Last Stand of the 5th Crusade

Settling the Mind
Kyrk's Journal 4

Like water coming off a hot boil, the bubbling chaos of my thoughts and emotions is starting to settle back to some sort of equilibrium. And what I’m left with tastes bitter.

Yes, I think the guards acted excessively against Neleryn, and I should have come to his defense. But not with magic. If we had all just dropped to our knees and complied with their “investigation” perhaps he’d have been burned, but his sister wouldn’t be dead, and I probably wouldn’t have been imprisoned, tortured, and isolated for three days. Of course, there’s less than no love for Tieflings in this city, and their racism might have resulted in a beating for me, but the tragedy would have been much less. Anevia had warned us, and me specifically, that casting magic in the city was a dangerous and foolish thing. And though I used non-damaging spells, to the guards, my action was hostile and possibly evidence of demonic presence. My Academy training served me well in using my spells but failed my entirely in DECIDING to use my spells.

Then again, if we hadn’t been thrown in jail, perhaps we would have been killed by the demon hordes during the invasion. Being in cells, we were of no danger and drew very little attention comparatively to those free outside. Twelve hours of listening to the Babau’s voice (aurally and in my mind) was excruciating, but then again, if I had been free, he probably would have just slain me outright or gotten me to kill myself or my friends like he and his companion did to the guards outside our cells. So, that’s something to be thankful for, at least.

I don’t ever want to be as impotent as I was in that cell, but I realize now that I have much to learn about using diplomacy or at least bluffing to defuse a dangerous situation. And thinking of the long-term, not just what’s right in front of my face or what’s getting my blood up, has got to be a skill I develop if I want to survive, protect my friends, and close the Worldwound.

True power is knowledge applied wisely, appropriately, and in a timely fashion, not just raw knowledge (or magic) itself. I must work towards that as I develop my arcane prowess.

I am eager to speak with Aravashnial, though! How can he better prepare us for our next steps? Does he have magic we can borrow or buy? And can he help us plan a true strategy, so we aren’t stupidly reactive ? I should say, so I AM not stupidly reactive.

I also must learn to rely on my companions as well. They learned much over the past few days, and I need to absorb the lessons they have to teach. It sounds like we have some new allies, and maybe that will make the difference.

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Riva: The Midwife

The_Midwife.jpg

The Midwife is a conduit to creation
Though she cannot create on her own.
She serves as the key for new life or information
To enter the world or be shown.
Her heart can see good in the worst situation
Or make the import of arrivals be known,
But if she’s turned down and up-turned is the boy
The new arrival will bring no joy.

He is back — dear fates, him, he who tormented me all those years, who whispered to those doctors that they should bore into my skull. I didn’t know at first. He didn’t present himself in vision like some of the others, but I could feel him there, that evil presence, crawling scorpion-like through my thoughts, quiet and calculating and cruel. "Yes, Riva, cut the hand off of that corpse. It will make good bait.” Aron rebuked me for that, justly. I felt sick once I realized what I had done. And yet that didn’t stop me from calling for the captured cultist to be killed by our mongrelman allies, twisting our pact to not harm them. I thought nothing of it at the time, but now ….

I have returned to the cards as part of my daily meditation. There is no denying their part in my heritage. I honor my training, true, but the Harrow is part of who I am.

So I drew the Midwife, she the symbol of birth amid loss. She was the first shard of hope I had seen amidst the wreckage of Kenabres. And with her I could feel someone who I hadn’t known for a few years, who had helped me through the wreckages past. Galea. How many times had she been there to heal my mind? Now, all I could feel was a desire to heal others, to help in some small way the people fleeing from that wounded city. There were too many.

The dreams have been visiting again. No writing, so far.

We waited throughout the day to return. I could hardly bear it, knowing that Ivan was out there. Helping those who passed the mill we took refuge in made the time pass, but in truth there was little we could do. I kept watching the Sun creep slowly across the southern sky until it hovered westward over the Worldwound, its color deepening to a vividly unnatural violet, silhouetting the smoke rising from Kenabres. Late afternoon we made our way to a break in the city’s outer wall and hid there until night. In the crevasse below horrid things crawled.

Nightfall came so slowly as the Sun fell below the acrid haze. Cries of the dying and damned resounded everywhere. I did all I could to breathe, though the air burnt my lungs. I pictured the stream through Bellows Park back home. I was thankful that Galea was with me.

