Out of the dungeons and into the grove...

July 21st: Early Morning
We walked back to the main part of the castle, through the caverns we had traversed. The undead would not be overwhelming Maldar any time soon, but Ama had to decide what to do with her grandmother.

What she had done was treason at very least, but she was also Ama’s last link with her mother.

There was a long discussion between the two and in the end it came down to two factors.

First, Ama could not live with herself if her grandmother were executed. Second, the lady said that if Ama let her go, she would live out her days at her estate in peace.

She also gave Ama the bit of news that she had seen her own death, as had Ama’s mother and as she probably will when her time is near. I’m not sure that is terribly comforting to Amalline.

July 21st – July 28th
We actually had a full week where nothing tried to kill any of us. I was shocked.

The Duke was recovering from his ordeal, but his recovery has been slow. He is still weak, but regaining his strength.

Ama told me a bit about her conversations with her father during the week.

• The Maldaran guard is coming and there is no way to stop that.
• The Church of Bane (or at least Malvena Vol) is extremely disappointed in the Duchy’s lack of commitment to Bane and his church.
• Some of the Duke’s counselors are “off”, Kyman is the worst of the bunch, just not acting like himself and more forgetful than usual.

He also asked Ama (and the rest of us) to take a trip to the small village of Candlehall and see if anything is amiss there.

A merchant who passed through recently found that the village was changed from what it had been before.
• There had been Goblin sightings (Goblins are not common in this area at all)
• The villagers were closed-off and unfriendly which is contrary to what they have been in the past.

In order for Ama to make this trip, her double will step in on a semi-permanent basis. Also, just to be clear, her father suggested that she may have to stay away for a while. The Maldarans who have arrived recently are different than previous guards from that empire.

Added this, the Baneites have a major holiday (one of their usual festivals of bloodletting) coming up.

Surprisingly, Lady Ivanov doesn’t want the Duchy to fall and has converted to worship of Bahamut. She might be able to help in getting Amalline out of the capitol. She also gave some information from her own sources in Maldar.

The first piece was that the emperor has heard of Amalline’s beauty (no doubt he has one of “those” statues) and is drawing up documents to have her taken to Maldar as his consort (not his wife, but rather as his legal mistress).

The second bit was that this same emperor wants Cu back in the arena. I don’t think Cu wants a comeback tour, nor do I think he ever wants to step back into the arena.

With all that was happening, Cu decided the best way to deal with everything was to have him released from service (forcibly). It would otherwise draw suspicion to have him leave while Ama’s double continued to act as her. Anyone who has ever met him knows that he would never leave her.

I spent the week with my parents, taking the time to watch my father. He was keeping an eye on me too, which was to be expected since I generally avoid spending too much time with him.

In looking over the books, I found some interesting, but perplexing information.

Once a month father gets expensive, unidentified Maldaran shipments, delivered to an undisclosed recipient. He is working with Elizah Jacoby. This concerns me as they have hated one another for as long as I can remember. I suspect that this could be very bad indeed.

We talked about Maldar and the political situation there. Purges have been happening again, but they are different than the usual “whole family disappears never to be heard from again” kind.

This time, the people disappear for a few days and then return with completely different viewpoints and no memory of the time they were gone.

We also had our usual conversation about when I’d stop “wasting my time” and come into the business.

I pointed out to father that I am gaining information that can be used later on to influence people and that my friendship with Ama can later be parleyed into influence if I need it. Besides, we both know he’ll eventually win this argument, since Lucef doesn’t want any part of the business. If one of us has to do it, I will, simply to protect him.

Yes, Tobias Crowe will win, but I will have my way before I surrender and I know he wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t insist upon it.

He accepts that I will do what I want to for now and will do my duty when it becomes necessary.

Lucef is having a bit of a problem. He’s gotten some local girl with child. I suggested that a grandchild might be a distraction for Mother now that father has forced her to stop the charity work she loves so much.

I really need to find a way to give her something to hold on to, I fear she’s slipping away and losing her hold on reality.

As I was leaving, father asked me something strange. He wants to know what Cu’s “price” is. I told him honestly that I think he doesn’t have one. From everything I’ve learned about him, there is nothing he truly values aside from Amalline.

I did say that if I come across anything useful I’ll share the information. Father says that he has a “project” that Cu would be useful for. I’m betting (though I have no proof) that the project might be delivering him to the arena under an exclusive contract with Tobias Crowe. I could be wrong too; after all, there are many uses for a Goliath in this world.

Glyph spent a lot of time with Kyman. The old wizard is indeed losing his memory and even some of his arguments with Prester Crane.

Glyph asked him right out if he might have been taken by a puppet master and Kyman told him that his problems are more due to old age than possession.

He worries about his other apprentices. Cadwallis has learned all he can and has little talent for magic. Lucef shows a facility with Divination, though he uses it for his own purposes most of the time. He also has an unusual interest in Glyph and his background. He has a mental block when it comes to conjuration. Having gotten one of the local girls with child has not been good for his studies.

Glyph also needs to make up a purgative for Cadwallis who had a bad reaction to something recently. I think Glyph will make something perfectly vile for him.

Kyman, it seems, is going to visit an old friend who has taken ill. He has something he’s mixed up to make him a new man.

Kyman made a point of telling Glyph again that the Lady in Silver is a myth and a waste of time.

He also pointedly told him that bias against Maldarans can inform opinions and lead to wrong conclusions.

Cu and Lady Ivanov had some conversations, but he was very closed mouthed about the whole thing. What I did manage to glean was that he talked her into helping him get “fired”.

She doesn’t want Amalline harmed and would like to see her safely away. She has more loyalty to Anderland than anyone would ever think, more than is safe for her to have, I think.

In the end, the Duke dismissed Cu and asked him to leave the palace. The rest of us packed up and met on the road out of town.

Before we left, I saw Lucef. He has not one girl with child by him, but three. He asked me for some herbs to take care of his problems.

The miller’s wife cannot hide her infidelity because of that accident the miller had a few years back, so I gave him some herbs for her that will end her troubles and Lucef’s.

The second girl, woman actually, is the wife of a local merchant. Lucef must learn to be more discerning in his choice of lovers or at least avoid the married ones, lest he be ventilated by an angry husband.

The third girl may be more of a problem or may offer an opportunity. It is lady Ivanov’s daughter, far above Lucef in social standing and with a mind of her own.

She wants to keep the child, but would rather pass it off as William’s (William is Amalline’s older brother). I gave Lucef some herbs that he can pass along that will allow her to lead William to believe that he may be the father of her child.

If this works, I will have a bit of leverage over the future Duchess, which could be of use later on, if used carefully.
I wonder if I am truly helping Lucef by fixing his problems like this, but he is my baby brother and he needs me. Any sister would do the same and Lucef is just a boy still. He will grow out of this irresponsible phase.

