Over the past few days of travel, my compatriots have been attempting to plan our course of action for when we arrive in Albasan. We don’t have much of a plan. We will arrive at the manor, seek to gain entry, and simply root out the abomination inside. We will approach in daylight in hopes that it will make our task easier. We believe that Lord Hartunian is under the thrall of the she-demon, and is thus as much a victim as anyone else, and so, if possible, he will be spared.
The day was overcast, but warm as we rode into the dusty village. Once again, we noticed the ragged and disregarded inn, The Stalwart Steed, sitting, rotting, in the ill wind that seemed to spring from the manor perched on the nearby hill. We made our way towards that hill and parked our cart in the circular drive before the ill-used home. Azuredee split her garlic between the two of us while the twopriests prepared their holy symbols and rehearsed their rites. I firmly placed my banner in the earth, staking my claim that this land was under my protection. Finally, we decided we were ready to approach the den of evil.
As we approached the manor, we caught movement in one of the lower floor windows. So our arrival had not gone unnoticed.
We all walked up to the grand front door of the manor house and Azuredee took the great brass knocker and knocked three times upon the door. No response. She tried again. No response. She tried the door—it was locked. Sighing, she apologized and went back to the cart, returning a few minutes later with a packet of tools. With these, she managed to unlock the door. She put the tools away and opened it into a darkened house.
My cousin then cast one of her light spells upon her necklace. A pale luminescence spread over the gloomy entryway. We continued into the parlor where the main staircase was held. As we entered the room, we heard a catlike hissing and two forms leaped from the balconies toward us—the foul spawn of the she-vampire!
I engaged with one as Sayna engaged with another. Both priests raised their holy symbols to ward off the creatures to no avail. The beasts were as quick as I remembered them from our previous encounter but Azuredee sang a song of courage to get us through. We fought hard and eventually the creatures were burned by energy that poured forth from the symbols wielded by the priests, brought forth by prayers to their deity. The spawn lay burning on the floor, though Sayna was injured and pale from their energy draining attacks.
We decide to stay on the bottom floor and veer toward the left, where we had seen the movement before. Before long we found ourselves in Baron Hartunian’s office, where we had spoken with him during our previous visit. I remained vigilant while Azuredee began to search out the room. Beneath the heavy desk, she found a cowering Baron, shaking and muttering to himself. She demanded that he tell them where his wife was. Then he wept and said “She’s already here!”
Suddenly, a blanket of mist descended from the ceiling and materialized into Lady Hartunian. I dart in to attack while the priests attempt to invoke the holy power of Azumazran to vanquish her. Azuredee sings her songs to maintain the courage of our hearts and keep our minds strong against the attacks of this foul woman.
My axe swung fast and hard. Beams of light and power shot through the air. My ears were filled with song. It was a mighty and glorious battle. At one point, the woman commanded me to turn on my comrades and, with my heart filled with my cause and with my cousins battle songs, I fended off the tendrils of her influence and answered her with my blade. Finally, the room shook with the holy smiting of Azumazran, invoked by two of his priests, and the she-beast fell to floor. Knowing that she could rise again, having defeated death at least once before, Sayna ran to the window as Lady Hartunian, in fact, did begin to rise once again. But before the foul creature could escape, the Reverend through back the curtain and sunlight poured into the room, striking the vampire like a physical blow, knocking her to her knees. A few seconds later, her body turned to ash and blew away.
We heard weeping come from beneath the desk as the Baron repeated over and over "It is finished. It is finished. It is finished. . . " We searched him, unresisting, for a key and found it. We then searched the house for more evidence of any more of the foul creatures but found none. We did find evidence of freshly turned earth in the driveway—perhaps the graves of the Baroness’ victims. We decided to let them lie. We locked the house behind us as, finally, we lead Baron Hartunian to the cart and made our way back to village as the sun began to descend for the night. We decided that we couldn’t leave the poor man to go mad on his own in his home. We will take him back with us to Ebongate and place him in a sanitarium.
