating the temple in order to sacrifice the lives of the orcs and the cultists over and over again through some sort of time misalignment that exists here. It seems they have been here for some centuries repeating the same combats and murders over and over again in an attempt to please the Bloody Handed God. It seems that a disagreement took place, as during a conversation Fellsnow draws and throws daggers into the mans chest. Falling to the ground he is grappled by vines from below, conjured by the newcomer Shaman, before Fellsnow draws a shining scimitar and beheads him. The group watches as the library fades to dust around it's watcher and with a wrenching feeling the items gathered within the Temple disappear. Nevertheless their job here now done they gather the important notes from the body of the final guardian and leave through the lower corridors, now safe. Taking the weapons and armour of the long dead champions no longer bound by the cycle the group heads back through the forest towards the coast.

Picked up by Ironshadow as agreed they head back to Kel Ygurosh to plan and scheme, saying farewell to Attilus who has been called away to deal with a matter of familial honour in his nearby hold. The group contemplates just how large a task the summoning could be and whether they have the patience and attention to get the job done.

Chapter IV: The Seven Summoners

Part XXIII: New Allies

We must have known such an undertaking could not help but attract attention, for good and ill. From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XXIII

From Riordan's notebooks
[Travelling north]

My journey south is successful and leaves me standing on a beach in Yguross face to face with a massive Thaur holding an even larger bow. He introduces himself as 'Captain Theodore' in our native tongue and after a few moments of awkwardness we begin to walk back to the Earthen hold city of Kel Yguroshi. Our journey is interrupted by a group of barbarian dwarves chasing a heavily armoured Sylvan. They catch the man with the use of heavy nets but when I inquire as to their business with him they set upon me with little hesitation. I can only watch from beneath my net as Theodore launches ballista sized arrows into the dwarves before freeing me with a grunt and chasing after the others. I go to the prone form of the Sylvan, scaring off the dwarves with a lobbed vial of alchemists fire. The elf rises and accosts me in Low Elven, a tongue I am sadly yet to master, and I simply take his verbal abuse before Theodore intercedes on my behalf and calms the stranger. When we set out again he joins us, an agreement apparently made between him and the Thaur.

The majesty and wealth of Kel Yguroshi is much but of my many days spent in the city most are inside a cramped office rented within an inn in the city's Flint quarter. I meet the Summoners and apart from an appreciated nod from Cornelian they barely react at the addition of a new member to their band. Cornelian and I spend the next few days locked away studying the notebooks he took from the One Temple and jot notes next to the summoning manual of possible appropriate objects of power. The nearest is in the lakes of Gencaroth to the north and with surprising gusto the group reforms and readies to travel by boat to Valmouth, before taking a barge inland.

We are quite the sight boarding our trading vessel, run by the Ironblood trading family, with a group of some eight individuals including Cornelian's silent and fully armoured slave bodyguard. The journey north proves swifter than that south, the ingenuity of the dwarven ship coming to the fore multiple times not the least of which when we narrowly escape engaging with a Rhiannorese privateer intent on plunder. Grit's follower proves his worth by taking the enemy ship's captain in the chest with an arrow at extreme range, raising a cheer from the crew. The night after our close encounter a sickness of the mind effects the crew, causing many to be dark and bleary eyed the following morning. One crew member even goes missing, plunging himself I suspect into the cold black oceans out of grief. The mages and I converse and discuss our dreams, concluding that we had passed through a spot of ethereal lingerance although don't see it as appropriate to inform the crew of this. Shortly hereafter we arrive in Valmouth. Valmouth was once a small fishing and trading village but has grown into a bustling centre of Sylvan power in the region, feeding the local trading routes as a supply drop and growing fresh produce due to what seems to be a byo-magical saturation located within the town.