July 29th: Late Morning
Amalline told us about her conversation with Sir Robert as we set off to Candlehall by way of the Council Grove.

She told him that she still intends to free him from his obligation, but wanted to know his story.

It seems that both Robert and Edward fell in love with the same woman, who happened to be the Duchess. Both men were married as well. Robert realized that love her as he did, they would never be more than friends and he accepted this.

Edward could not accept it and forced the issue. He raped her and was arrested and set for execution.

Robert could not see his brother executed and helped him escape, killing several knights in the attempt.

Both brothers were captured and tortured for a long while before being allowed the release of death.

Once they died, they were cursed to serve the Duchy until their honor was restored. Since their crime was against the Duchess, they would serve the women of the family.

He also told Ama that necromancy is in her blood, which she doesn’t seem to fully embrace.

Before we left, Ama told Glyph to check (at Robert’s request) for a gift from her grandmother in the kitchens. It turned out to be a withered human hand on a chain. He seemed happy to get it though.

Tempest received a letter of Marque from the Duke (which she is pretty happy with).

We walked for a bit, arriving at the council grove in early afternoon. When we got there, we found things to be…not as usual.

For one thing, we were challenged when we entered and for a moment, I thought they would deny entrance to my friends. Once I identified myself, we were taken to Nara Blackstaff, who has taken over as Archdruid since Master Ashcroft has taken ill and is near death.

The others were taken to the Warden’s quarters while Nara had a word with me. She promoted me to stand on the council, which was shocking to me. I’ve not been a full Druid for very long at all. There have been problems though, most of the council members have either disappeared or gone mad. Some have been killed.

The wardens who normally stay in the grove to provide security are also gone. One is off to report to his superiors, she said, the others are dead, one from illness, the other from a dire bear attack.

When I went back to see the others, I noted that even people I have known a long time are not themselves and that things are very, very wrong in the grove.

In the Warden’s quarters, I found the others just as a servant brought in mugs of spring water. The water here is usually pure and clear, but I sensed the taint in it…the faint smell of pitch, the corruption of the blood of the Night Dragon. To have the corruption here, in the grove might be disastrous.

Tempest reached to the earth and found that the corruption is spreading; the earth itself is bleeding and poisoned.

We dumped our water out. No one took so much as one drop of the tainted water.

Amalline and I went out to “procure more water” and to check the spring. It was there, the pure spring that feeds the grove was corrupted.

I needed to see Master Ashcroft and so we went there. I was challenged at the entrance to his clearing, but managed to convince the acolyte on guard that as a new council member, I could certainly see the dying Archdruid.

He was in bed, looking small and weak. His eyes were clear though and he took my hand, his grip strong as he stared into my eyes.

Once he was satisfied that I was free of the taint, he let go of my hand and told me what he knew of what was going on. He returned from a visit to Father Oak a week ago to find the grove changed. The corruption in the water was obvious to him, but everyone here had changed and seemed not to notice it. He doesn’t know how the water came to be tainted.

He told me that the village of Candlehall is making ale with the water from the grove to be sent to all corners of the Duchy. We must stop this from happening and at all costs, we must keep the corruption from reaching the grove of Father Oak or all is lost.

Then, he handed me his staff and told me that I’m the new Archdruid. Without it, Nara cannot be officially recognized as the leader of the Council.

He even growled for me, but I knew that his death was coming soon. Still, that small growl made me feel better.

Amalline and I went back to the others to tell them what had happened. I gave the staff to Cu, wrapped in some cloth. On his back it is just another weapon, in my hand, it is a target until we leave this grove.

While we were gone, the others searched the Warden’s quarters. The warden who was supposedly gone to his superiors is very likely dead, since all his belongings are here. More disturbing were other things they found.

An Uthnal headsman’s axe stood in a weapon stand with some other reaver’s weapons. The headsman’s axe is a weapon of obsidian steel that leaves slivers in any wound it makes. The slivers travel through the body to the heart, killing anyone not fortunate enough to die immediately from their wounds.

That it would be here is troubling.

Tempest also found a pot of Goliath war paint and a totem with death symbols in a pack with some more reaver weapons. The paint is mildly caustic and is not used by anyone who is not a Goliath and it is strange that it would be here as well and even stranger that it would be with the reaver’s weapons.

We need to get out of here fast.

We’re going to get our things together and try to divide into two groups to make our escape. Then, we’ll meet outside of Candlehall.

I’m starting to miss the dungeons.

And our adventures continue....
For this, I left the council?

July 20th: Evening

We had saved the Eladrin envoy only to find out that he had come to arrest Amalline for stealing their queen’s crown.

It seems that an organization called the Brotherhood of Shadows made a declaration of war against the Eldadrin queen right before her wedding to an Eladrin of another house. This would have ended the civil war in the Feywild.

Someone made it look as though Amalline was behind it.

Aldain, the envoy, after speaking with us for a bit, decided to withhold judgment and speak to the Duke to try to find out what was really going on. So, we went back to the palace.

On the way, I asked the false Nara why she wanted to kill Aldain. She told us that if she was given a promise of safety and some water, she’d tell us what she knew. We gave her water and promised her fair treatment.

She said that she loves war, glories in it really. Then, she said that what is happening has been set in motion and it is too late to stop it. She works for the Brotherhood of Shadows (not related to the Queen of Shadows, she says) and the Knight in Bronze.

Twenty to thirty years ago, she said, the Knight in Bronze started some trouble in the Feywild. Interesting, twenty years ago, the Lady in Silver was active here.

Back at the Palace, the Duke wanted to see Aldain. We also found out that Fish Breath escaped while we were gone. And, to make matters even worse, Wizard Kyman was still missing.

We told the Duke about the puppet master, putting the cap on his perfect day. Glyph was tasked with finding a way to detect a puppet master. He also suggested that it would be a good idea to find Robillard.

Lady Anyalka is not going to give up. Ama is not to be seen in public until her guards arrive from Maldar. There is no way to stop them from coming and taking over Amalline’s security arrangements.

Count Aldain realized that he and his men had been misled, he’s nearly certain (though not completely) that Amalline is not the evil mastermind he was led to believe she is. He also said that there are probably some creatures called changelings behind some of this. They perfectly imitated Nara and probably have someone in their council.

When the Duke went to speak to Ama alone, Glyph sent his cat in and I went along with the dogs and curled up under a chair to listen in. Glyph couldn’t hear through his cat (some kind of anti-scrying ritual), but I got to hear the whole thing, though when you’re a dog, it’s hard not to fall asleep.

So, last night, Kara escaped from the dungeon. She simply disappeared in the night. To make matters worse, Malvena Vol knows of her existence and is kind of miffed that the child of Bane was not turned over to her a long time ago. She wants her now.