As we made our way out of town, I thought of the two eccentric inn dwellers we encountered on our first stop in Albasan. I asked Azuredee if we should tell them what transpired today. She agreed that we probably should. So we stopped by The Stalwart Steed and told the two men there, Armen and Zaorovar, of the day’s events. Zaoravar, the irascible older man, didn’t believe us at first, but when he saw who rode in our cart, and the state that he was in, he finally acknowledged the probable truth to our tale. Armen, for his part, believed us and thanked us, insisting that we stay in their common room that night instead of traveling on. It is here that I am writing this story tonight.
7 Transformation 508
We left The Stalwart Steed today in somber spirits, hopefully to never enter again into Albasan. The journey has been good so far and the weather has been cordial to traveling. We hope to arrive in Ebongate some six days hence.
11 Transformation 508
Our camp was invaded this evening by another bard. He calls himself Ailward Windfeather. Perhaps I am spoiled by traveling with a more accomplished member of that profession, but I must say that Ailward does not present himself as a good example of it. His songs are off-key, though enthusiastically so, and his manner overly theatrical. Nevertheless, I think he a friendly and jovial sort, so not entirely unwelcome.
He was apparently traveling alone and attracted to our camp by Azuredee’s singing and playing—an understandable attraction, as Anglorion often attracts listeners from out and about. He tried to accompany my cousin, with little success, and ingratiate himself to the rest of us. He was friendly, if overly so. His bumbling attempts at camaraderie frightened poor Baron Hartunian into a state of frenzy. Fortunately, Azuredee was able to calm him once again.
Azuredee engaged in lively conversation with the bard, comparing professional notes as it were. He seems fairly well traveled in eastern Zaldara, primarily in Borael and Yulania. He did seem reluctant to discuss his previous visit to Ebongate, however. Nevermind. It is his business, not mine.
It was agreed that he would stay in the camp with us, as there is safety in numbers. I gladly placed the affable bumbler under my protection.
13 Transformation 508
Ailward has continued to travel with us, by mutual consent. It has been a pleasant, if musical, journey. At midday, we arrived at Ebongate. After seeing to our business with the local taxes, we split ways with the bard and allowed Reverend Sayna to lead us to the sanitarium she spoke of in Albasan.
She led us to an unsavory portion of the city to a building that clearly used to be an inn. A sign outside read “House of Rest”. I stayed outside with the livestock and the cart while the others went inside to meet with the administrator, a man the Reverend had said was called Saer Redmantle. The man is apparently a devotee of the goddess Cereth, which is a good sign of his character.
After about an hour, everyone emerged from the building—except for Baron Hartunian. He was going to remain and begin to get some rest from his troubles. Azuredee told me that Redmantle would be sending for a Magistrate to hear our testimony—with Hartunian being of the nobility, there were some complications with his being accepted in House. She also indicated that she intends to tithe at the temple of Azumazran in thanks for the help that the two priests gave us in dispatching the creature at Albasan. I will probably do the same.
We have decided to take up our usual rooms at The Ruddy Wolf. Mistress Lew welcomed us with open arms and apparently arranged for some male companionship for my cousin. I require none, of course. My cause is all the companion I need. Though, sometimes I wonder if I miss out in ignoring my cousin’s frivolity. Only in my weaker, less stalwart moments, of course.
14 Transformation 508
Today we were met with a bit of excitement.
The day began with a message from a Magistrate Drakefell stating that he would be meeting us at the House of Rest to take our statements. Azuredee met me downstairs with a decided spring in her step that had nothing to do with the pleasant weather and everything to do with her unused room. We gathered our things and started to make our way across the city to the House of Rest.
As we walked through the busy city streets, both my cousin and noticed a man, a merchant most probably, get accosted by a cutpurse while being distracted by one of his compatriots. I gave chase to the cutpurse with my cousin following close behind. The thief turned down into an alley and was met by two of his compatriots. Soon, Azuredee and I were facing down three armed men—two with clubs and the cutpurse with his dagger. The two thugs with the clubs moved forward quickly and dispatched one with the flat of axe. Azuredee cast a spell and grease covered the area where the cutpurse remained standing—he slipped in the grease and fell onto his back. The other thug viciously struck my cousin with his club. The cutpurse rose and attempted to force his way through us, but Azuredee put him down handily with the flat of her sword while I put the other thug down as well.