We settle into the town for almost a week as the party recovers from the mental stress of the magical dissonance at sea. The armoured Sylvan, who refers to himself as 'Zokfaar', and Grit head straight to the local Sylvan mages guild and are passed through without incident due to their race. Cornelian and Kelgore have more trouble and are forced to scrounge for supplies at the local alchemist, although I believe they find everything they are looking for. A day before we are due to leave we are approached by a strange group while eating at the Shifting Sands. A half-elf mage leads them and behind a truly odd group stands a priestess of the Living God. They pass a letter to Grit, instructing him that they have been paid by Cianot the Venerable of Alkai to bring him back to Mordimar to serve in the great Mordimari army as is his charge as a mage of the council and a noble of that land. He accepts reluctantly and convinces the group to accompany us to Gencaroth before heading back to the cold north. Later that night we have a brief conversation about the possibility of simply disposing of the interlopers but we put that plan on hold until we reach the Red Forest at least.

It seems the group sent to find Grit overheard our little chat about their fates the night before because as we board the barge upstream they are no-where to be seen, having apparently left town early that morning. It bothers us little. Grit even remarks that he would "falsely apologise and pay a donation if they are displeased", a statement that amuses me in it's unintended social commentary. The journey north along the river is busy with traffic but only a few truly cause us to take notice. Amongst the barrage of traders and common vessels are a group of Rhakshasan Imperial Janissaries, looking for one Ser Bodric Cattington III to join their band and take a place of honour in the Imperial Legion. We inform them of Bodric's fate and defeated the join our barge north, not bothering us again on the trip. Another oddity occurs as a small water imp jumps onto the ship and hands a waterproof document case to Cornelian before dispersing over his shoes in a splash. It would seem the mages council of Eltosh has interest in hearing of our mission and offering us support, an envoy promised to meet us at some stage before we can make our way south to their island nation. The barges continue to push past day after day as our monotonous journey into the Vael continues.

The people of the Vael seem to be mobilising for war, barges full of soldiers bearing south out of the heart of the forest. One even contained a fully armoured elven high lady, whom Grit seems to have offended with hungry looks and whispered comments as she strode aboard our vessel. One barge of troops even see fit to raid us to check for forbidden goods although a quick word and few gold coins passing hands get them off as quickly as they came. One horseman crosses from another craft however and stays, informing us of his mission to offer us a meeting with the Kaeyanon of the Vael. Another figure of power trying to manoeuvre the summoning of the Bloodied One, I am not surprised. He offers warnings however as he joins us that if we stick to our path we are to anger the Living God and it's followers.

The next day the rider's words ring true as a river barge pulls up bearing a priestess of the Living God and 15 heavily armed soldiers. They march across onto our barge as the captain sits meekly in the corner like some lapdog. The group gathers as the priestess sneers as she demands our surrender. She calls us the Seven Summoners, a phrase I had not heard uttered by an outsider and the stamp on our death warrants if she truly knows our intent. Cornelian breathes a sigh of acceptance and pulls something from his mages robes just as all hell breaks loose…

Part XXIV: The Boatman's Toll

As it had so many times before Grit's flourishing hands sent his enemies hurtling above. Blades are drawn and blood begins to flow and as the battle rages below the figures begin to fall… From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XXIV

From Riordan's notebooks
[Shaking pursuers to reach a forest city]

Grit watches Cornelian reach into his robes and predicting what may come next begins to incant, sending the Priestess and her soldiers flying up into the sky as gravity is reversed. The rest of us draw weapons and wade in, engaging the remaining soldiers and archers with arrows and blades. Cornelian stows whatever he had been drawing and focuses instead on defending us from the attention of the Sylvan mages that had accompanied our would be captors. As he protects us we kill the last of our enemies with typical ruthlessness as the plummeting body of a soldier crushes an unaware mage from above in a spurt of blood and steel. The Priestess however had escaped Grit's magic, flying to safety in the newly transformed body of a black and green forest harpy. Her escape seemed inevitable until an arrow well shot by Grit's slave takes her from behind and she plummets to the dark waters of the river below. A valuable potential sacrifice lost but by that stage an unavoidable loss.

