Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dorben, Entry 13 ---4th Flamerule thru 5th Flamerule--- Bloodstone at last and our very own haunted Keep

Adventure Journal of Dorben Wainfoster
-4th Flamerule, The Year of the Haunting

---We’ve arrived in Bloodstone and our party includes Sa’d once again. He reappeared sometime during the night and needed to do a bit of fancy footwork to avoid stepping on any of us as we were packed fairly closely in our double tent. It took a bit longer than usual to break camp since we had to dig our way out through the accumulated snow. Even now, the blizzard continues and the snow accumulates. I believe it will most likely end some time on the morrow or the eve following. I only hope that the army may not travel so fast as the blizzard so that we have arrived in time to give some real warning to this kingdom.

The gates of Bloodstone were within sight by approximately highsun. Kaliki spoke with the gate guards, inquiring as to whether there were a place in the town with a bard in residence. I attempted to inform the guards that we were in possession of an important message for their military commanders but was succinctly cut off by our lady bard as she was still speaking and felt that possible converse with another bard more important than an invading army. It is her way I suppose but I fail to see how discussion of song could outweigh a warning of invasion. It is not worth dwelling upon anyway as Kaliki did finally get around to informing the soldiers that we carried news from the Eastgate. The guard commander took one look at the seal upon the messenger satchel and summoned soldiers to escort us to the castle so that we might deliver the message to the General. Nia flirted masterfully with the younger gate guard while we awaited our escort. I do believe she made the poor boy blush. She invited him to meet her at the inn later that evening and I have little doubt that he will. Our Nia is quite charming.

Our escort arrived in good speed and guided us through the town toward the Castle. We inquired as to a decent inn and the Silver Stallion was recommended. I had time to ask the soldier if he might be familiar with the mark of a bow held in a leafy hand; the mark described to us by Emah. The soldier said that it did sound somewhat familiar to him. He believes it to be the mark of “Wellend’s Rangers”, an adventuring company that knew some goodly success back before the Bloodstone Wars. That would be roughly 30 to 40 years past which would seem to gibe with Emah’s story.

The Castle at Bloodstone dominated our view for some time before we actually arrived at the walls. The edifice is far from small. Definitely a castle built either in time of war or in preparation for the same. The soldier escorting us only went so far inside and then we were handed off to another who had more of the look of castle staff, although no less soldierly in his demeanor. Our entire trip through the Castle, which might have been circuitous on purpose although I am not sure, we were rarely if ever out of the sight of at least 3 to 5 well armed and armored soldiers who carried the air of those who know the sting of battle.

We finally arrived at the anteroom of the General’s office and were once again handed off to another staff member. We were not made to wait overly long and were invited into the inner office by a person whom I would think from his appearance and demeanor to be the General’s bodyguard. The bodyguard was a very intense man and seemed to look at Aedron with almost a sense of eager fascination I think. It did not appear that he bore Aedron any truly ill will, more like he would be very interested to see the outcome of a fight between the two of them. It would not surprise me if the man were one of those professional Giant-Slayer types.

The General did not appear to be a man who really needed a bodyguard but then again it is always good to have someone to watch the back of such an important personage. And the man carries the mantle of leadership well across his very broad shoulders. A veritable bull of a man, bald as an egg and carrying himself with the heir of command. If none of my Lady’s champions were upon the field and the time for healing had passed and selling every square inch of ground with our own precious blood was the only course left then I think I might easily find myself among those shouting rally cries and following this man into the mouth of battle. I only hope it does not come to that.

Meeting the General this first time makes me think: If the General has this much force of personality, how must it be to find oneself in the presence of King Gareth himself? Hmm, I think my childhood fascination with the daring tales of the Bloodstone Wars in far off Damara may be coloring my experiences of today. Although I must confess it would fulfill a boyhood dream to meet good King Gareth in person. By the Lady, I sound like some dew eyed youngling fawning over their favorite bard or adventurer. After all, as much power and presence as is carried by these men, it all pales in comparison to that of the gods which we serve. If I do meet good King Gareth I only hope I present myself with proper decorum.