We called for guards, as did the merchant who now realized that his purse had gone missing. The guards arrived and my cousin told our tale, with unconscious thieves bearing witness to our prowess. We returned the stolen purse to its owner—who paid us a platinum for our trouble. Goodness does have its own reward, at times. The guards thanked us and loaded the ne’er-do-wells into a cart and transported them, presumably, to the city stockade. We then collected ourselves and continued on our way.
At the House of Rest, we were reassured by Saer Redmantle that the Baron was resting comfortably. We were met there by the priests of Azumazran, who had been summoned as well. Magistrate Drakefell, a dour older man, listened to our statement while a young woman in the city livery—apparently a representative of the Lord Herald—took down our testimony. After we were done, the Magistrate stated that, coupled with witnessing the distress of Baron Hartunian first hand, and the testimony he just heard corroborated by that of the priests of Azumazran, he believed our story. As far as the fate of Baron Hartunian, that would be in the hands of the Baroness of Ebongate, and possibly the Queen herself. Nevertheless, our part in this tale was done. The Magistrate also offered us the thanks of both the Baronies of Albasan and of Ebongate for our service.
We accompanied the priests back to the temple of Azumazran and made our tithing of gratitude. Then we said our goodbyes and made our way to the market district to re-provision for our upcoming journey to Orielle. Tonight will probably be our last night in The Ruddy Wolf for a while. In a strange way, it feels like a home. I think I shall miss it.
15 Transformation 508
Today we left for Orielle. We bid farewell to our hostess at The Ruddy Wolf. I daresay that Mistress Lew was sorry to see us go. Then we struck off for the eastern gate and for the Elven lands. There was much traffic heading in that direction and going was slow. We finally made it out of the city proper and to the ferry across the river. Once we made the crossing, the traffic thinned considerably. Azuredee began to entertain me with stories of growing up in her homeland and the various family members she lived with there. As I only lived with my parents and no other siblings, she had a very full house indeed, with aunts, servants, and extended family. A very different experience. However, once we broke away from the city, our travel was easy and no incidents of note occurred.
16 Transformation 508
Tonight we were approached in our camp by a peddler named Orn. He seemed a friendly sort, though his mule, Bel, was more aloof. He mostly dealt in gewgaws and found items, nothing of interest to me. He did have some interesting news of the pass into the Elven lands though. He had just come from Orielle and said that there were outlaws on Anvilrock Pass. Apparently he was not accosted, but he had little of worth on his cart. Both my cousin and I are carrying a small fortune in arms, armor, and instruments. Definitely something to look out for and defend against in the coming days.
18 Transformation 508
This evening we came across the remains of a small battle of some sort. Drag marks, dried blood, etc. Whatever took place did so within the past few days but the combatants have obviously moved on. We made our camp a few hundred yards past that point, regardless.
20 Transformation 508
This evening’s camp was interrupted by the attack of giant stag beetle! The beast came running into our campsite and trampled me. The two of us managed to subdue the beast, eventually, but I did take a nasty bite. Fortunately, Azuredee’s healing magics are more than a match for the damage. It was not my finest battle, but any battle one can survive is a winning one.
22 Transformation 508
We seem to be cursed with an overabundance of excitement on our journey. I was awakened from my slumber this evening by my cousin, who shouted with alarm as she was attacked by a strange shadow creature—very much like he shadows we encountered back at the cursed monastery of Dukane. However, unlike back on the ancient steps of the monastery, we dispatched the creature quickly, with Azuredee dealing the killing stroke. The rest of the night passed without further incident.
23 Transformation 508
This morning we finally came to Anvilrock Pass. The pass was marked with two banners flying the colors of the Thane of Anvilrock, a red anvil-shaped stone on a white field. I took the lead of little procession, with Azuredee following in the cart, which lead her horse.
The pass itself was a wide cleft between walls of grey stone. We were easily able to drive the cart through the trail and navigate well. I tried to keep a vigilant eye on the cliffs for ambush from the supposed outlaws that were accosting travelers. Nevertheless, it was my cousin’s sharp Elven senses that kept us safe.