We set about looting the corpses of the slain while Kelgore transforms into a wyrm and retrieves the body of the Priestess. We recover some fine quality armour and magic items of unknown purpose as well as military equipment of various makes. I also take from the Priestess herself a fine curved blade with magical resonance. The crew of the other ship are quickly corralled back in their own barge and questioned by Cornelian and myself, however no further information is discovered. I execute one with the blade to learn some of it's properties while the tolling bell of Cornelian's necrymancy ends the lives of the surviving crew. We burn the ship for good measure and set it adrift, dumping unwanted armour and weapons overboard to avoid suspicion when we arrive at Kaeyathron.

Before the alliance between the city of Vaelheart and the Silver Empire, Kaeyathron was the heart of elven power in the red forest and remains the cultural and religious heart of the Vael. It still maintains much of this lost majesty, the city itself formed between a series of giant blood trees scattered throughout twin lakes. The lakes a plunge off the plateau in a sputtering waterfall at the centre of which sits the fortress of the Vel'Tarish noble house, and the entrance to the city. The city itself is a sprawling collection of sylvan buildings that stretch down to the treewalks that cover the lakes, dappled in the little light that falls through the leaves of the colossal blood trees. At the heart of the city the truly enormous Tree of the Living hosts the High Temple of the Living God and the Council of Elders, the centre of traditional and convservative Vaelesse power. It is this council of elders, that keeps the city stuck in their ways, outlawing non-sylvan magic and the use of necrymancy or infernal power within the city. As Cornelian is a beacon of daemonic energy he decides wisely to skirt the official entrances to the city by trekking through the forest with Kelgore. Meanwhile we take up residence at the Billowing Breeze, agreed to meet Cornelian and Kelgore at the only non-Sylvan mercenary company in the city.

And so it is that we settle into Kaeyathron for a week, the anticipation of waiting heightened by the newfound knowledge that we were being hunted. Grit locks himself in his rooms to finish the thesis upon which he had been working for some years now and after a breakthrough triumphantly exits having finished it in a matter of days. Suddenly bored he assists me in hiring an airship to Vaelheart. Salthoof visits the workshops of the city's renowned grandmaster armoursmith and leatherworker, Elthor, to repair and modify his leather armour, a transaction that holds us in the city a few days longer than expected. As he has at every speck of civilisation we have visited Zokfaar visits the local libraries and centres of knowledge, though what he seeks he has not shared with me. After some days of visiting the kaf houses across from The Quick and The Earth mercenary company I finally spot Cornelian and Kelgore, slightly dirty from days of travel. Kelgore's newly acquired sylvan hunting dogs seem to have taken to him, pandering to their master and trotting between his legs as he strides towards me.

We stay in town a few days longer for Salthoof to finish his business and I find myself falling ill due to the thin mountain air. A few visits to a healer return me to health just in time for the group to depart, not a day too soon either as Kelgore and Cornelian have managed to offend the matron of our inn and have been cast out. We board the worryingly named The Bloody Dawn after handing over a sizable sum to the captain to take us to Vaelheart. Now a band of almost a dozen we take up most of the passenger cabins; with Cornelian and Grit's retainers, our Blood Elven escort the Cataphract Aetherion, Kelgore's hounds and the Seven Summoners making an odd group indeed aboard the trade-frigate. The ship pulls above the waterfall of Kaeyathron as Grit reads another letter of summons, this time from Krevhrad to the North, and we contemplate how far behind those who wish to halt our mission truly are.