We ventured out under cover of darkness. We avoided the demons but came across a troop of deranged and diseased soldiers. Locke refused to pass by, and I did not disagree with him, and yet …. One strangling to death a woman, perhaps his wife. So much death and horror here. Upstairs was a baby. Remembering the Midwife, I thought there may be a measure of redemption — but he too was diseased, eyes glowing red, skin peeling off. There was nothing we could do. The building reeked of infection, diseased blood pooling on the floor, spilled and splattered everywhere by combat with those shells of men. Barca got it the worst. I will watch him and do whatever I can to prevent this horrid fever from spreading.

We went to Gwerm Manor first. It was suspiciously intact, but no demons seemed to guard it. And thank fates, in the dungeon below was poor Ivan! Unconscious and badly beaten, arm broken and probably some ribs. But he is alive! Some guards were locked up as well, betrayed by their commander, Ulenik — just as Ivan had deduced, and yet for all his cunning he still was caught! Foolhardy as ever! I’ll yell at him later, once he’s in better health. Healing him then was beyond my abilities. We had no choice but to leave him with the guards, in the relative safety of the manor’s basement. Thank fates he is alive! I don’t know what I would do without him, especially now.

Next, to the prison, to try to rescue Keeya and the others. We passed through the shattered passages of the New Kenabres wall, full of the dead, to the South Gate jail. There we found Keeya and Neleryn and Nelethiel’s body. Keeya was terrified and weak, but I feel she will recover. Of Neleryn I am not so sure. His racist arrogance always set him in self-imposed isolation, with only his sister connecting him to the rest of us. Without her lifeline, I fear that he is lost to us.

Downstairs was the tiefling, the likely cause of it all. And in going down there to retrieve him, Trynna and Barca caught the attention of two demons — Babaus, I now realize in the clarity of hindsight, though at the time my mind was all but frozen. They almost killed us. I wonder how much truth was in the guard’s report. Much I suspect. The Midwife holds a tiefling, surrounded by blood and loss:

But if she’s turned down and up-turned is the boy,
The new arrival will bring no joy.

I started this day with hope from this reading, but now even that has gone bitter.

The others had lost their ability to see through this darkness, their potions expired, so I set out to the Librarium of the Broken Black Wing on my own. It was a relief to be alone and to wrap the shadows around me and walk through this place of demons, seeing but unseen. And it was a relief to find Auctus there, the last of our company unaccounted for, along with Riftwardens — powerful ones at that. Through invisibility and teleportation, they moved everyone to the Librarium.

It is there that I write this, beyond exhaustion. I feel the need to record what I have seen, and to push back sleep a bit longer. I should check on how Barca is doing.

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Freedom or Free to be doomed...?
Journal 3: Post-imprisonment

I don’t know how long it will take me to assemble the shards of my mind that were shattered and scattered in that cell while I huddled and shivered in that fetid water. Perhaps it was Takk that allowed me to keep what sanity I could in those conditions. I know he is bound to me because of magic, but I think of him as a friend, and his playful skittering made me chuckle when I needed it, and his stinger kept the worst of the rats at bay when I tried to rest.

What do the others think of me? What does Keeya think? I was helpless to stop our capture, and useless when it came to protecting Nelethiel. I hope Neleryn will forgive me for intervening with the guards on his behalf. He never asked for help. And I’m sure he’d suffer a hundred brands across his body to have his beloved sister alive once more.

I was scared when the earth began tremoring and the screams of a besieged city filtered down even to my cell. But, and I will admit it to no one, a part of me smiled when I imagined the pain, fear, and injustice that the guards must have experienced once the demons breached the walls. It’s petty and terrible, I know, but I am mortal, and mortals are far from without moral fault — even coming from Promise. I will try to control my emotions better. Strive to maintain an even keel when things are most dark and terrifying. It’s the only way I will survive mentally and emotionally, and surely the only way I will have a chance to protect my friends and beat back the forces of Chaos.

Balance must be restored! The Worldwound must be closed!

Auctus seems to have become close to these Riftwardens. I must ask him to help me approach them for guidance, explanations, supplies, and magic. Yes, magic. We need much of it. As much as can be given or gained.

I do hope Neleryn will change his mind and join us. I think his mind will be safer amongst friends than strangers or, worse, alone. I fear that he might take his own life if not engaged in a bigger pursuit.

