Episode One: Wherein the characters discover that some secrets are closer to home than one might expect…
July 17, 1358
Today I met with my new companions. It was…eventful to say the least.
First off, when I arrived in town in the morning, no one was about. I suspect that the ongoing preparations for her 18th birthday party kept Amaline occupied. I fed the squirrels in the gardens and went back to spend the day with my mother.
After dinner, I could no longer endure the excruciating politeness of my parents toward each other and I went back to Andersgate, thinking to find a quiet place in the stables to curl up and sleep until morning when I could finally meet with everyone.
On the road to Andersgate, I met Tempest, the Warden. The first thing she said, upon discovering I was of the Council was to question me as to why we (the Druids) are not doing more to help the people given the awful weather this summer. I explained that the Council is doing what we can, but we are few and can only do so much.
I do not expect her to understand that it is no kindness to save one farmer’s crops while his neighbor’s wither and die or even to save the crops of one village while another suffers.
As to the weather, it is unusually hot and there has been no rain for just over two months. Crops are withering in the fields and there seems to be no end in sight. The air constantly feels like there is a storm coming, but it never does. If the harvest is bad, Anderland will pay their tithe to Maldar, but afterward, there will not be enough left to sustain the people here.
As we walked toward the palace, arguing, we passed the smithy. As we did, there was a huge thump and a huge man landed in the road before us, followed by a boy. In short order, we found that these were two of our new companions, Cu and Glyph. They had seen a shadow pass over the royal wing of the palace, a shadow in the shape of a raven.
Later, Amaline told me what happened in her room. She awakened in the darkness of her room to a strange sound. As she looked around, a shadow appeared next to her bed, but when she got her candle lit, there was no sign of anyone, just a very cold spot on her bedcover where it had been.
The room though, was cold and the candle soon began to dim as she felt a presence behind her. As she moved to flee, her escape was blocked by the door being frozen shut. The windows were in the same state.
As she worked the window latch, she heard a voice say “Your time has run out, payment is due to the Queen of Shadows now.” Along with the voice came icy fingers stroking her hair.
Meanwhile, we were closing in on her chambers, noting the windows were nine feet from the ground and covered in what seemed, against all common sense and the heat of the night, frost. Strangely, we heard nothing from the room above where Amaline was fighting for her life in a thin nightgown with no weapon.
Getting in would be a problem. Cu and Glyph moved toward the windows, Glyph floating, Cu simply leaping to the window ledge.
In a few seconds which seemed like hours, Cu and Glyph had broken through one of the windows and pulled Amaline out, still in the tattered remains of her nightclothes. They landed on a hedge and the battle still raged.
I had gone to the roof to try to get into Amaline’s room through the chimney. As a monkey climbing was easier, but to get back down to the battle in time to be of use, I tried a bird form. Flying isn’t as easy as you’d think, even with wings and it is terrifying as well.
In any case, by the time I arrived on the ground, the shadows were defeated and Amaline was safe, if shaken and mostly nude.
The remains of the creatures were definitely unnatural and, according to Glyph, were necromantic in nature. They were either summoned or came of their own accord through a tear between our world and theirs. I’m not sure which would be worse, frankly.
None of us knew who or what the Queen of Shadows is, but clearly, she thinks Amaline owes her a soul.
When the guards and Amaline’s nanny arrived, I decided being a dog was a better option, fewer questions to answer. Nanny gave Amaline quite a talking to about “that stinking brute” (Cu) and the “unnatural one” (Glyph). It was amusing since I’ve been on the receiving end of many a nanny-delivered lecture myself.
Glyph went to speak to Kyman Andoverage, his teacher while the rest of us went to Amaline’s room, so that she could dress. Sleep did not appear to be on the agenda any time soon. Amaline wanted to know what was going on.
Just as Amaline finished dressing, there was a knock on the door. Cu was standing guard, but he let in the court physician, Dr. Timeon. He is a strange man, tentative and timid, seeming either uncertain of his expertise or as if he has something to hide. I’m not sure which it is, I shall have to keep my eye on him.
He wanted to leech Amaline. Seems she has a mind of her own and flatly refused. He also doesn’t seem to recognize what kind of girl Amaline is. He thought she was going to faint. Anyone can see that the girl is made of sterner stuff than that. If she’d had a weapon in that room, I doubt we’d have had to rescue her at all.
At about three in the morning, Amaline decided she’d had enough waiting and was ready to find out who this Queen of Shadows is and why she thinks she’s entitled to Amaline’s soul.
Meanwhile, Glyph awakened Wizard Kyman and told him about all the excitement while he helped the old man dress. He was unfamiliar with the Queen of Shadows, but did suggest that Glyph test the residue he’d collected against a sample of shadow powder in the alchemy lab. (Tincture of Shadow, he just informed me. Now Glyph stop looking over my shoulder as I write, you can read it all later!) He also suggested that Glyph check Ama’s mirror as a possible gate.