Part XXV: Riders on the Storm

And with a flourish, the Mage manifested from sheer nothingness an exquisitely fashionable burgundy felt bicorn, chased with silver and garnet and plumed with red wyvern feather. The Thaurish sailor took it in his overly large hands, and turned it over, once, twice and then grunted "This is not MY hat." From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XXV

From Riordan's notebooks
[A perilous journey through the sky, and an alliance formed]

The Bloody Dawn is wracked by foul winds as it passes over the heavily wooded plateaus and valleys of the Vael. This apparently ill will coalesces into a horrible storm that forces the captain to bunker down as the ship is swept back and forth against the trees it is lashed to. We are all a little shaken up by the cold unpleasant night but none more than Cornelian, who despite his best intent was flung down to the ground and broke his arm. I set the bone and heal it with a potion but he will need to wear a sling for some weeks hence. I check on the others and see to minor cuts and bruises before to my shock I come upon the room of the Cataphract and find him dead, a wayward branch spearing clean through the ship's hull and his chest. Cornelian preserves his corpse and we close the door, leaving him at peace until we reach Vaelheart. I go to the hold and, with a little borrowed magic from Kelgore, master his fine Sylvan mount.

We arrive at Vaelheart, docking in one of the many high trees that make up the city. The group is eager to leave the ship and Kelgore leads them deep into the hollow. A receive a telepathic message some five hours later that they had found an inn in the far lower bowels of the tree. I continue to pay for my room and send a letter to the Cataphract's Prince in code to inform him his servant was dead. Cornelia books an airship for some days time and the party busies themselves about town. I meet with them occasionally and hear stories of war in Mordimar and of unrest in the Despoiled Kingdoms. It seems almost as if the world was preparing itself for the coming of the Bloody Handed God.

I receive a reply from the Prince in the form of a squad of guardsman and one of his personal guards, come to collect the Cataphract's corpse. I am taken by Gryphon to the keep in the largest tree, the manse of the Fellblood family, lords of the Vael. I am led through a magically lit hall and with little ceremony introduced to the Prince. The Prince of Thorns, Thredos Fellblood, is a sight in his fine attire and crown of blooded thorns. He lazily addresses me as representative of the Summoners and puts to me a proposition. He would provide for us monetary compensation, an airship for travel and access to the Ensanguined, the mages guild of the Vaelheart. This would be in return for his presence at the summoning to receive a boon. I am immediately keen to enter such an agreement, strapped as we are for resources, and the Prince suggests I discuss it with the group and return to enter into a 'geas'. A geas is, as I understand, a magically binding contract and this is enough for Cornelian to decline, not wanting to be bound by any contract let alone one with power over his blood. The rest of the group agrees and we meet with the Prince again the following day, his guardsman stopping our vessel from leaving until we arrive. The Prince brings out his high mages to perform the blood ritual and we set out an appropriate agreement. He agrees to have a ship ready upon our return and to sweeten the deal his mages analyse and repair the items we stripped from the corpses of the High Priestess and her minions.

Flown to the ship on Gryphon-back once again it leaves as we arrive, our luggage already loaded many hours past. The Transient Leaf is another elven skyship and is bound to Gencaroth across the Vaelessi mountains. We experience more rain on the journey but no storms of a damaging magnitude. The only drama on the journey is an attack by what the captain refers to as "Sky Barbarians"; elven barbarians on the backs of Gryphons. These riders moved on the waves of a rainstorm summoned by their Shaman but are quickly felled by arrows and magic as the Summoners and the crew weigh in from a distance. They retreat into the storm and it hits us, but through deft helmsmanship we make it through unscathed. Gencaroth lake is more of an inland lake, impossible as it was to see one side from the other. We land outside a large human settlement and are admitted in without incident. The next available boat to hire on the river is not for a fortnight and so we settle in once again to wait in a strange city.

During this time I do some research at the local cathedral and discover the location of the ruins we seek. I also take Haephestus for morning rides, trying to become accustomed to the animal. The others stay in the inn for the most part where they receive three new offers for help. A hooded sylvan from Sviofalva offers a meeting with the 'Sylvan Defiance' which we surmise to be a group of pro-Imperial Sylvan from within the Bloodlands. We also receive two mages from the Tremople Guild Alliance who offer to teleport us back to the human Ygurossi settlement to meet their masters. A dishevelled undead also arrives with a message from Archon Gaur of Volachia bearing some coin to facilitate our return to that nation, which we gladly pocket. It is our intent, I believe, to line up potential allies and use them as we need in the future. But before we can walk those political tightropes we can forget the higher powers at work and simple delve an ancient ruin, as if the destruction of the Kingdoms were not in our future.