Anything else that might have been said I missed, like I said, when you’re a dog, it’s so comfy curled up under a chair its hard not to fall asleep.

Glyph and I went to fetch Prester Crane while the Duke was busy yelling at Amalline for leaving the palace. He also had bad news to tell her in private.

When we arrived at Prester Crane’s quarters, he and Kyman were in the midst of an argument over something. They both seemed troubled and distracted, but we eventually got their attention and led them back to the audience chamber.

Odd that Kyman was with him, since he’d been missing all day long.

So, our discussion was interesting. Kyman thinks that the contract was fulfilled though Kara and that is why she’s disappeared. If the spirits found her, they either took her or she made an agreement with them.

We mentioned the Knight in Bronze and the Lady in Silver. No one seems to think they were connected, but Kyman reacted oddly to the mention of the lady. I must find out more about this.

He also says that the Lady is a myth and that she never existed.

Kyman knew more about puppet masters as well. He thought that they were extinct. They share a hive-mind, all working together but with only a rudimentary intelligence. The mad emperor of Maldar is said to have been controlled by an insane puppet master.

Next, we went to check on Fish Breath in the dungeon. The guards tried to stop us, but Cu got us through, though not before they assumed that Ama was a prostitute and far too experienced for the guards to handle.

Fish Breath’s cell was empty, the door still locked. We went in an looked around and Glyph noted that the stone was slightly melted and warped, probably by magical means. Below the stone was parched earth and bedrock.
We followed the amazingly acute scent trail of Fish Breath (he is so very stinky) to a barred door that leads to the forbidden area of the dungeon.

One of the prisoners told us that he heard Fish Breath talking to a woman, she sounded like Amalline, but more refined. They were haggling over something, then Fish Breath went though the barred door, but not by opening it, he just passed through with a faint ripple.

The door, when Cu checked it, was stout oak, but had a strange rippling pattern on it.

We went to rest, our day having been both long and confusing. On the way out, one of the guards told Cu that he had noticed some odd happenings and no one believed him. He has been hearing voices and seeing shadows that are not normal, along with the scent of flowers when no one is around. There are also small gaps in his memory.

He does say that he wasn’t around when the “screaming woman” disappeared. She used to be interrogated at night, but she’s gone now. We assumed he meant Kara.

Cu suddenly got a really bad feeling about the door and the area in general. He pushed Ama behind him and waited, standing guard until the feeling passed.

We went up and found out that a guard called Brian is usually on night watch. He’s surly, but overall a decent guard.

It was getting late and we needed to find a place to bed down that would not endanger anyone or be a place we usually would stay. After a long discussion we decided to go to Timeon’s quarters, since they are currently empty.

Cu went to see the Duke and I ran into my father on my way to find something to eat.

My father proposed that I go with a shipment he is sending to Maldar so I could meet Baron Terwilliger who at 120 years old is seeking a new wife and is willing to overlook my eccentricities. I pled my duties to Amalline, but agreed that if there were a change to my situation I’d reconsider. He was ready for the party and reminded me that I’d promised mother I’d be there.

So, I ran back to the room and got my dress and began to get ready. Tempest came along with me, the others electing to stay with Amalline who couldn’t go since she was already there in the form of her double.

The evening was rolling along nicely until the temperature in the room dropped and everyone just stopped moving. Tempest and I were the only ones who even seemed conscious.

As we watched, a figure in black with an obsidian skull atop its staff walked in. It wore a deep cowl and I couldn’t see a face in it, but I could see eyes, red like burning coals in there.

Tempest moved to protect Ama’s double while I foolishly stood right in the middle of the room, between it and the head table.

A voice in my head said “Child of Crowe, it is not your time yet.” It hurt a lot, but I didn’t heed the pain and as the creature began making a gesture of some sort, Tempest pulled the faux Ama down to the floor to protect her. The gesture the creature made caused an amber glow to flow from the Duke to the creature’s staff. I turned into a cat and leaped at the creature.

I hit him and disrupted his draining of the Duke’s life force, but I ended up unconscious against the wall until everyone else had awakened.

When I came to, Tempest was isolated, since she was standing over the inert Duke at the time. The black figure was gone and the Duke was somewhere between life and death. Prester Crane awakened me and I told him my version of what happened and they released Tempest.

That the place was in turmoil was an understatement. The Duke was stuck at the edge of death, neither alive nor dead, but perhaps headed toward undeath. The whole thing stunk of strong necromantic magic and was still pulling him toward the bad side of life and death.

We found out that we were on a serious time constraint too. I contacted the Council of Druids for the herb Queensglove to buy us some more time to find the source of this and stop it.

We went to rest, knowing that having our faculties about us would be necessary in the coming hours. Well, most of us slept, Glyph doesn’t sleep. Ever.

Varin (Amalline’s uncle) came in while we were sleeping to wake Cu. Of course, we all got up. Malvena Vol’s contingent of Maldaran soldiers already arrived to protect Amalline. There will be no stopping this. The courier from the Council had also been ambushed, so the Queensglove would not arrive to give us extra time. We needed to get moving immediately.

Glyph told us that Kyman had potions to renew us without sleep. They would, however, ensure that we slept a half day after they wore off.

We went, wearily, to get the potions and begin our trip into the bowels of the castle. Glyph said that he could sense the Duke’s life force and it was in that direction.

We entered the dungeons thorough Kyman’s secret entrance. The air was thick with the smell of rotted meat and bones were ankle deep on the floor. No one had bothered to tell us we were entering the lair of something that might eat us.

We managed to travel through unmolested though and started down some steep and uneven stairs. The stairs ended at a chasm, bridged by an old rope bridge or what might have been a bridge at some time, but was really an old, rotted piece of rope spanning the chasm.

While we discussed our options (taking a rope across versus climbing down and back up the other side), Tempest saw something white fly past, fast. Cu noted a cave in the chasm below, on the other side. Maybe it would be a faster or less dangerous way through.

I turned into a hawk and glided down to land in a stream (though, I must admit that landing in the water was more accident than plan). It was still terrifying, but it was easier this time. The landing is still hard though. I don’t know how birds manage it.

Meanwhile, Cu had climbed down and Glyph made it down due to some means I hadn’t noticed…he probably walked down the side or something. He really is very strange and I am becoming more convinced than ever that he is not human.

So, with three of us down, Tempest started down the rope, leaving Amalline for last.

Then, with a scrabbling sound on the rock above, Ama was gone, her pack lying on the rock above us all.

When we went back up (I managed to fly, not glide, but FLY, which was wonderful!), we found undead attacking Ama. We fought them off without any casualties, but it was not an easy fight.