Back to the matter at hand. The General seemed almost preoccupied as he took the courier satchel. The weight of state affairs or concerns of defense perhaps. He read through the entire packet and I saw him more than once glance toward the snow still falling outside. It would seem our warning of an unseasonable blizzard lent some weight and urgency to our claims. After he had finished reading and seemed to be gathering his thoughts for but a few moments, the General told us that he would have to make consultations and consider what to be done about this. We were dismissed and told that the General would be in touch with us later.

From the Castle, we were given directions to the Silver Stallion Inn. It has proved to be quite a lovely place. The Inn covers a full city block and is definitely a higher end establishment, catering to those who can well afford the bathhouse, sauna and massage facilities made available. There were not a great number of patrons in the establishment but those that were there appeared to be of some wealth. Nia and I have availed ourselves of the bathing services available. I made acquaintance of a lovely young lady and we shared an afternoon of relaxation in the steam and comfort. I do hope she takes me up on my invitation to dinner. While some of us were enjoying some relaxation Kaliki, Meg and Sa’d went off to peruse the market place and Meg worked on the winter wolf pelts in the enclosed courtyard with Aedron. The pelts look to be coming along nicely from the looks and they will most likely fetch a very fair price if they decide they wish to sell. Otherwise the pelts would make quite nice cloaks for any of our number.

Our friends who went to the marketplace found the pickings quite sparse. Spaces where temporary stalls would normally be erected were vacant but most of the permanent market structures were open and doing business. They were able to gather a bit of information after all though when they stopped in at a tavern in the area. One would assume the tavern would normally cater to the wandering patrons and stall workers. On this day it was seemingly populated almost exclusively by those stall tenders who were unable to do business in the inclement weather. I do hope they are able to recoup their losses after the blizzard ends. Among the rumors and stories they were able to collect were mention of a new volcano miraculously appearing somewhere to the west. They tended to steer conversation around that story. No need to stir fear of the incident. They were also able to find out that the keep formerly occupied by Wellend’s Rangers is located a few hours northwest of the city. It is also rumored that the Keep is haunted although none know by whom or what the circumstances might be. There was also scuttlebutt that sounds to be a long standing and recurring rumor of the land. It is said that King Gareth has a spy network of bards who travel throughout the land to gather information for him. Supposedly the information they glean is then passed home concealed within the words of songs and ballads. Quite interesting actually, especially if it might be true. Also while they were in the marketplace, Meg was able to help Sa’d find a good suit of winter gear to keep the cold off. He returned to the Inn looking for all the world like a shrunk down version of Aedron. Or a giant white puffy kitten. Either works.

Before our lot made their own ways for the evening we decided to take another look at the key given to us by Emah. We noticed that the keys contact with Illandria may have in fact had some influence. The shaft of the key now had details that made it resemble the bark and structure of a large tree bole. Sa’d noticed upon examining the key that it seemed to have ever so slight of a pull in one direction. He balanced it upon his open palm and the key did indeed turn and point toward the northwest. With the information gathered earlier this would seem to at least marginally verify the location of the Keep. It is thought that we may set out to explore for the Keep on the morrow if we are not contacted by the General or his agencies.

As for now, there is a city that some of us wish to explore and my dinner companion should be here soon. I believe I overheard Aedron asking about a possible trainer in the ways of the warrior before he left. I only wonder as to the prowess of my large friend with even further training. In his day, I think perhaps Aedron may be a veritable juggernaut in our midst. I see Kaliki has made the acquaintance of the Silver Stallions bard in residence, called Olem the Silver Bard according to the locals. I am interested to hear what might come of any collaboration between those two. Ah, wonderful timing. I hear the first notes of what sounds to be a lovely performance and I believe I see my dinner companion approaching. It would seem high time to end my scratching and scribbling for the now. By my Lady’s grace, I will write again soon.