Part XXVI: The Mournful Peak

High on the mountain sits a hunched figure. The Old dwarf's skin was draped loosely over his bones and bore signs of very little sleep over a long period of time. He stood in front of a makeshift hunters cottage, hung with bloody entrails and fresh skins. He pushes a needle to and fro in one such skin, sowing it together with another piece. To and fro. To and fro. He smiles a toothy smile as he works. From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XXVI

From Riordan's notebooks
[Happenings in Gencaroth and crossing the lake]

The group has been joined by a dwarf known as Attilus and his young nephew, the former I believe a previous member of the group before a personal matter led him away. The dwarf wears fine clothes built in a hardy barbarian style and carries the daemon sword we require for the ritual, a welcome sight. Now returned he jumps back into the fold without hesitation, although the difficulty of his linguistic inability disrupts our meeting somewhat. During my time researching at the local library I have met a young half-sylvan local and after a week of shared research and morning rides she has asked my hand in marriage, as apparently is the local custom. I accept with little hesitation although concerned about the compatibility of my adventuring lifestyle with married life. The party purchase suits in the local style and although Theodore and the newcomer Attilus are jailed the night goes ahead with no problems. I even go through with purchasing a house on the hill. But the journey must move on and so leaving my new horse and wife in my new house we head across the lake on our rented river barge.

The next day the ferryman loads us aboard his barge and sets up a small sail to take us out into the wide blue expanse of Gencaroth. We sail for nearly a day before reaching the desired side, covered as it was in swamps all the way to our next destination. We disembark from the ship and begin to trek through the festering swamp as I begin to regret not bringing my horse. We are hassled by biting gnats and confounding fog but due to my knowledge of the area and Grit's gyomantic spellcasting we manage to make good time through the waste deep cold dark waters. As we reach an area of particularly stinky marsh the mages report a feeling of unease about the area. One I can sense myself when I allow myself to magically attune with the swamp. These feelings of unease coalesce into forms in the swamp as large mutated creatures swim closer wielding vicious rusted maces and sickles. The creatures are giant fish-like humanoids and after linking with their minds Cornelian mutters that they are led by one that refers to itself as the "Swamp King". Regardless of their identity they begin to speed their approach and attack and we draw blades in response.

The engagement was, in a word, messy. As I have found most things in a swamp to be. Their initial attack leaves deep bloody stains in Grit's normally pristine robes as a creature leaps to ambush him from the water but our resistance holds. Mounted in groups of two or three on individual mounds of dirt amongst the murky waters we slay many of the creatures in the first few seconds, swinging blades and bursting magic driving them off. The larger of the creatures stand taller than even the minotaurs but as their smaller allies fall we team up to bring them down one by one. As they die each explodes into a spray of acid-gore, but luckily none of us fall victim to this final assault. A smaller creature with a wickedly hooked blade darts out of the water as we finish off his companions, apparently delayed as Kelgore summoned the insects of the swamp to aid us in the struggle. Despite being covered head to toe in red bite welts he attacks Theodore with unnatural speed, cutting deeply into his flesh. The Thaur falls to the ground just as Attilus sloshes through the dank water and beheads the monstrosity. We search the bodies but find only trinkets and fetishes. Some discussion is had about finding the location of "Mother" of these creatures but quickly thrown aside.

Trekking out of the swamp for a few more hours we reach its edge, adorned with a small fishing village. We take shelter in a stable for the cost of a few coppers and gratefully wash the swamp's fetid stench off us. While doing so I notice Grit and Theodore's wounds had become infected and despite my best attempts I can do only a little to help. The local wise woman says the wounds are unnatural, causing us to believe the foul fishmen coated their blades with poison. I accept her help and we do the best we can before the group retires for the night. The wounds look better the next morning and a new refreshed party heads further up the mountain through sparse woodlands growing from cold dark earth.