Afterward, we all went down into the chasm. Amalline even came with us this time. Glyph was fascinated by the cave mouth. There was something there drawing him to it, but he didn’t want to talk about it, he just said there was power there.

Tempest looked at the tracks in the chasm and determined that Fish Breath was through here about two hours ago. We could hear ghouls downstream along the creek, moving closer.

The tunnel ended in a small, hidden temple to the Dwarven god Dumathoine. I’m not much for religion, but Amalline told us he’s a somewhat paranoid god, all traps and misdirection. Fish Breath had been there, but he was gone.

Since the temple was a dead end, we went back up and headed down the corridor on the other side of the chasm. This corridor was natural stone and was mostly straight.

Eventually, we began to hear the sound of metal on stone along with some rather colorful cursing. We tried to be stealthy, but none of us are very good at that.

The corridor opened up to a circular chamber. In the center of the room, Fish Breath stood with a crossbow readied and aimed at us. He put it down when he saw that it was us.

He told us that the man who was arrested was not him, but was rather a changeling as the woman masquerading as Nara had been. Fish Breath has been spending his time trying to get through this door.

Glyph said we needed to pass the door to get the Duke’s soul, so we decided it would be best to go together.

Fish Breath said he was after the “Necrostone”, which was the heart of the previous god of death (the one the Raven Queen killed for the job).

This necrostone had been activated, he said and it was his duty to retrieve it. Oh, and Fish Breath is a Paladin of Dumathoine and all his stink and dirt is carefully applied.

The stone is also a beacon for undead, drawing them to it.

We described our experience in the great hall and Fish Breath told us that what we saw was a Death Spirit, an angel of death. Now that it has taken the Duke’s soul, it will try to retrieve the stone.

After opening the door, now unlocked, we paused to have a small discussion with Fish Breath about traps and who should go first.
The good news was that there were no traps. Bad news: someone had been through recently.

Fish Breath also made a point of telling us that we are hopeless and worthless except for Cu. His pronouncement made me angry. I am tired of everyone telling us we’re stupid and incompetent.

Amalline asked if Fish Breath was his real name. No, he said his name was Keoh. Oh, and he decided that Amalline is OK too, but the rest of us are still worthless.

Moving on, we entered a long, narrow room with two sarcophagi and a raised platform at the opposite end from them. Two sets of double doors lead from the room, the one we’d entered from and another across the room and down a bit.

We moved in cautiously, looking around. Part of the ceiling had collapsed sometime in the past, but it didn’t look to be a current danger. Some scratching and scuttling sounds were heard, but again, they didn’t seem to be a threat.

A look around told us that entombed here were Sir Robert from Ama’s dream and Sir Edward, who we’d never heard of.

Tempest suggested that Ama ask Sir Robert about this place and find out if he could help here. Amalline called to him and he borrowed some vitality from Glyph, knocking him out for a few seconds.

He appeared next to Amalline and told her that Sir Edward was his brother, they were buried here together.

When asked who had come through here before us, he was evasive and wanted to know what was in it for him. He did suggest that it might be better if the Duke was allowed to die, but Amalline didn’t want to hear it. He also said a strange thing before he left.

He looked straight at Ama and said “You don’t know what you are?”

Great, more mysteries. Sometimes, I wish people and ghosts and all would just say what they mean, life would be much simpler then.

We began to move through the far door, with Glyph and bringing up the rear when the doors slammed, pretty much in Glyph’s face. Everyone but the two of us was on the other side of the double doors.

As we stood there, shapes stepped out of the mist that hadn’t been there a second before. The mist was cold and the shapes turned out to be small creatures that looked like children’s dolls, but made of glass and bone. Oh, and not at all friendly, in fact, they managed to be both creepy and hostile.

There were a lot of them, a group around me and one around Glyph. It didn’t look good when they knocked Glyph down right away. However, he’s not without his tricks and he turned into a cloud of glass or something and managed to fly through the crack between the double doors.

I yelled for Ama and the others to keep moving. They didn’t seem to understand that the Duke was the priority here and we were on a time constraint. Instead, they broke the door down and helped.

After the creatures (Witherlings, Keoh called them) were defeated, Cu found a tiny ampoule of blood on one of their corpses. They were a kind of automatons that were powered by the blood. Glyph said it was probably the blood of the necromancer that created them. Ick.

Sir Robert said that Edward, his brother, was the enforcer while he has always been the guide or advisor. Currently, Edward is bound by orders from another, but Robert declined to say who that might be.

The platform at the end of the room turned out to be a transportation system. It is a teleportation circle that leads to the Maldaran Imperial Palace. We decided to skip going there and moved on.

The next room turned out to be an old, moldy library. Glyph was interested in what might be down there, but we made him move forward.

Sir Robert warned Amalline that if she moved forward, she would not be attacked unless she threatened the “mistress”.

And so we came to a doorway. We could see undead through it, then a chasm in a small corridor, another pit, then a small platform where a dark figure stood.

Ama called out this “mistress” and bade her come closer to talk.

She moved forward and every last one of us was shocked. It was Lady Helena, Ama’s grandmother, her mother’s mother.

She told us that she was saving us all. She wanted the Necrostone and to get it, the Duke must die, but, she assured us, he’s of very little importance in the greater scheme of things, you see it is the women of the line that have kept the duchy functioning for centuries. Sir Robert and Sir Edward have served the women, not the men.

She made plain that although she loves Ama and would not want to see her harmed, she’d kill her if she interfered with the plan.

The plan, she continued, was to send the Necrostone to Maldar where the Maldaran Empire would then be destroyed in a tide of undead. The stone would animate all the dead in the area and turn those who died into undead.

When we questioned her on how a bunch of undead in Maldar would help us and not kill us, she seemed to be of the impression that she’d be in charge of them and that the stone would destroy them afterward.

Glyph said he had contacted the stone (not sure how he does this, but mages are weird and Glyph more than most) and it most definitely does not plan on destroying any undead, but rather destroying Bane and recreating the world as a paradise of undead.

So, to sum up…Amalline’s grandmother wants to start a Zombie Apocalypse because she’s angry at Ama’s father and hates the Maldarans.

Oh, and Glyph keeps muttering something about feeling connected to this crazy woman.

We talked to her for a bit more. She thinks the Duke is the biggest problem here, she’s still angry about her daughter’s death in childbirth.

I asked her if the Duchy or her vengeance was more important.

She chose vengeance.

You just cannot win with crazy people on a mission.

She also said that Robert and Edward were bound to serve the Duchy because they had betrayed the family. After their executions, they were interred below the castle to serve until their honor has been restored.

Anyway, Lady Helena retreated to the Necrostone on the platform at the back of the room while the rest of us began to fight the undead.

