Salient points: delivered Lord Borkhold’s message to King Hedric, were rewarded by His Majesty and given a new assignment, namely to convince the monastic order of the Silent Ones to join HM’s forces, and moved north from the order’s monastery toward the tower of Renwar Evenhammer the elementalist, recruiting some mercenary assistance along the way.
It’s what happened in between those salient points that’s messed up.
Traveling south from Olaf’s village, we constantly encountered signs of the undead army’s passing: villages stripped not only of life, but of the bodies of the dead. Disconcertingly, something was around, for one morning we found our campsite surrounded by small effigies made of twigs and bark, equal in number to our party. Something other, that is, than the two owlbears that shambled into our camp one night. Then Olaf disappeared, and despite searching, we were unable to find him. We’re not too worried, since we’ve come to believe he was a lot more than he appeared to be. After several days, we reached Corat, the capital city, to find it somewhat savaged by the undead, but mostly intact. Using Lord Borkhold’s credentials, we gained an audience with His Majesty, King Hedric. Having delivered Lord Borkhold’s message, he rewarded us with a pile of loot: enchanted weapons, armor, clothing, and various other items. But rulers being what they are, he “requested” we take on another message delivery for him, the intended recipients being a monastic order known as the Silent Ones, whose monastery is in the mountains northeast of the city, several days’ travel through a thick forest.
Before we set off, we conducted some research on the order and learned that conversation would be greatly facilitated by gifts of a practical nature, so we purchased several dozen pounds of spices, seasonings, and fabric not readily available in the mountains, and loaded it into our wagon. We also stocked up on travel supplies and weaponry. For my part, I managed to find a lightly enchanted mace in the artisans’ quarter. I say “conversation,” but the Silent Ones are not called that for nothing: their members take a vow of silence that actually physically hurts them to violate, so we’re probably going to be doing most of the talking.
Journeying through the forest with a horse-drawn wagon proved slow going, necessitating the clearing of brush, tree limbs, and occasionally small trees. This resulted in our drawing the attention of the local wood elves, who inquired as to our business and then attempted to extract a toll from us, namely a share of the wagon’s cargo. With amazingly quick thinking, Opie pointed out that this would in effect be taking the Silent Ones’ goods, whereupon the elves reconsidered their demand and let us go on our way. They did warn us that the northern stretches of the forest are inhabited by more unpleasant creatures, including goblins and gnolls. We discovered the truth of this two nights later, when a distant tumult of fighting interrupted our evening meal. Lumi, JD, and Opie went to scout and found the site; several gnolls had been killed with large blunt implements.
We encountered the owners of these implements the following morning: a trio of ogres heading south along the river. We were able to mount a hasty ambush and dispatched them with no casualties on our side. The rest of the journey to the monastery occurred without further hostile encounter.
There have, however, been other, rather more disturbing developments, concerning JD and myself. JD has now twice disappeared while on watch. The first time was the night before we entered the forest; Locke found him unconscious on the ground some distance from camp. After he came round, I gave him a quick examination and was unable to find a cause for the unconsciousness, but I did find on his back an extensive network of tattoo-like markings. I pointed this out to JD and we decided to keep this from the rest of the party for now, lest it cause them needless concern. However, several nights later, after we ambushed the ogres, JD went missing on watch again, and this time, he was found sitting cross-legged in a trance with the eviscerated corpse of a squirrel before him and with the squirrel’s innards all over his front. Locke and Opie brought him back to camp and woke me to look him over. When I awoke, I thought it well after dawn, as it was bright as day. When I asked my companions why they had let me sleep so late, they assured me it was still several hours before dawn. I surmise my new sight is a gift from the Lord of Light.
The escalation of JD’s condition convinced me it was time to consult Locke, and that in turn meant informing the rest of the party; so this particular cat is well out of the bag now. But we still have very little idea as to the nature of the cat in question. We decided to keep JD under closer observation during the hours of darkness, and see if we could find anything in monastery’s library when we got there.
As I said earlier, we reached the monastery without further incident; once we came out of the forest and into the foothills, we came upon a trail, and following it brought us to what appeared to be a blank wall in a montainside. Closer examination by Gorbash revealed that there were actually exquisitely disguised windows and a gate set into the rock. So all we could do was knock on the gate; in short order, a small window slid open through which a masked face regarded us impassively. I explained who we were, why we were there, and that we came bearing gifts. The window slid closed and the gate opened, revealing a long, wide corridor. We led our horses down the passage to a large indoor circular courtyard. On a gallery about forty feet up was what appeared to be a large number of the Order’s members. One of their number—I couldn’t really tell which one—called on us to clarify our purpose, and after we had, told us that we would have to bring forth a champion to fight theirs in single combat to the death. Our predictable choice was Gorbash, and a gate in the wall opposite where we had entered opened to admit a tall human, masked and wearing splint armor, and armed with two longswords. On the command of the speaker, the fight began, and one intense minute later, the Silent Ones’ champion lay unconscious and mortally wounded on the ground. I gave the onlookers a few heartbeats to see he was defeated before applying healing, and then turned my attention to Gorbash.