The trees become less and less vibrant as we climb higher, the boughs often twisted or broken as if by some unholy force exploding out of them. As we climb we also find our strength of will sapping from us as the desolation and despair of this place bears heavily upon all of us. The first sign of approaching our quarrel is a dark wooded cottage. Festooned with relishes and bloody animal skins it takes the appearance of halfway between a butchery and a hunter's lodge. Out of the front of the cottage sits a dwarf so thin and dishevelled it is a wonder he is still alive. He speaks broken common and warns us of the "bad people" at the top of the mountain who killed his entire tribe decades before. He says these people were driven off but his folk were left for dead. He remained behind to bury the bodies. It now becomes clear this is what he's doing with the animal skins, creating makeshift gravestones upon which he writes names. Behind him we note "Marybel" written in blood on one such monument. He rambles warnings at us with fervour and amidst his doomsaying mentions that many had come up this way before seeking "the riches long forgotten". Predictably this piques our interest and Cornelian proceeds to read his mind. He recalls seeing images of a stone mountain and a stone cabin, within which sits a chalice and book bound in skin. Knowing these past wrongdoers must be the cultists who had the item we seek Cornelian has his bodyguards hold down the old man while we walk up the hill. His promise to stop us going up the hill now broken he shouts after us. As we begin to walk through row after row of makeshift burial sites his words are still echoing across the mountain. "Death!". "Frost!". "Doom!".

Part XXVII: Death Comes to All Men

Stories tell of a sea of gravestones on the top of a desolate mountain. Of two statues guarding the entrance to a wooden cabin. The stories say it is from here the undead came… From 'Blood in the Kingdoms': A tale of Sylvanic Mestria, Chapter XXVII

From Riordan's notebooks
[Exploring the cabin]

Leaving the ranting dwarf behind us we continued through the gravestones until his shouts were no longer heard. At the top of the mountain we find the cabin Cornelian had described to us, the wood petrified just the the still swaying oak tree nearby had been. We discuss possible causes of such petrification but coming to no conclusions decide to set up camp for the night. The wind was suspiciously absent this high up, replaced only by a faint whistling that seemed to persist no-matter how one covered their ears. The scene seems no less sinister the following morning, the fossilised cabin and swinging oak still every bit the scene of a haunted mountaintop. Theodore's wounds have festered further and despite my pleas that I really was not trained for this he insisted that I perform an operation on them. I trim away the necrotised flesh and seal the wounds as best I can but I fear I may have done some permanent damage based on his grunts of pain as he stands to walk. I did warn him after all.

We enter the cabin hesitantly, choosing carefully who would enter. Due to the size of the place it is unwieldy for all dozen of us to enter and after some deliberation Cornelian, Theodore, myself, Attilus and Cornelian's bodyguards are the ones to do it. Within we find a fairly mundane cabin at first glance. Bedrooms of rotted sheets and a kitchen are as one would expect of such a place. A bedroll and winter cloak shows that someone had travelled here recently but of them no sign is found. As we enter a harpsichord begins to play and seeking its source we find an abandoned instrument, long aged by the years although, like everything else in this place, without the coating of dust one might expect. On a nearby wall sits a painting perfectly depicting the group. This frightens Attilus somewhat but apart from adding to the eerie nature of the place it doesn't seem to be harmful. It depicts the group standing behind Cornelian as he holds aloft a chalice. Above that image is that of a skulled figure holding twin daggers. Searching the rest of the house we move on to the largest room.