Finally, Glyph got to her and tried to magically push her off the edge of her platform into the pit. Keoh had already fallen down there, but he was hanging on to a rope along the side.

Another thing was odd. I think Cu can fly. He jumped the chasm without it even being close. We all thought he was dead, but no, he just flew over.

In any case, by the time Glyph and Cu were done with her, Lady Helena’s ritual had been disrupted and Ama moved over to tell her it was over.

Lady Helena said Ama had “thrown it all away”.

Glyph and Amalline told her what Glyph had sensed from the orb. She didn’t believe it, but then, she’s crazy.

In the end, she told us how to restore the Duke’s soul.

Keoh wants to move the stone to hide it. He can do that, but he can do it without my incompetent help. Jerk.

Another day another giant debacle (or two)...
Some day, we're going to have a normal day, but this is not that day.

July 20th: First Light

We survived another night and actually got some sleep.

Amalline told us of her strange dream. She finished seconds before Mistress Bloom came to fetch her away from the undesirables (that would be all of us) and prepare her for her big day. Tempest went with them to guard Ama. Mistress Bloom was not pleased.

Glyph spent a long time fiddling around with rituals, he also muttered something about reading thoughts.. He seems to be trying some new technique that involves exhausting himself nearly to unconsciousness. I find it easier to simply use the correct components, but wizards are odd creatures and Glyph is even odder than most.

I left him to his rituals and went to get some breakfast. On the way, I encountered a maid who was on her way to fetch me. Mr. Crowe, she said was here to see me.

So, I went to speak with my father, Tobias Crowe. He can be imposing and I figured he’d heard that he owed the Duke a bit now for the whole business with my leg.

He was happy to see that I’m not lame, but as I suspected, he’s disgruntled that he now owes someone a bit rather than it being the other way round. He did give me two interesting and possibly useful bits of information.

First: There is an Eladrin envoy coming through the forest to see the Duke. He will be arriving tonight, but there is an ambush planned to ensure he never reaches the palace.

Second: He knows where Robillard is hiding and told me.

The third bit of information from him was less welcome…he’s still looking for a “mate” for me and thinks he may have found someone who will overlook my affliction. Lucky me.

Cu went to the Duke’s practice yard. Finding the Duke busy sparring with his weapons master, Cu took the time to do some training with William (Ama’s brother). While so engaged, Cu discovered that the Duke is very agitated over recent events and that something happened in the dungeons last night.

He also mentioned that someone named Kupral may be coming to visit. Cu didn’t say why, but this is obviously disturbing to him, though I know not why. In asking, I found that Kupral was involved in the Arena in Maldar somehow, so maybe it is just that it is painful for him to recall that time.

Finally, the Duke finished his workout and was able to speak with Cu for a moment.

In their talk, it seems that the Duke had noticed that his daughter is headstrong and stubborn (and isn’t the father always last to figure that out). Cu tried to convince him that he needs to give the girl her freedom and let her do what she must. He wasn’t convinced, but he trusts Cu to protect her, I think.

He also indicated that he has set up supply caches in case Cu has to take Ama to ground. I don’t like the sound of that at all.

Amalline meanwhile, was being bathed, perfumed and clothed as befits her station. Her schedule, she discovered, was completely full. Also, her stepmother wanted to see her as well as Timeon. She was anxious to speak with the Duke about the dream she’d had as well.

Ama and Tempest went down to the formal dining room for some breakfast while I was having mine in the warm, comfy kitchen. Cu rejoined them there and I met them all there as well, after I finished my own repast.

On the way, there was a strange incident though. I could have sworn I saw Ama moving down the hallway toward the chapel. By the time I got there, she was gone. Neither of the altar boys in the chapel had seen her, though one of them thought he’d heard the door open and smelled Jasmine, but he saw no one. Strange.

Glyph arrived at the formal dining room right after I did. He said that shadows have been gathering here, more than we even knew. Something dark is happening and we’re probably not going to like it. I’m starting to understand Nara’s desire to stay in the grove all the time.

After a discussion of all the things we needed to do before Ama’s party, we decided to do the worst bit first and went down to see Lady Anyalka. Selena, her daughter, was there as well.

They wished her a happy birthday and then the Lady began to speak of how worried she and the Duke are about Ama, both for her safety and her character given the provicincials she’s chosen to have as companions. I think she means us, but then, nobles are all arrogance until they need one of us lesser folk.

In any case, she has arranged for some special security for her beloved stepdaughter in the form of some Maldaran Security Service guard who will be arriving soon to protect her.

Soon, means weeks though and until then, Ama should be prepared to be locked down and kept away from the inferiors she’s chosen to spend time with. Oh, and the lady has also found a Maldaran nobleman to marry Ama.

Ama wasn’t happy with any of this, but she smiled through clenched teeth and then walked away not intending to do any of it.

Next, we went to see Timeon, the leech. He had wanted to meet with her alone, but conceded when she told him that we knew about what he’d done.

Turns out he worked for someone he could not resist and could not name (under threat of death as we soon found out). Glyph said he was under some kind of compulsion to not reveal the name. He said if he said the name of his benefactress (he did say it was a woman, beautiful and smelling of Jasmine), his head would explode.

When Glyph touched his mind (and I have to remember he can do that), he found nothing, whatever Timeon was, is gone. The mysterious woman has been visiting him for a year or so, but he has seen her before from after with others. Seems she assumes the form that most pleases the person she is appearing to. For Timeon, this was Ama’s form. The name he called her by was Amalline.

The fact that so many people seem obsessed with Ama is kind of disturbing.

For her, he has been gathering samples of blood from all of his patients of rank and wealth by way of night leeches. This includes Ama and her family as well as nearly anyone of rank and/or importance in the palace. This could be a problem.

So, trying to get around the whole “speak and his head blows up” problem, we asked Timeon to write the name of his benefactress.

We got “The Lady in Silv” before his head exploded.

As a side note, I’ve never seen a head actually explode and it was much messier than I’d ever thought it would be. A head is pretty small, but the whole room was covered in bloody bits with some teeny bits of gray stuff mixed in. I think it was his brain.

Oh, and Ama’s dresses for the day…well, I don’t want to be around when Mistress Bloom sees them. We were a bit, um, coated in gore as well, except for Glyph who has a ritual that keeps him clean.

Our work with the physician done, we went to speak with the Duke, leaving a grisly trail behind us. As we turned the corner, we heard the screams of the first maid who arrived in the room.

As we arrived at the Duke’s audience chamber, Malvena Vol was just leaving.

The Duke made a huge fuss over Ama, but she was drenched in blood, so he probably did have a point, but after finding out that none of the blood was hers, he was a bit calmer. The difference in parents is amazing to me sometimes. My own sire would have simply asked if I had been hurt, I’d have said no and he’d have started in on me for how much money it would cost to clean everything and replace the gowns that were ruined.