As we rounded a wide curve in the pass, Azuredee called a halt. She said she thought she saw someone in the rocks. Right about that time, ahead of me, two dwarves emerged from the cliffs, one a stout looking fellow, his partner a hulking giant of a dwarf. The stout fellow bellowed “Stand and deliver!” Angry, I urged Brownie forward to engage with the enemy. Though the stout fellow had a bow, he seemed reluctant to fire and practically begged us to surrender to their superior numbers. Nevertheless, I engaged both dwarves from horseback, gaining the higher ground, and used my superior training to teach them a lesson: that my cousin and I were far from easy prey. I gave the hulking fellow a sound thumping with the flat of my axe and gave the same to his compatriot. I could not see what was going on behind me with my cousin, but I could hear her singing a funereal dirge that put fear into the hearts of our enemies. No, no easy prey indeed. Finally, Azuredee ceased singing and called out for me to disengage with our foes. I reluctantly did so, but they, too, seemed reluctant to engage with me. I held them at weapon’s length and cautiously turned to survey what was going on behind me.
Apparently, Azuredee was engaged in conversation with one of our assailants, a paunchy dwarf with a symbol of Skondir about his neck. She actively wondered why a priest of Skondir would be robbing her cart—a question I had as well. That particular priesthood were staunchly law abiding and good. The would-be-priest simply responded that it was a long story and not entirely his to tell. A truce is called with all parties agreeing not to attack or rob one another and the other thieves begin to gather about the cart.
This band of robbers is lead by the stout fellow, a dwarf called Rogar Foesplitter. The priest is called Tukdin. The hulking fellow they call Jondril the Small. The fourth and final member of their little band is Skaldin. These dwarves believe Rogar to be the rightful Thane of Anvilrock. When the old Thane traveled into the deep underground kingdoms, fighting the Drow, he had named Rogar to be his successor. But the current Thane, Thraxas Blackhammer, the old Thane’s brother, denies this claim and banished Rogar from Anvilrock as an outlaw and traitor. Now, Rogar pledges to be a thorn in the side—and the coffers—of the current Thane and harries the potential tax payers of the pass, causing trouble and strife for the Thane whenever possible. Mostly they only bother those that can afford it or are loyal to the Thane.
In exchange for their story, Azuredee tells them the story of my axe, Glintaxe, and how we secured it from an ancient dwarven stronghold. They seemed to be suitably impressed. They seem particularly impressed with my pledge to protect my cousin, and are quick to point out that “loyalty and honor are thicker than blood.” We are allowed to move on with the gods’ blessing.
Later that afternoon, we pass through the official tax checkpoint for the Thane of Anvilrock and pay our taxes without any further incident.
26 Transformation 508
We emerged from the pass yesterday morning into the forests of the Elven lands. They looked much like the ancient forests of Borael. This evening we made camp near a grave marker written in the language of my homeland. It read “Here lies Feryk. He died well.” Azuredee said a few words and we drank a draught to poor, dead, Feryk. Other than that the night passed without any further incident.
27 Transformation 508
Today we arrived in Orielle. A wondrous town. I’ve been to bigger cities, but none so strange and beautiful. The elves seem to have mastered a way to build without clearing out the growth of old trees and plants, interweaving their creations with nature. A wonder to behold. And this is one of their smaller settlements!
My cousin led us to her mother’s house, though it appeared that she was not at home. The house was part of the family’s complex and so Azuredee led us to the main house to find some answers. There we were greeted by an older elf woman called Talthia, who seemed pleased to see Azuredee, much to my relief. According to some of the stories my cousin told me on our journey, her relationship with her family was, at times, strained, due to her mixed heritage and the unmarried status of her mother. Talthia, who is the household’s chamberlain, informed us that Azuredee’s mother was at a tavern called The Maiden’s Song, a place that she frequented for stories and companionship.