*************

Adventure Journal of Dorben Wainfoster
-5th Flamerule, The Year of the Haunting

--- Firstly I must confess that I was terribly slothful this morn and allowed my lady companion to tempt me back for a bit more dalliance before we went our separate ways for the day. She is a lovely and exuberant young lady. The dalliance is no sin but the being late to my work could be. My penance has been said, my burden lessened and the path lain before me.

The rest of our companions went their separate ways as well today, although Kaliki never actually left the Inn as far as I know. She and Olem are still diligently sorting through their respective collections of song and story. I do not know how long it will be till the girl surfaces for air. She certainly does seem happy with the whole situation. She regaled the Silver Stallion patrons with a goodly stanza from her epic about Koe and his people. With no direct reference to goblins it was a non-specific tale of heroics and sacrifice in the grand tradition. It certainly seemed to please the masses.

Aedron left word with the innkeeper quite early to let us know he had gone to pursue lessons. From what I hear, his tutor is a former captain of the guard who is known for his axe work. I believe the name was Kord. I do hope this teacher is worthy of the student who seeks him out.

We have just finished with our luncheon and will soon make our way northwest from the city in search of the Keep of Wellend’s Rangers. The others are finishing preparations and I have just finished penning a message to the General, in case he needs to contact us. Not saying specifically where we are going, just that we are leaving the city to explore and plan to return within the day. Also included in the missive was our estimate of where the blizzard originated based on our more nature savvy companions’ knowledge of the traveling speed of weather fronts. I would think the General and his King have many wise people at their disposal to figure such things but we could only think that every little bit helps. Independent verification and all that sort of thing. Our calculations would seem to indicate that the gate originated some 100 miles distant. Our best guess as to overland travel time for an army of that size is several months through the many rises and falls of the mountains or they could cover the distance in as little as several weeks if they detour east and skirt the edge of the mountains. Ah, our party is gathering and the stable boy has brought our horses around. It is time to explore. By my Lady’s grace, I will write again soon.


Adventure Journal of Dorben Wainfoster
-5th Flamerule, Evening addendum

---Well, either the person who first gave Kaliki directions to the Keep was terribly mistaken or the bloody thing moved at some point. We had prepared for a full day of travel and exploration but we traveled less than ten miles before we came upon the ruins. The key pointed directly at the Keep so there was no mistaking it. Just on the far side of the river, it rests upon a bluff overlooking a ford. It must have been impressive in its day for it still bore some slight bit of tattered majesty even in its current state. All of the outer walls were broken down to little more than waist height on an average human man. Naught remained of the six wall towers but their bases, only slightly higher than the walls. Fine work, good stone. Perhaps if our company is successful in our adventures we may one day be able to afford to return it to its former pride.

We moved further into the compound, securing our horses in a sheltered space. The central keep was in somewhat better condition than the walls. Most likely because the stones of the keep are significantly larger than those making up the walls or the wall towers. That is not to say that the Keep was whole and pristine. Far from it. Virtually all doors, windows and shutters were gone from the edifice and the upper stories were open to the elements. We found the central rooms of the Keep mostly intact. The key no longer indicated directions once we were inside the Keep proper. Having served its purpose, I tucked it back away. Our thoughts that this was the Keep we sought were verified when we spotted the sign of Wellend’s Rangers, the bow held in the leafy hand, carved into the lintel rocks over the main entrance. As we explored the main floor a sluice of snow was spilled down Illandria’s back from above. However, there were no breaches in the ceiling of the chamber and we spotted no other source for the snow. We found stairs to the upper stories and went to explore.