In any case, Ama gave him the quick version of what had happened with Timeon, including the head blowing up part.

We talked also about the Lady in Silver. The Duke said she’s a myth from the time of the Night Dragon, nothing more. She was a figure who was said to have helped many people after the attack and then vanished.

I told him about the Eladrin who was on the way. He wasn’t expecting an envoy, but did understand the importance of not having such a personage harmed on his lands. He suggested that we deal with this without his daughter. (I still find it amusing that he thinks Ama would ever be content to sit aside while others do things.)

Meanwhile Wizard Kyman arrived and used some ritual to clean us all. He had listened to what we’d said, but then he went off to Ama’s room to work on getting her gowns to a somewhat presentable condition.

The Duke decided that Ama’s official double could do some of her duties today, including the blessings of the commoners. She could rest (again, Your Grace, have you met your daughter?) and prepare for the evening’s festivities.

We took our leave of the Duke and moved on to see how Kyman was faring in Ama’s gory bedroom.

When we arrived, a maid was still sobbing hysterically outside the room, going on about worms. Kyman wasn’t there and, according to the people gathered there, had never arrived.

We spoke to the hysterical girl about the worms and she said it had been one fat worm that had dropped from his neck, a foot long with tiny legs. I felt sick hearing this, I must report it to the Council as soon as I am able.

The maids captured the thing and put it down the privy.

The worm was a puppet master, but they are supposed to be extinct. The worm finds an inconspicuous site on a body and burrows in, moving to the brain to gain complete control of the host’s body and mind. It is classified as an aberration.

This is very bad.

Since Kyman hadn’t arrived at the room, we went to the tower to see what had diverted him.

He wasn’t there. Lucef was scrubbing the floors again. I wonder if he ever gets any magical training or if he simply spends his life scrubbing the floor. He said that Kyman hadn’t been past since he left with Glyph.

We went on to search the place and didn’t find him in any of the areas he’d normally be in.

In his private workroom, we found young Cadwallis who was very rude to us, and seems to have a particular enmity toward Glyph. He was working on something that he was quite secretive about, but left when challenged leaving his project behind.

Glyph told us it was a Dreammaker, which would, when finished give the user a waking vision of some importance to them…if it was made correctly. Done wrong, it would cause some damage. I didn’t get a straight answer as to whether this damage would be permanent or passing. In any case, Glyph made sure this one wouldn’t work.

So, we went back to the great hall and asked the guards stationed there where Kyman had gone after he left. One said that he had muttered something about cleaning and had headed toward the chapel, the second said that he had scurried away toward the main part of the palace.

Cu rejoined us then (I think I forgot to mention that he went back to the forge while we searched for Kyman). He had made a set of Goliath Steel armor for Ama.

Fish Breath was also brought to Cu. He drank a keg of the wine for the party and was on his way to the dungeon. Cu didn’t stop them, but told him that he’d get him out later on.

We went to the ambush site next, wanting to be there before it all happened. Ama came with us, which will, no doubt, get us in trouble later on.

The ambush site was in a place we in the Council call the Spider Glade, since a particularly nasty family of spiders lives in some trees there. When we arrived, I was surprised to see Nara Blackstaff there. I bounded up to her (I was in my usual lioness form) and sat at her feet. She did not recognize me as she usually does and seemed frightened.

I changed form and spoke with her. She was not herself, if she was even Nara. She was with a group of men, all Elves who were not Druids which was even stranger.

She told us to leave that they would deal with this. We declined and then our time was up, the diplomatic party was on the way. Nara and her group were the ambush.

We fought and killed Nara’s friends while she ran off to intercept the Eladrin. They were clearly ready for an ambush and caught her. They marched back to us and we introduced ourselves.

They were very interested in Amalline.

Seems she’s under arrest for grand theft and murder.

We’re definitely going to be late for the party.

Fish Breath and things that go bump in the night
In which we make the acquaintance of Fish Breath....

July 18th: Late afternoon

We were preparing to go to ground someplace when Amalline was summoned to see her father. Tempest and I went along as we were the only ones around. Glyph and Cu were off waiting for their smelly dwarf to be delivered.

So, off we went to see the Duke. First, he gave Tempest and me some rather stern looks. Whoever suggested we be part of Ama’s “team”, it clearly wasn’t him. In point of fact, it seems that he thinks we’re corrupting his innocent girl. I think he’s been talking to Ama’s Nanny too much.

He did tell us some interesting things, but I’m not sure how or even if some of them fit into our problems.

First off, Ama’s jewels are missing. They were the set she was to wear for the celebration of her birthday and belonged to her mother. She’s upset, but we’ve no idea if this was a crime of opportunity or if the theft is somehow related to this whole mess.

Then, he began a long, fatherly talk with Ama about how her job is to stay out of trouble and safe. Ama disagreed. The Duke has a vein in his forehead that pops out when he’s angry, I’ll have to remember that.

He had been speaking further with Wizard Kyman and Prester Crane about the current Queen of Shadows situation and he believed they had come to a solution to keep her safe.

The plan was that the old wizard and the old cleric (who cannot be in the same room without arguing) would use a ritual to do a warding on Ama’s chambers. Then, he and a group of guardsmen would stay there for the night and protect her. He thinks that would control all the variables.

Tempest disagreed and suggested that protecting him might detract from our and the guards’ protection of Ama.

Ama didn’t like the idea of being confined until the situation is resolved. She also thought that her own chambers were a bit too obvious a location and suggested a room in the servant’s quarters.

The Duke thought that the rest of us should just go somewhere else (I think he might have had a few suggestions, but kept them to himself due to politeness) and let his guards protect Ama. He did, however, agree to the servant’s quarters.

An argument between father and daughter ensued with I and Tempest adding our bits here and there.

When he left, he was under the impression that he and Ama had an agreement that she could keep us with her, but that she would go directly to the servant’s quarters and stay there until further notice. What he didn’t notice was that Ama had agreed to spend the night in the designated room, but had made no agreement whatsoever regarding her conduct until evening.

So, we went to the room in the servant’s wing, dropped off Ama’s things and went to the Smithy.

While we were at our meeting with the Duke, Cu and Glyph took delivery of Fish Breath.

They discovered the following about him:

• Even after being washed up, he’s pretty pungent and dirty (there are layers)

• He has a terrible “allergy” to water, but none to alcohol

• His memory isn’t all that great, and

• Questioning him leads to a terrible headache.

They did, however, discover that he knew nothing of the bones in the cellar, though he did know about the blue creatures down there. It was, he maintained, the blue creatures and his fear of them that made Robillard leave town.

He also said something about sparkly powder on the ground down there, but they couldn’t get any more information about that from him, he moves on quickly from topic to topic.

