Journal of Lysana Alysiia Valenkaria Islena Dulciara of the House of Aquillon
First entry – “Arrival in Yonon” or “Spectral Chaos Beavers.”
My hound Wargrin and I watched as Yonon appeared first as a sliver of green on the horizon. I wondered how my brother, Halek, felt when he first laid eyes on this new country. I felt a thrill of excitement in spite of the gravity of my purpose.
It didn’t take us long to find the local gathering place of adventurers, wanderers, and others drifting through New Madros. The “Wealthy Crocodile” doesn’t quite live up to the appellation in its name but it served its purpose well enough for us.
A large raven was perched outside on the tavern sign and as we entered, he croaked “Fort Prosperity!”.
“Who’s bird is that?” I demanded. Coming from the brightly lit street into the smoky gloom of the tavern made it difficult to see at first.
“I see you got the message” laughed a somewhat disheveled looking elf in the corner near the bar.
She introduced herself as Nessa, an adventurer seeking fortune in Yonon, and her raven as Shiv. With her (although I got the impression that they, too, had just met) were Tri, a Druid Halfling with spectacular eyebrows, and a hooded man with a strange, flat gaze who introduced himself as Fritigern.
They looked an odd group, but Wargrin seemed to like them, especially Tri and Nessa who he licked in the face when she tentatively went to pet him. That is good enough for me.
Nessa seemed to know much about the town and had heard many rumors she wanted to investigate. Any prospect of fortune is tempting, but I let her know that I am seeking to go to Fort Prosperity and am resolute in my purpose. Finding my vanished brother is my first priority.
Fritigern turns out to be a cleric of Alaric the Imprisoned God (a revelation which drove a townsman quickly away from us) but I don’t really care as long as he doesn’t try to convert me.
The group agrees that a trip to Fort Prosperity should be our ultimate goal, but Nessa and Tri wish to follow up on some of the rumors that Nessa has heard before leaving New Madros.
For brevity’s sake I will summarize what we learned:
We “talked” with Grigas, the Head of the Watch, and learned that he was captured by the mysterious “Echomen” near the old saltworks, that they are very numerous, and that he wasn’t sure what happened to him to make him lose his voice.
We heard that sometimes people branded as criminals appear on the outskirts of town, presumably from the “secret” settlement of Destiero and are chased off.
We gained a description of the missing adventures and agreed to look out for them. They are: a male dwarf wizard, a foul-mouthed female knight and a male rogue.
Tri spoke with Biarca concerning the giant beetles and found a painting that seems to suggest that they can be controlled with some kind of headpiece.
Nessa and I visited the scholar, Istin Savas, and learned more about his friend who vanished from Fort Prosperity and the missing notes. I felt sympathy for him and promised him I would learn what I can.
Finally, we spoke with the Harbor Master and she agreed to lend us a boat to investigate the strange wooden structure blocking the river.
So we finally began our journey!
We spent the the day paddling up river. It’s swift enough to make for a tiring journey, but not so much that we can’t make good time.
With a few hours left in the day, we spotted something strange: a clearing in the distance and what appeared to be a small farm.
After some discussion, we agreed to investigate. Imposing on a farmer’s hospitality seemed a much more appealing prospect than making camp in the marsh.
Tri and I were in the lead as we cautiously approached the dwelling. We first noticed a horrible stench of rotting flesh that threatened to choke us. I began to fear we would find no life there. Three somewhat scrawny-looking pigs were milling about and, as we drew nearer, they looked up and began to trot towards us.
Something was wrong.
The nearest pig’s face was…rotting. It’s left eye was a sunken cavity writhing with maggots and the flesh rotting away from its mouth bared its tusks into the gleeful grin of a skull. Undead squealing rent the air as they charged us.
“Zombie pigs!” someone shouted.
I brought my musket to my shoulder and fired into the leading pig. Its already decaying head exploded from its shoulders in a spray of rotten pork and maggots.
Beside me, Tri’s form melted into that of a creature I’d never seen: an antlered wolf. She and Wargrin stood bristled and snarling, bracing themselves for a fight.
Behind me I could hear Fritigern murmuring a spell and the hair on the back of my neck stood up as I could sense the presence of his dark god’s power around us….
“Oh no, oh no, oh no!” A distraught halfling rushed from the house and the pigs collapsed like marionettes with cut strings. “I’m so sorry, are you hurt?”
“She has de-spelled the pigs only temporarily,” observed Fritigern. “They could come back.”
Nessa drew a wicked looking cutlass from her belt and proceeded to skillfully hack off the remaining pigs’ heads.
After calming her down a bit, we learned a few things from the young necromancer. Her brother had died of the plague and she was experimenting in illegal magic in the hopes of bringing him back.
“Is your brother’s body in your house?” asked Tri, concerned.
The necromancer denied this, and showed Nessa the inside of the house to confirm there were no more zombies hiding there.