The chamberlain made arrangements for us to stay in the complex—Azuredee with her mother, and I in the main house. Our animals were seen to and the two of us wandered over to the nearby tavern to find my aunt. The Maiden’s Song was a well-to-do tavern with a high-end clientele that made me very aware of the road-worn state of my traveling gear. Azuredee seemed to be aware as well, but walked in as confidently as ever, smiling brightly. It did not take long to pick out Tessara Silverthistle. With her long, silver-white hair and beautiful features, it was easy to see where my cousin received her striking good looks. At this point, my aunt was holding court with two other elves who were engaged in telling her a story of some sort. Tessara listened in rapt attention. Azurdee approached and I followed.
At first, Tessara didn’t stir from the story. One of the elves looked down his long nose at Azuredee and said “Excuse me? I am telling a story here. . .” Then Tessara turned and saw her daughter. “By all the stars! Azuredee!” Tessara made her apologies to the two other elves who excused themselves and the two embraced. Tessara motioned for us to sit and Azuredee introduced me. She recognized me as Jakin’s daughter and smiled. It was enchanting. We apologized for our road-worn state and Tessara dismissed it. “Some people tell their stories. Others wear them.”
Tessara insisted that we tell her of our adventures and we stayed until late in the afternoon as Azuredee did just that. Tessara bought our drinks of watered wine and sat in attention at every word and song. Her pride in her daughter shown as a beacon. Eventually, though, she said that we needed to head back to the house.
At the family compound, Talthia informs us that the family would like to see us in the sitting room, where we are escorted. I still have not gotten to change out of my traveling clothes at this point. Nothing for it but to persevere.
Inside, are three Elven women sitting in plush chairs. One is poring over a stack of scrolls settled beside her seat. She wears a beautiful porcelain medallion depicting an iridescent loom. The other two, older women, look sternly on as we enter.
Formal introductions are made. The older women are Deerdara, Azuredee’s grandmother, and Miralandra, her oldest aunt. The younger elf with the scrolls is her other aunt, Azuria. The three of us, Tessara, Azuredee, and I, sat in the remaining seats under the appraising eyes of Deerdara and Miralandra. Azuria continued to read her scrolls after giving us a distracted greeting.
The family reunion is very awkward and formal. Deerdara and Miralandra seem to struggle to be civil about Azuredee’s chosen profession and the fact that it offers little to the family coffers. Even with the stiff formality of my knightly training, I felt awkward on behalf of the scrutiny that my cousin endured. I’m thankful for the easy informality of my family—though I often felt embarrassed about it as a younger woman, it was far better than this.
But then the conversation turned. . .
“Perhaps there is something that you and your cousin can do that is in the family’s interest,” began Miralandra. She then tells us of a site discovered by one of their merchant caravans some sixty miles from Orielle. She believes it to be ruins of the Ysar and would like us to explore them for artifacts that may be of worth. Our experience as travelers and as adventurers would be well suited to the mission. Azuredee demurs, saying that she would like to give the matter some thought and will give an answer later in the evening. Finally, we are free to leave the sitting room.
Azuredee and I gather in my room and discuss the proposed expedition. I, of course, will go where my cousin goes and protect her. She wishes to do this for her family and so I will follow. It is a short discussion. Azuredee bids me farewell to bathe and speak with her mother some more. I get ready for dinner, finally changing out of my traveling attire.
Dinner is, once again, a formal affair. All of the family is there, including another houseguest, Anandiel Starshadow, Azuredee’s former governess. Azuredee entertains us all with stories and I daresay even Miralandra and Deerdara crack a smile or two.
As the meal is adjourned, Deerdara approaches Azuredee for her decision. Azuredee tells her that we will go. The older elf seems pleased. “There will be danger on this journey. But I believe that it is danger that you can handle. I have confidence in you. Your mother is very. . . proud of you.” She provides us a rudimentary map to the site for your journey.
Before going to bed, Azuredee performs for her mother and I in the main hall. Then the two of us meet again to discuss our travel plans. Finally, after a long day of meetings and reunions, I am ready for bed.
28 Transformation 508
Today, after bidding Tessara farewell, we set off for the ruins. We couldn’t ask for better weather as we made our way through the forest.
30 Transformation 508
This morning proved eventful. As we broke camp from the previous night, we were set upon by a group of four orcs! Between Azuredee’s grease and magical dust and my axe, we dispatched them rather quickly and continued on our way.