The other possible reason for his leaving was the crown he found in the basement. It made him paranoid (my word, not Fish Breath’s) and anxious, but also strangely generous, since he paid his bar tab and even bought drinks for others.

A few days later, he and Fish Breath loaded the wagon and left town. On the outskirts of the city, he looked at Fish Breath and told him to leave. He was not, according to Fish Breath really acting normal.

The crown was made of silver and gold and looked like it might be worth a lot, but was probably not Robillard’s. Fish Breath also told them that the alchemist was worried that others might take his money and thus buried his valuables in a series of “catches” (caches) in the area. He even knew where the crown was buried and was eager to take the boys there.

We (the girls) caught up to them on the High Bridge on the way out of town. When we joined them, Fish Breath immediately recognized Amalline. Seems Robillard is obsessed with her and had many images of her, including one of the risqué (and may I add, anatomically unlikely) statues they sell in the marketplace.

As we walked toward the old barn that was our eventual destination, we realized that Fish Breath had latched on to Cu as a new best friend. Cu took it in stride. Glyph doesn’t seem to like or trust Fish Breath, but then, he is an odd one. Actually, both of them are odd, but in very different ways.

Our trip to the barn was uneventful, though I did note some rather sickly looking trees. I think I shall have to look at them again later on to determine if they are sickly due to drought or disease.

The barn was old and rickety and filled with several inches of fairly fresh manure. Fish Breath led us through the manure to a sturdy door with a strong lock. It took us some digging to find it though.

Once we found the door, Cu (at Glyph’s urging) sent Fish Breath to “The Toasted Wife” a nearby inn to wait for us.

While Glyph and Cu began to work on getting through the door, I decided to check the loft. I’ll regret that for a long while since there was a creature up there and it attacked me. Still, I didn’t have all the fun, since another creature attacked the others below at about the same time.

I lost consciousness, probably when my leg broke. When I was next aware, Fish Breath was standing over me, having done something to get me breathing again. I’m going to try not to think too much of it, but he did kill the choker…with his teeth and fists. I thanked him and he carried me to the rest of the group who were looking for me.

In the end, we all survived, though it was a close thing. The creatures were wrong, and did not belong here. When Amalline asked if any of us had ever seen such a thing, I told them that the tentacled thing was a choker and they are native to the Feywild. I told them I didn’t know what the Kenku was.

I’ll have to report this to the council in my next message.

The Kenku had some interesting items with him, including a cloth that seems to keep things cold and a vial of Bloodhound powder, which aids in tracking.

Amalline and Tempest set my leg (which hurt a lot) while Cu went to retrieve Robillard’s cache.

It contained the aforementioned crown, a keg of ale, a potion with a finger in it, and the naughty statuette of Amalline. The statue was quickly broken and disposed of (I don’t know if she realizes how many of those things there are floating around).

The crown is definitely not human made, but other than that, we know nothing of it and it was getting on to evening, so we didn’t stop to examine it too closely.

Back to the palace we went to find the entire town locked down and under martial law due to the kidnapping of Princess Amalline.

Ama told the gate guards that she had left on her own and was perfectly fine, but they frog marched us to the palace anyway and directly to her chambers to await her very angry father. He blamed all of us, of course, for Ama leaving, as if anyone could ever force her to do anything.

With him came Dr. Timeon, Prester Crane, Wizard Kyman, Varin (Ama’s uncle), and the Duke.

While we were out, two servants attempted to kidnap Amalline. They were possibly Maldaran agents. In the end, it was probably good that Ama disobeyed and left the castle, but they won’t admit that.

Timeon seems excessively concerned with Amalline, it is creepy and wrong.

Prester Crane and Wizard Kyman found more information about the Queen of Shadows. It seems that Amalline has some Maldaran blood, via the Lady we’d already discovered…the empress who bathed in blood.

Every ten years someone of her blood line is sacrificed, or was, since the last sacrifice was 50 years ago in Maldar.

There is a way to get her out of the contract. She can be replaced with another of her blood. To me, it seemed like a good way to take care of the problem for now and buy some time for a more permanent solution, but Ama said no and the others acted as if someone had suggested they be sacrificed.

I worry about their ability to make hard decisions when necessary; they are too caught up in sentiment.

The Duke suggested that Ama’s half sister could be sacrificed in her place. She was shocked to discover she has a half sister, but it would buy us some time. Again, she said no.

The other option was to put our heads in the Dragon’s mouth so to speak and travel to Maldar to find the lady and void the contract by her will or her death. If we take this route, we will be on our own in Maldar.

Amalline’s sister is “dangerous” and is 22 years old (same age as William, Ama’s brother). We ran out of time to discuss it, however, since Ama needed to get to the warded room for the attack that was coming.

Prester Crane took me to the temple to heal my leg. This is an expensive ritual, but the Duke took on the expense since it would be useful to him to have a point to use on my father for once.

The Prester asked me if I was ready to receive the blessings of Bahumut. I said yes, of course, and he healed my leg. It confuses me that people think that worshipping one god or goddess precludes revering another. My devotion is to Melora, because of who I am, but Bahumut has long been a comforting presence as well.

I walked down to the room where the others waited, leaving an exhausted Prester Crane to his sleep, and found the Duke there, ready to tell his daughter about her sister.

Soon before William was conceived, healers told Ama’s parents that her mother was barren. The Duke took a mistress, since he needed to have a son to continue his line. Amalline’s mother left for a time over this, but returned later, once she discovered she was with child.

The mistress was a minor noblewoman who died in childbirth. The child she left behind was strange with translucent skin and a death’s head birthmark on her arm. When she was born, she never cried, but opened her eyes and stared at the healer.

She was named Kara.

By age three, she’d memorized every book in her home. By age five, she’d killed for the first time. By age six, she was insane, a creature of rage and magic, wild and raw and had to be confined in the dungeons, where she remains to this day.

The birthmark indicates that she is born of Bane. There are said to be seven such individuals alive at any given moment, though she is the only one they know of at the moment.

The seer said that if any of the D’Anderville’s harm her, they are doomed and so she remains imprisoned.

The Duke left and we went to sleep, all of us exhausted from the two days we’d been without sleep.

July 19th : Just past midnight…

Ama awakened to an empty room with a shadowy figure standing by the door, as she watched the figure resolved into the ethereal image of a man. The man moved closer and introduced himself as Sir Robert. He is a ghost and came to her in her dreams to aid her in finding a solution to her current problem. It was he who awakened her the night the shadows came for her.

She asked why he would choose to help her. His response was that he wants to be free and buried with his wife, Katherine, who has been dead many years. He wants his spirit to find rest with his beloved wife.