We eventually decided that the best thing we could do is make her promise to move her zombie pig farm out of site of the river. And in spite of the stench of the place, we set up camp.
It turns out Fritigern has the very useful ability to circumscribe our camp with a boundary that will alert him if anything crosses it with ill intent. This, and the fact that we took turns standing watch, is the only reason I could sleep that night.
I woke to find that Wargrin had eaten half my rations in the night so we would have to hunt soon. I wondered what game we would find in this dark land – I wondered what giant beetles might taste like.
We set off up river again taking turns scouting and paddling.
Several hours later we finally spotted this strange “wooden construction” of rumor. It appeared much more haphazard than I had expected, but was indeed very much blocking the river.
After pulling the boat ashore, Tri lead the way along shore towards the structure. I spotted something moving in the water, but too late to shout a warning. A crude wooden spear flew towards Tri and only through her almost supernatural speed was she able to duck behind a tree.
I fell to one knee and fired. The gunshot cracked through the swamp causing birds to erupt from the trees screaming. Blood pulled in the water but no body appeared. From the corner of my eye I saw a caymen with extraordinary eyebrows slip from Tri’s former hiding place into the water.
I kept my gun trained on the water. Tri was on her own down there.
While we waited, Nessa went alone to investigate the far side of the structure. In a moment we heard another gunshot and went to aid her. We found her with pistol drawn but no foe in sight. “Chaos beavers!”, she said.
Tri was gone for long enough that we started to fear her dead, before she emerged, now in the form of some creature that looked like a combination between a beaver and a duck, and told us a stranger tale. She had met with the beavers and learned that they moved here on the advice of some mysterious “Sea people” and because of a strange crystalline disease contracted by their children. The had agreed that if she could bring a healer back to them, they would voluntarily move their structure.
While Tri, in the form of an eagle, and Shiv, flew back to New Madros in search of a healer, Nessa, Fritigern, and I decided to use the spare time to hunt the the giant beetles. We spent hours tracking in the swamp and stumbled upon a strange sign stating only “Beware Carnivorous Plant”. We decided to go another way.
We had about given up hope when we caught a fresh trail. Upon following the trail, we came upon the strangest thing I had yet seen. A beetle bigger than a carriage was engaged in a death-struggle with an animate vine. Huge pincers thrashed against the plant’s tendrils, but the beetle seemed to be losing.
Nessa drew her cutlass and hacked the vines until they stopped moving. The beetle continued to thrash and for a moment I feared it would trample or attack us in its panic. Nessa, however, quickly pulled a pot from her pack and began banging on it.
“What are you doing?” I asked incredulously.
“The painting. Perhaps the headpiece used sound in some way to control them,” she explained. Incredibly, it seemed to work. The beetle calmed down and began eating the now-still vines.
Luring it along with vines, we were able to bring it back to the boat where we were at something of a loss as to what to do with it. Fortunately eagle-Tri returned later that day and was able to communicate with the beetle at least enough so that we were on good terms with the creature and might have a chance of finding it again.
Tri had brought a cleric back from the town with her and together they vanished into the beaver dam. When they emerged, we learned that the cleric had treated but failed to cure the young beavers. The beavers would allow us to safely portage the boat around the dam but they would go nowhere until their children were healed. And if the children worsened, we could not expect them to allow us to return freely.
“If it does come to battle,” Fritigern said slowly, “we should make them suffer as much as possible so as to offer them to my god as a part of his spectral army.”
Tri protested this vehemently. I’m starting to worry a bit about the tension between those two.
So we are finally headed on toward Fort Prosperity. One more day!
The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful save for two animal encounters which resulted in Tri having monkey shit thrown into her face and learning from a tiger that something known as “lantern hounds”, dangerous creatures with glowing faces, can be found south of the fort. The tiger also spoke of the Echomen, that they were no good to eat because they put strange thoughts in its head.
At last we reached Fort Prosperity with a few hours of daylight left. In spite of our curiosity, we decide it would be wise to set up camp somewhat down river and rest before exploring the fort tomorrow. Having heard that nightmares are experienced within a mile of the fort, we drift the boat about that far back down the river before setting camp.
Fritigern set his circle and took first watch. Feeling sick from the monkey-shit attack, Tri was fast asleep first, but soon followed by Nessa and I.
I was awoken by shouts and Wargrin’s baying. I staggered to my feet and looked around in the dark. Fritigern had shouted, but nothing should have been able to cross his barrier without warning.
A huge stone arm was swinging up out of the earth. Fritigern’s magic did not seem to faze it and as I stood dazed, Tri leapt past me and pushed the cleric to safety, but not without sustaining injury herself.
I caught a glimpse of a crude stone face and then the creature was past me. Another arm exploded up from the earth, towards Nessa’s tent which she just managed to pull out of the way. The creature seemed not to see or take any interest in us but simply continued to crawl through the earth leaving a path of devastation in it’s wake.