Then, he went to see the Duke, Ama’s father. Glyph came down to join the rest of us in Ama’s room and began look over the mirror, talking the whole time. Really, he reminds me of a hyperactive puppy sometimes, still, he seems trustworthy and like a good sort, if a bit overeager at times.
The mirror has a crack in it running the length of the mirror, glass and wood, nearly a perfect line from top to bottom. It is likely that the things that attacked here came through the mirror from the Shadowfell.
The Duke is nervous about his daughter’s safety. I think that is putting it pretty mildly. We’re all worried. This is not going to be easy to resolve, I think and the first thing we need to do is figure out who wants Ama dead and why.
We went to see Wizard Kyman at first light. On the way, I saw Lucef and licked his face (I was a dog at the time). He started and then recognized me. I’m not sure how, but he always knows me, no matter what form I’m in.
I turned to my usual form and talked to him about why he was scrubbing the floors. Seems he went drinking with some friends and managed to drink a keg of expensive ale which had been put aside for the birthday celebration. Thinking to hide what he’d done, he tried a new spell to turn water into ale. Sadly, there was a problem and the water was turned to….well, another, less pleasant kind of non-beverage water. So, he was scrubbing floors and hung over. I gave him some herbs to help his head and a pouch of candied ginger, since is it his favorite and it will settle his stomach. Then, I followed after the others who were already with the wizard.
Kyman was able to tell us little about the Queen of Shadows, but suggested that the elven merchant Elizah Jacoby might know more. I know this man and he may indeed have the knowledge, but the price he’d charge would likely be high, both in favors and gold. Plus, he is extremely unpleasant and, for lack of a better word, creepy.
Prester Crane, the second suggestion is a bit easier to consider. The worst we really have to fear from him is a long and boring lecture about the state of our souls and how we really should come to services more often. Pedantic, but we can deal with that.
Kyman also told us of another library in the palace. It is the Duke’s private library, where tomes of dangerous knowledge are kept. It is under lock and key at all times and we would need to ask the Duke for permission to enter.
We decided to go to Prester Crane first. He’s a very old man and a bit of a curmudgeon these days. He gave the expected lecture, which we listened to politely. After that he was willing to answer our questions.
After a bit of thought and some more lecturing on how this wouldn’t be happening if Amaline followed the way of Bahamut, he remembered a bit of nearly forgotten lore about the Queen of Shadows.
Long ago, there was a Maldaran noblewoman. She was married to the Mad Emperor (not the current one, the first one). She played a role in pushing the peasants to the Sanguine Terror.
She was a beautiful woman, vain and obsessed with keeping her youth. She kept her looks and youth by bathing in blood, drawing power from it through various dark rituals. Her death is not recorded, nor is there any mention of her or her five daughters after the Emperor was drawn and quartered.
It is said that she was spirited away by worshippers of Bane and became a figure of worship, surrounded by a cadre of handmaidens who bathed in the blood after she had taken what power she needed from it.
It is possible that one of her daughters survived and married at some point into the royal line of Anderland. A contract of this sort, he explained would have to be over a bloodline. One cannot promise the soul of someone to whom there is no blood connection. Or it could all be a legend.
But, if there is a contract, we need to discover the terms. Where there is a contract, my father always says, there is a loophole to be exploited. This is very important because it is not likely that whoever or whatever is after Amaline is going to stop until the contract is fulfilled or nullified.
So, we bought one night of safety so far and can expect an attack every night until the contract is dealt with one way or the other.
We discussed ways to keep Ama safe. Keeping Cu nearby is important, but we need to find a safe place. I think the warding of the Grove outside of town might be strong enough to keep the foul shadows out, but we must be there by nightfall if we’re to keep safe.
We also discussed where we might find more information about this Queen of Shadows and came to the conclusion that the Church of Bane keeps very meticulous records and might have some information about the daughters of the former empress.
After we met with Prester Crane, Glyph ran to do an errand for Wizard Kyman while the rest of us went to get some breakfast.
While we were eating, I learned something very important. NEVER steal from Cu’s plate…he actually growled at me. It was quite amusing.
After we’d finished eating we left the kitchen and were discussing what to do next when we saw Glyph’s cat. Tempest tried to speak with it, but I think it’s strangeness interfered with her natural affinity with animals. I am a bit more used to the oddness of both Glyph and his pet, so I talked to him (her?, I swear it changes daily).
What we learned was that Glyph was not in immediate danger, but was likely to get into trouble. The cat was on its way to get Wizard Kyman and didn’t know where he was. We sent the cat on its way and went to Robillard’s Alchemy Shop to fetch Glyph.
When we arrived, we found Glyph fidgeting in the street. I think he was trying his level best not to enter the deserted establishment. The shop was dark, the door slightly ajar and the whole place nearly empty and in extreme disorder.