First, he will help her, trusting her to be honorable enough to keep her word and put him to rest afterward. He didn’t want to tell her why he was not laid to rest with his wife before this, it would, he said, change her relationship with her family and all she knows of them.

Amalline being stubborn and of a one-track mind, kept asking until the poor spirit told her why he was laid to rest beneath the palace rather than with his wife. He was a man of politics, a Kingmaker, so to speak. He had advised the D’Andervilles throughout his life and when he died, he was buried below the palace to allow him to keep giving advice. For 2,000 years he has given advice to the family and for all this time, the line has remained in power and unbroken.

Once his remains are moved, he will no longer serve the master of this place and will go to his eternal reward, whatever that will be. What will happen to the D’Andervilles after this is unknown and will be what they make of it. The Duchy may very well be lost, but if her father rules wisely, perhaps not.

He knows, he told her, many secrets. One of these is that the shadows found her because some of her blood marks the door of her room and the door of the room she sleeps in this very night. The blood was placed there by Timeon the physician. He uses, the ghost informed her, night leeches to gain access to her blood for spells and rituals.

He can solve the problem of the Queen of Shadows by helping her find the information that will void the contract.

They agreed that Amalline will think on this and he will trust her to do what is right.

He told her something of her sister, Kara, who has been chained for seventeen years now, since the day of Amalline’s birth when she caused her mother’s death. She didn’t mean to kill her, but she was a child and jealous that this new child would have a mother while she, Kara did not.

He also told her that Kara is indeed born of Bane.

As to the contract, she is to send Cu to the dungeon to find a secret panel that when pressed will lead to a long-forgotten place in the castle where the contract can be found in a shelf in a bone case. Once she has the contract, she can decide what to do.

If the contract is destroyed, it will cause the Queen of Shadows to begin aging. She will probably not take that well and she will likely want vengeance.

Then Ama awoke to find us all in the room. She told us what had happened as we ate some breakfast, mercifully well rested at last and all alive and well.

Now, Ama needs to decide what comes next. I hope she chooses wisely.

Next Time….secrets and more secrets…

From the Circle to the City...
Kestrel sets off on a new path.

July 10, 1358 S.Y.

A few days ago, I was simply a Druid of the Council. Now, I am on my way to embark upon what will likely be a strange and long journey.

Perhaps I should begin at the beginning, since I am writing this account to read again when I am very old and will probably have forgotten much of this.

I came to the grove four years ago and began my training after an unfortunate incident where I learned that I could shape, but could not control it. For my family’s comfort and everyone’s safety, I was sent to a place where I could learn to control my newfound skills.

Fitting in at the grove was much easier than it had ever been in my life. The rhythm of life here is easy for me. The people are much more like me than any I have ever encountered, though many of them seem to want to forget that there is a world beyond the calm of the grove. But, this is not really important to the story I have to tell.

I had finished my training and become a full (though junior) member of the Council of Druids two months before the day I was called to meet with the Grand Druid, Talbot Ashcroft. Many find him difficult, but I find that if I am calm and don’t take offense, our infrequent interactions are mostly pleasant. I admire his determination to use our powers to make life better for the people of the realm. So, I left my gardening and went to the meeting place.

When I arrived, Master Ashcroft was involved in one of his frequent debates with Mistress Nara Blackstaff. They argue frequently and it is not the kind of bickering of old friends, they truly do not agree on anything. Nara believes that we need to draw inward and stop “meddling” in the affairs of the outsiders. I understand her reasoning and staying safe in the grove is certainly pleasant, but if we never leave our groves, we will not have an understanding of the outside word. To lose this contact would be to blind us in ways that we can ill afford. But, this is a political struggle and it is not mine.

The argument stopped and both looked in my direction when I arrived. I stood silent, waiting for one of them to address me.

Grand Druid Ashcroft spoke first, telling me that they had received a request from the Duke for a Council member to accompany Princess Amaline on a journey of some sort. I had been specifically asked for. No one knows exactly what kind of mission this will be, but I am going since there didn’t seem to be any saying “no” to this trip. It should be interesting, since I have not left the grove for more than a day since I arrived.

Nara pulled me aside and told me that I’ll be back soon. I thanked her for her consideration, but assured her that I will do my duty to our Duchy for as long as it is required of me.

We spoke for a bit more about things best left unwritten, but I will be making regular reports to the Council about the state of the wilder areas of the Duchy.

The missive gave a bit of information about who the others on this mission are to be and I am trying to recall as much as I can about them.

Amaline I know well or I did several years ago. Then she was an idealistic young girl with a definite rebellious streak. It will be interesting to see what the years have done with her.

Cu is her bodyguard and companion. He is fairly straightforward in terms of who and what he is. He is a Goliath and so remarkable since they are fair uncommon. He speaks little, but is a good man to have at one’s back in a fight, having been in the arenas of Maldar.

Glyph of Andersgate will also be along. I have met him on occasion and have found him to be pleasant but odd. He makes me a bit uncomfortable, not by anything he has ever said or done, but simply because he is off in a way I cannot really explain. Lucef knows him well though, so I can ask him about it.

Tempest is a warden. I know nothing of her and have never met her. She is, however, a warden and thus is likely to see every problem as a nail, requiring a hammer to fix it. Wardens, as a rule, lack subtlety, tending to adhere to the “if it’s dead it can’t hurt you” school of thought. Ah well, no use jumping to conclusions, perhaps she will be different. I think she trained with Jarda Stonewarden, so she should be competent at very least.

July 16, 1358 S.Y.

I am at my father’s house now and will go to meet with my new companions tomorrow. I will also have a chance to see my brother, Lucef.

My trip was uneventful and I rather enjoyed the journey. I ran through the wilder areas on my route as a mountain cat, walking as a human when using the roads. No use having an overzealous caravan guard thinking I’m going to eat him, after all. The rabbits are quite fat this summer.

Seeing Father was as I expected. We argued and finally came to an armed truce. Neither of us won the argument, but neither lost. If it becomes necessary I can act as his agent during my travels with Amaline, as long as it does not interfere with our mission or my duties to the circle. I think he respects that I don’t submit to him easily, though he’d never admit it. Mother is as she has been since my baby sister died. She was happy to see me and we had a nice talk about her gardens. I brought her some new herbs and flowers for her garden and even helped with the planting. It seemed to calm her. She is so angry and hates my father with an intensity that is frightening to behold. I fear for her sanity.

Tomorrow is likely to be an eventful day. I will go early to see Lucef and then meet with my new traveling companions. Oh, and I have to go to the gardens and see if Sir Nutkin is still about. I have a pocket full of nuts for him.

Adventure Journal - Episode One
So, what do we do next?

Episode One: Wherein the characters discover that some secrets are closer to home than one might expect…

Return to the Ashen Legacy home page

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.

July 18th

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…


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