Sa’d was on point looking for any infirmities in the ruined architecture or possible old remaining traps. He found none and we continued upwards. As I mentioned before, the upper stories are largely open to the elements and a blanket of snow covered most of the stones before us as we exited the stairwell. Where Sa’d first put down his foot, blackness spread out to cover the snow. This brought our exploration to a halt and we endeavored to ascertain what had caused this change. My spell did indicate that there was some evil taint upon the area of the blackness but it was not especially strong. Several more experiments proved fruitless and then Sa’d simply touched the snow. The black stain spread to his hand. Wanting to make sure this wasn’t some sort of frostbite, I held his hand in mine to examine it more closely and we noticed that the stain began to clear. No spell had been cast and we were stumped until we realized that I had one of Emah’s candles floating just behind and above my shoulder. The stain receded as Sa’d brought his hand within the radius of the “warm and fuzzy” feeling that surrounds the candles. This gave me a thought and I decided to do the one thing left at my disposal which I had not to this point attempted. I channeled positive energy as if I were facing undead spirits and wished to Turn them. It was not my best but the energy did course out and the black stain receded from some of the snow. This brought us all to the conclusion that we were most likely facing some sort of haunting spirits infesting the Keep. Which is of course quite a complication as ghosts cannot simply be destroyed. Most will simply return several days after being banished. We will have to discover what issue has held them upon this plane past their time. It was late afternoon by the time we returned to Bloodstone. Kaliki and Olem had returned to the common room and were still consulting over songs. We retired to a private room and informed Kaliki as to what we had found out at the Keep.

A slight side note here. The rest of our evening was rather uneventful after we returned to the city. I do believe the city of Bloodstone is beginning to mobilize its forces. Nia seemed a bit put out at the slim pickings of handsome officers. I am guessing they are out training their soldiers for readiness. I only hope the city and the kingdom can withstand the coming storm. By my Lady’s grace, I will write again soon.

************

[The group has agreed that what was found at the Keep is to remain a secret. Dorben will not even relate it within his private journal. Therefore, the following is a bit of a peek within the thoughts of Dorben Wainfoster.]

I regret that I may not relate what we truly found within the depths of that Keep. The secret door has gone undisturbed these many years and so I hope it will remain. The stairs down were a decent stretch of the legs, so it is buried deep. It is a shame that we cannot return Toria to the world of the living. But she would be doomed if that were to happen and she seemed content with her lot so it is not my place to say.

The door at the bottom of the stairs was a work of art and again, I regret that we must keep it secret from the world. Of course it was the door for which the key Emah gave us was meant. It could be no other. The key had pointed directly at this door the entire time and fit perfectly in the lock of course. I can only imagine the workings of the lock. It sounded quite impressive as it released. And the door opened so easily, even after so many years sealed behind brick and mortar.

The lights coruscating on the walls as we entered were quite lovely. As if light were being reflected off water as it changed color over and over. I wonder as to the reason for that manifestation. Is it a simple side effect of the magic at work within the Soulforge? A reflection of the life forces held within its globe? Or perhaps it contacts other planes of existence and those truly are the reflections of their sky? We may never know. Perhaps Toria may tell us one day. Soulforge does seem a more fitting name than “big globe” which is how it appears. A very large globe, coruscating energy within and sitting upon a simple iron stand in a room outfitted to service any artisan’s craft. And in the middle of all this static set piece one vestige of humanity, frozen in time: a woman of stone.

The stone statue of the woman was almost a by-blow compared to the first sight of that globe. If only such perfection of caricature could be achieved through skill of art, rather than by petrification of the subject. For that is what we had found; a young to middle aged woman, frozen in stone as she touched the globe of the Soulforge. I still remember how stunned I was when her voice replied to the unconscious courtesy of begging her pardon for any offense by talking about her in front of her. “None taken” indeed. The knowledge she shared with us might not have been discovered any other way. Even the best bardic teachings and years of investigations might never have uncovered these secrets. It would certainly seem that many have gone to the trouble of keeping this thing and this place secret. And we have sworn to join that conspiracy.

A great magical globe that allows one to forcefully drain the life force from another being to fuel the creation of magical constructs with no payment by the creator has too great a potential for abuse. Even the most noble would be sorely tempted. Our only choice is to keep the secret. Toria assured us that the room is undetectable while the door is closed. And the door may not be opened without the key within our safe keeping. So that is how we shall leave her. I do hope we have time to visit her in the near future. By Selune’s grace, I pray that this secret remains safe with us.

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