This the room that contains the book. Easily the size of Attilus' substantial torso and bound in what appears to be Sylvan skin the book sits ominously upon a bronze altar. The room is otherwise unremarkable, a stuffed moose head above the fireplace giving a feel of this being a genuine hunter's lodge whilst a large mirror across from it curiously does not show the reflections of some of the party members. I open the book and begin to read, noting that it contains well ordered lists of names. After some pages the style of name and ink used changes, but the names continue. For almost an hour I skim the names, the ink and style changing time after time as the names seem to get more and more contemporary. As I reach the end of the names and spot "Marybel" I realise with a shock that this must be the list of everyone killed atop this mountain. The old dwarf seems to have gone backwards in the book as he created gravestones but despite the hundreds of gravestones on the mountain I predict there are over 10, 000 names in the book. To think of the power gained by so many sacrifices! Attilus' incessant tapping on objects comes to fruition as he discovers a trap door beneath a carpet. I stow the book in my backpack and we make our way down the dark pit beneath the trap door.

The rough hand holds lead us downwards into a corridor section carved into the stone. By the rough light of Cornelian's flaming staff we press onwards, Theodore having to crouch to fit in the small cave. Eventually the walls give way to stone carved into the shapes of a thousand screaming faces, the flickering light making them seem alive and the expressions of anguish upon their visages even more terrifying. As my pack brushes against one they begin to scream, a thousand individual voices screaming the same thing. We hurry forwards, pushing through a large bronze door as we do so. The rooms that follow are surprisingly mundane, accommodation for the most part and a library in such disrepair it almost makes me physically ill. That is until we reach the chapel. The room is untouched by age, fine velvet curtains hanging on the walls around massive paintings. From the roof hangs hundreds of jawless skulls from lengths of chain and hooks. My fascination overwhelms my terror and I stop to study the paintings. In one thousands of men are impaled on spikes while in another four figures bend knee to an armoured and crowned man. The figures I recognise as the ancient evils of the world, showing as well an antique image of the All-Flesh as a force of malice. Two bronze doors lead out of the room bearing evil looking runes and a large organ sits in the centre of the area, made it seems entirely from human bones. As daunting as this is it pales in comparison to the altar at the top of the room, a giant skeletal figure leaning over a bowl and dagger identical to that of the painting in the cabin. I stop to look at it, taking notes in my journal as I do so.

It is as I write this that I hear the quivering moan of the organ. I am not sure who pressed the key as I am suddenly coughing. A small layer of dust settles on my journal as I pen this in desperation. White dust spores. My mind leaps to try and analyse them even as I hear Cornelian coughing behind me. As my cough turns bloody I know that I am dead. Blood of that volume often means a collapse of a lung or even a paralysis of the airway, neither of which I would survive here. In fact, an injury of this ma….- [words obscured]
I suppose it isn't surprising that in my final moments I am writing. But of what. Of the woman who brought me to this hellish place, so many years ago she was. To the one who waits across the lake for me. To the oaths I betrayed or the ones I kept. To the fact that as I die here in a growing pool of my own blood, hacking up more. In the end none of it matters in the slightest. Death comes to all men.

"The smaller dwarf drags out their corpses as shock runs through those of us who remained outside. Cornelian and Riordan were dead. Killed Theodore explains by some foul mist in the crypt. Attilus and Theodore go back below while Cornelian's bodyguard simply walks away down the hill."

"We waited for a respectable amount of time before sorting through their possessions. Best things don't go to waste after all. It was then that their bodies came alive. I petrified them for good measure, although felt bad doing so you understand. Some minutes later the two returned from the crypt, an unholy army of undead on their heels. We grabbed what we could from the piles and ran, pursued all the way down that horrid mountain."
Excerpts from biography of Lord Darkmoon


[The breaking of the Summoners]
History would recall this period as remarkably violent and unstable. The 7th major war in as many centuries betwixt the Duchies and Kingdoms of the Despoiled Realm was to begin the very same year a Great Hunt of the Blood Elves was set loose amid a struggle for the throne. Among the Mestrian satrapies of the Silver Empire, The Empress' troops were increasingly beset by sudden rebellions, disloyal Prefectae and barbarian hostility. Earthquakes unleashed a rampancy of young, wild dragons in several frontier territories, and an unexplained plague of Undead - beholden to no known Vampire or Necromancer - was to devastate the south of the continent. Yet as viciously as the Empire reasserted control, as bloody and far-reaching the counter-insurgency was to prove, it was remarked by many scholars of war history that it almost seemed too easy. After the escalating violence of 1233 and 1234, the speed with which the rebellions scattered and the brutality of the reinforced order seemed somehow anticlimactic, as though the land had long been taut with an unnamed tension and now shuddered, weeping bloody tears of hysterical relief.