The neighbors, Glyph said, had seen Robillard and his Dwarven assistant Fish-breath loading a large wagon in the dead of night with everything they owned. They were, the Gnome said, leaving town never to return. This was two days ago.
Glyph told us he’d sent the cat down the stairs to the cellar after seeing some furtive movement from that direction. The cat had come back, scared near to death. Something bad with yellow eyes was below as well as someone else. This was when Glyph had sent him for help.
Cu looked in the door and saw drag marks on the floor. Tempest looked at the tracks and determined something about human sized had been dragged to the basement steps by two not-humans.
We decided to go down and see what was down there. After all, the shadows can’t get Ama if we get her killed by some other means first!
Downstairs, we got into a big fight with some strange blue-skinned goblin like creatures. I’m not sure what they were, but there were also a lot of rats. On the wall was a cyst of some sort, a growth pod for some, now deceased, abomination. The drag marks were from the food for the newborn tentacled thing to feed upon.
We saved the young woman who was supposed to be dinner (or is it breakfast?). Anna Dolma, a seamstress, was grabbed from the street and tied up in a bag. She seems fine now, but I think she’ll have bad dreams for a while.
Now, the blue creatures had large, yellow eyes and seemed to be living down there, but they were nothing like anything we’d seen before. When we closed on them in battle, they changed color, like chameleons, melting into the background. They smelled strange too, though their blood and flesh tasted surprisingly good. I’m afraid I lost control at the end of the battle and ate more than I should have.
In the cellar, we also found the remains of an old skeleton with a red sun device on the shoulder of his tattered garments. None of us had ever seen the symbol before. The tattered backpack near his body contained a few things as well, including a dagger Glyph took a liking to (and it to him, as it drinking a bit of his blood indicated), a necklace of human ears that I took just to keep them guessing, and a message in a bottle.
The message was from the man to his wife, Katherine that she might know his last thoughts were of her. It was very sad. Wherever she is, she probably never knew what became of her husband. Cu took the man’s skull to be properly and respectfully buried.
While the others were poking around, I looked down a little corridor that had been dug off the main portion of the cellar. It felt dangerous and strange, then, suddenly I was somewhere else. I had a flashing impression of cold and a tree of a species I’d never seen before. Even as I reached for a leaf to take as a sample, I was back, snow coating my hair and shoulders.
Amaline was not amused. We’re going to have to work on that.
On the floor, we found some old silver markings. A portal spell was inscribed there, but not correctly or well. The portal did not function again and the feeling of danger was gone, now the place felt comforting to me.
Then, we went up to meet with the guards. Again, I went as a dog, it’s just easier that way sometimes.
We explained to the guards what had happened and when they seemed confused, I dragged one of the creatures up to them and sat, wagging my tail. They said that the creatures were seen before at the Boarding House in town. The situation was also similar, with the cyst and the bagged meal awaiting the birth of whatever that was. Sadly, the meal in the boarding house was consumed.
I went into and alley and transformed to myself again to help canvas the neighborhood. We discovered the following: • Recently Robillard had some good fortune. He paid his bar tab to Jackanapes, which was almost unheard of. • Someone else heard him arguing with someone with a Maldaran accent about a debt owed. • Robillard and Fish Breath loaded up and left and said they weren’t coming back. Fish Breath seemed unusually agitated.
I was on my way back to the group when I saw a Constable standing at the door to the shop. I spoke to him and discovered that he was looking for Robillard. Fish Breath returned to town, broke into a bar, and got stinking drunk. He was down at the guard house, sleeping it off.
We decided to bail him out and ask him some questions. Fish Breath is really a disgusting specimen, filthy and unkempt. Cu thought to ask the constables to have him bathed and clothed in something less objectionable than he was wearing and arranged to have him delivered to the Smithy.
Cu, Ama, Tempest, and I went to the smithy to wait for our new and improved drunken dwarf and to hopefully, get some sleep.
Glyph went to see Wizard Kyman. I don’t think Glyph sleeps. Ever.
So, after he’d told the old man about what happened at the alchemist shop (and ave him the bad news that his supplies were not going to be available for a while) he showed him his new dagger. The old wizard told him that the dagger is an Eladrin Ritual Blade and that these things are quite rare. It stores life force to speed rituals.
Then, he told him about Fish Breath. Kyman suggested we try to track down Robillard, since there seems to be more to that story.
After Glyph slowed down a little, Wizard Kyman shared the research he’d done on our big problem, the soul stealing contract on Ama.
He said it is a blood debt and her soul is the payment due. It probably comes from some entity in the Shadowfell and had to have been set up by a blood relation. Finding the terms of the contract may be our only hope of voiding it, but it will be difficult to manage.
The group that came through Ama’s mirror was the search party. Now, Ama is marked as their target. Future groups will be able to locate her easily. At twilight, they will certainly come for her.
He recommended that we get her to the Grove by that time.
We’ve still not slept and I suspect it will be a long night.
Next Time: Fish Breath and the Druid’s Grove…