Some of the group wanted to pursue it, but I argued that we should stay and heal the injured and wait until dawn. We could continue to hear trees cracking under stone arms long into the rest of the night although the sounds eventually faded away.
I slept with my head on Wargrin’s flank. We awoke having had no nightmares.
At last, we stood before the gates of Fort Prosperity. Nessa banged on them. The hollow ringing soon faded into the abandoned streets beyond, leaving us once again with the constant hum of marsh insects and frogs.
We pushed the gates open and entered. A main street stretched out before us, flanked by low houses hastily constructed of wood and stone and the narrow alleys between them. Wargrin and Tri (now in hound form) padded forward cautiously.
The shadows between buildings writhed. The dogs jumped back. Fritigern summoned his god’s power to light the top of his mace. He swung the mace at the shadows and they fell back, but one reached out to claw at his shadow on the ground, casting a spray of shadow-blood.
Fritigern fell back. Tri’s hound form melted into a scorpion and then a cat as she slipped entirely into the shadows and approached the wall upon which they writhed. A shadowy claw nicked her ear and she scurried back to the sunlit street.
“I’m hearing something.” Fritigern said, “whispering in my head.”
“Me too.” said Tri.
“Let’s stay in the middle of the street.” I cautioned. “And get out before evening.”
Everyone agreed with this plan and we ventured further into the Fort. In the center of a square stood some sort of civic building constructed in imitation of old Yonon structures, strangely ornate amidst the crude practicality of the rest of the fort.
Inside, we discovered a room with a strange stone box on a pedestal. Fritigern stepped forward. “My god wants me to take this.” Without warning, he suddenly struck himself on the back with his own mace, causing a constellation of blood to bloom through his robes.
“What are you doing?” demanded Tri.
“My god demands suffering,” explained Fritigern grimly, “and since the three of you are stronger than I, my own suffering is currently my only option.”
I felt alarmed by this, and obviously wasn’t the only one.
“So you will cause us suffering if you can?!” protested Tri.
Nessa and I watched this exchange carefully.
“If my god commands it.”
“I will go no further with you unless you swear you will not cause us suffering.” said Tri.
Fritigern seemed to consider this, then conceded, “I swear I will not deliberately cause you suffering, but if you come to suffering, I will consecrate it to my god.”
We all accepted this, although Tri still looked reluctant.
I still feel uneasy by the cleric’s presence, but for now there is no choice. Within the building we find records and the location of both my brother and the scholar’s friend’s house.
I wish I could say the short walk to my brother’s lodging was uneventful but we were yet to encounter the most horrific thing I have yet seen. A figure approached us. In spite of myself, I couldn’t help but scan it for familiar signs: my brother’s walk, the way he tilted his head when deep in thought…but of course it wasn’t him. Too tall, and a shambling gait that put us all on guard.
When it failed to answer our hails, I cautiously tried to flank it. It whipped out one arm and I fired even before I could register what was happening: worms flung towards me and showering over my head and face.
Screaming, I tried to brush them away but could feel one of them *slithering up into my ear. I was barely aware of my companions attacking the figure to no avail. To my horror I suddenly heard a voice in my head.
“I just want to talk. Not hurt.”*
“It just wants to talk to us!” I blurted out, still clutching my head in disgust and horror. My companions cease their attack and through me relaying its words, we determine that the creature is actually made of millions of worms in one human shape. It was formed in the catacombs sometime after whatever occurred to cause the fort to be deserted. It will take us to the catacombs but we decide that going there now, with only a few hours of daylight, left would be unwise. We will meet the worm-man back here tomorrow.
My brother was staying in a graffiti-decorated lodging house for adventurers. I recognized his things and sifted through them. No clue to what might have happened to him. Somehow seeing all of his belongings abandoned here in this crude place made my task suddenly seem more hopeless than it ever had.
I did find a pendant similar to the one he had sent me and hung it around my neck. We didn’t have much time; soon the shadows would own the streets. We headed back the way we had come.
We were almost out when a terrible wailing rose up from before us. A new horror had appeared – a shapeless form punctured with a thousand screaming mouths oozing across the street. We have no time to fight, the shadows are growing long and hungry.
“This way!”, called Nessa nimbly scaling the nearest structure. She pulled a grappling hook and rope from her pack and we all somehow managed to make it across the rooftops to the walls and finally down into the relative safety of the marsh.
Again, we moved away from the fort to sleep in peace, although I am not sure I will ever sleep well again. When I do finally drift off, terrible nightmares haunt me: I see the screaming form coming at us. One of the mouths opens wide in a shriek and above, my brother’s eyes meet mine.
My companions all suffered nightmares of their own. But we have no choice. We must go back into the fort. I hope I am still alive and sane enough to write a second entry in this journal tomorrow night.