As for the local legend of the so called ‘Seven Summoners’, I give this superstition little credit. Though it is commonly held that a mercenary party was for some time active under this banner, it is not so unusual for reprobates and egomaniacs of this sort to adopt titles and self-styled destinies out of twopenny prophecy. At any rate, I am advised that the group disbanded in 1234, after a string of deaths in the command structure that tended to suggest their supposed patronage by Kharganath was somewhat less overt than they proclaimed.

Scholar-Laurate Bloodbow, in advice commissioned by General Vaxio Balemorrow, incoming Imperial Governor of Mestria 1242

The dwarf paid little mind to the books that came falling out of Cornelian's bags as he lugged them up the stairs of the crypt. His Uncle Attilus had specifically said to salvage items of value from the corpses, and books had no value to a dwarf such as himself. He barely noticed as red and black notebooks bound in steel fell clinking to the floor amidst the newly formed layer of dust. He re-adjusted the dead wizards bags and continued onwards.
The tomes that could lead to the greatest slaughter in a millennia sat in a crypt beneath a hut by the Gencarthoi lake, forgotten.


Important Locations

Bralla Duchy of the Duke Borza


Volachia, Grand Duchy of Stefan Draculest


Alkai, the Republic of Mordimar


Dramatis Personae

Listed in order of appearance

  • Asrai Briarheart:
    • Blood elven spear-beserker, honour bound to serve house Briarheart and adopted brother of Sanguinia. Devout follower of the Living Goddess.
  • Sanguinia Briarheart:
    • Sylvan archer and scout of the Vael. Driven by vengeance and hatred.
  • Fredriko Fi de les Styx:
    • Deranged soldier of unknown origins. Believed himself to be a knight of some kind.
  • Ken San:
    • A peace loving Thaur studied in the ways of martial arts but bound by a vow of pacifism.
  • Ser Bodric Cattington III:
    • A Thrope ex-Janissary who earned his freedom in the blood pits, out to find glory.
  • Iskandar:
    • Muscular and arrogant Blood Mage.
  • Nightblade:
    • Mysterious halfling assassin. Prone to bouts of psychotic murder.
  • Goldenpaw:
    • Thrope merchant and swordsman, previously a quartermaster's assistant in the Janissaries.
  • Theodore Salthoof:
    • Rhiannorese Thaur sailor. Fond of gigantic bows and fancy hats.
  • Glorandal 'Grit' Ignim:
    • Sylvan battlemage turned Sylvan noble. Uniquely talented in the ways of Gyomancy and interested in mastery over time.
  • Cornelian Quorn:
    • Human wizard and infernologist. Famously erratic and powerful in the arts of Infyrnomancy and Cogymancy.
  • Aldus:
    • Vargarian priest of the All Flesh. Obsessed with the reincarnation of a historical figure and daemonic summonings.
  • Attilus:
    • Dwarven barbarian and dragonslayer. Stoic, brazen and proud.
  • Zax Fellsnow:
    • Haughty Sylvan Prince from the north. Known for his flaming syverri sword.
  • Kelgore No-Horns:
    • Thaur biomancy and shapeshifter. Wears the title "druid" as comfortably as his numerous animal furs.
  • Zokfaar the Ancient:
    • Illiterate but dangerous Sylvan swordsman. Holds secrets of his past close to his chest.
  • Riordan Malachi:
    • Rhiannorese librarian and intellectual.
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