As our champion, Gorbash was granted power to issue instructions to the order, and he told them to join with the king’s forces at Corat City. The order set about their new task with amazing speed, and the bulk of their members marched at first light the next morning, leaving a skeleton crew to manage the monastery. They also left us with the run of the place, and Locke, JD, and Opie spent the next two days scouring the library for information about JD’s tattoos. What they turned up was quite disturbing: the markings are found on persons under the influence or even possession of an evil entity. The influence cannot be removed by removing the markings (which would anyway be an unpleasant option to say the least, given that it would involve flaying the skin from at least a third of JD’s torso). We also suspect it might have been he who constructed the twig effigies we found. For my part, I decided that some divine consultation was in order, so I made my way up a nearby rocky outcropping that commanded a view of the east, and spent the night in vigil hoping to commune with Pelor at dawn. From what I understand, this kind of ritual can normally only be conducted by a cleric of (far) more experience and standing than myself but we are living in interesting times.
Indeed, at dawn, a vision appeared to me: an image of Olaf, made out of radiant fire (we said there was more to that kid than met the eye!). He told me I could ask three questions, which could only receive brief replies.
First I asked whether there was anything we could do to save JD. The answer came that “the first step is to let go of the notion that he can be saved.”
After some thought, my second question was [fill in when I remember – JS]
My third question was whether JD was even what he thinks he is. The answer came “No, and neither are you.”
Then the image of Olaf disappeared and my I made my way back to the monastery to inform my fellows.
I don’t know what all my companions are thinking, but here’s my hypothesis:
The empty space in the pantheon belonged to the god of treachery, known by many names but one of which is “the Lost One.” The fire elemental we encountered bound on the top level of the tower in Borkhold Keep said it recognized JD as “a follower of the Lost One,” but I’m not so sure that assessment is correct. What if the Lost One isn’t actually dead, but hiding? Hiding in mortal form, say in the form of an amnesiac elf? Given the answer to my third question, we have to consider the possibility that JD was never an elf, but a construct created to house the Lost One’s essence, with the vessel being kept unaware of its… passenger in order to aid in the concealment. Why would the Lost One do this? Unfortunately, I have an at best rudimentary grasp of theology, but it seems in character for a god of treachery to cause a global war for essentially no reason.
Three days after our arrival at the monastery, we set off again, heading north along the western side of the mountains on our way to Renwar Evenhammer’s tower. On the third night, we noticed campfires off to our west, and surmised it was the king’s army. Lumi talked an owl into taking a peek for us, and the bird confirmed our suspicions. The next day, we found ourselves traveling through a strip of foothills between the mountains to our right and more forest to our east, and in due course, we arrived at a comparatively large logging town (large for a logging town, that is). From a distance, we could see the gate in its palisade was guarded by soldiers, and drawing closer, I was pleasantly surprised to see they bore the mark of my old company, the Scarlet Sashes! As we reached the gate, however, I was puzzled by the fact that I did not recognize the men, and when I introduced myself as the company’s former healer, they denied that I could be that person, as their current healer (a name also unknown to me) had held that post for years! How could this be?! It’s been barely three months since I took my leave!
I asked whether Captain Gerrod was available, and was directed to the town tavern. Inside, I found the Captain, distinctly older than I remembered him, but he remembered me and greeted me warmly, declaring that it must have been ten years since he’d seen me (ten years?!) but that I didn’t seem to have aged at all. We explained our business in the area, to which he responded that the company (which has grown to half a regiment in the absence; they’ve even acquired a small siege train) was just about done with their contract in town—clearing goblins out of the surrounding forest—and was looking for work. He added that in a war of this magnitude, no man should remain on the sidelines and offered the services of the Scarlet Sashes to create a diversion while we infiltrated Evenhammer’s tower. Since we are envoys of the king, the Captain was prepared to take an IOU on the king’s behalf. Having come to this agreement, we went about acquiring supplies and the following morning, we started on the three-day journey to Evenhammer’s tower, with the 1,500 men of the Scarlet Sashes traveling an hour behind us. When we reached a point a few hours’ march from the tower, we halted and set up camp, then assembled a reconnaissance party (consisting of ourselves, two scouts and Lieutenant Ferenc, the company’s second in command) to scout out the tower. We discovered the tower is quite massive, surrounded by a guard detail of a baker’s dozen of fire elementals (plus one at the tower’s pinnacle), another baker’s dozen of water elementals in the moat surrounding the tower, and many earthen mounds which may be a sign of earth elementals in the ground. Having made our assessment, we withdrew back to camp to draw up our attack plan. We march in the morning.
The trepidation of attempting to infiltrate the tower of a wizard seemingly as powerful as Renwar Evenhammer yet pales next to the possible implications of what’s happening to JD and myself. Is JD the unwitting vessel of the Lost One? What did Pelor’s apparition mean that I’m not not what I think I am? What purpose is served by having me see as if it were broad daylight? And how did I step ten years into my own future?
Ten years. Mother’s going to kill me for not writing all that time.