The Fall of Kenebres has been described to me by my fellow Hermeans, the sights, the sounds, the stench — but it still seems so unreal. So much power and hate unleashed on this city. I have no love for Kenebres — in fact, I do hate this city. Yes, I do. But I would not have seen it razed to the ground and its inhabitants eaten, enslaved, diseased, and befouled.

I must get it together, and quickly. Mother and father are counting on me to do what is necessary for Promise and all of Golarion. And they had faith in my abilities and my tenacity.

So, I will study the spell book of the mad wizard Millorn that Riva brought to me. And I will get what I can from the Riftwardens. And I will take whatever time I have to scribe scrolls for the upcoming battles we surely face.

And if I die, I hope it is in the battlefield and not rotting in a cell like the one I just left.

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Riva: The Crows

The_Crows.jpg

The Crows are a dangerous group, called a murder
For reasons and acts as black as a feather.
With merciless violence they strike with a fervor
For death for death’s own sake when they flock together.
They steal what is loved, leaving naught but disorder
And murder and theft and loss beyond measure!
When they fly misaligned, such acts may be averted,
Or the thievery is just and its loot well-deserved.

I can no longer doubt that it has found me. How many times have I felt my mind split open, words not my own being etched upon it. Over half my years like this. I can’t return to where I was. I must remember Rieko’s lessons. I must remember to breathe. How do I breathe when these visions knock the wind from me? How do I maintain peace and mindfulness when every fiber of my being screams to fight, and the voices scream back at me? I could hear them.

Enough. I must not dwell on that now, or the fear will only drag me deeper. From what is happening above, there is fear enough.

I saw it coming, though I did not even realize it at the time, as distracted as I was by the voices. I’m not sure if Trynna fully appreciated it, but I performed a perfect reading. Every card of the reading was a Dexterity card, matching the suit of the Key card. The chance of that is one in a thousand. Dad sometimes liked to point out the statistics of Mama’s readings. Wait no, perfect alignment of suits is one in 729. I can see his voice now. He would be proud. Mama would too.

As the Key to the reading, Trynna drew the Locksmith. That set the tone for a very literal read.

From the Past came the Rabbit Prince. Vagaries of hand-to-hand combat, capricious, younger member of a well-off household. From what I understand, that is Trynna’s past. It’s almost so literal that there is nothing to learn here, but I feel the cards did this to prove to her that they are not some mere parlor trick.

Then the Crows, perfectly aligned in the position of pure evil, representing the Present. “Murder and theft and loss beyond measure.” This did not make sense to me at the time, but now it shines as bright and fixed as the North Star in its terrible direction. When that card came, I’m sure the demons were already advancing on the borders. I feel utterly powerless to stop the horrors above. I can’t even stop the horrors inside me. No — can’t think like that. We must get out there somehow. I know Ivan is alive. I need to save him, if only I knew where he was. Keeya and the others as well. It sounds insane to write this, but I hope Keeya was not released yet. I digress. My mind simply cannot focus with all this.

In the Future position, the Dance. But it was perfectly misaligned, in the position of chaos and evil, the Abyss. Even more horror awaits. In misalignment this card often reads as the Dance becoming hypnotic. Yet now that I fully understand the Present, the Crows, I dread that it may be more, a perfect inversion of the Dance’s meaning: the framework is collapsing. The order that has maintained the greater good is failing, and evil and chaos come.

Whether that refers to the world above or to my own self, I do not know.

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Cohort Logs: 16 Arodus 4713

Auctus

A prayer to all the gods in the outer planes: this is amazing! No, it is terrible, but at the same time I cannot contain my wonder. The Kite, the structure holding the first and most powerful wardstone is destroyed opening up Kenabres to a wonder of strange and outworldly horrors. The beasts circled and attacked the Librarium within hours of the fall of the protective barriers. Creatures I have only recently became acquainted with burst through the walls with a force beyond measure. I would surely be dead if not for a secret organization based out of this very Librarium: Riftwardens! I cannot fathom my luck. Together, we are working diligently to plan a strategy of defense. I have met a keen elf named Aravashnial. He is a nervous man but dedicated to the safety of the city.

My plans for a legal defense for Kyrk is now a minor concern. First, we must reinforce the Librariums walls and protect the people inside. Next, I must find Barca and investigate who, if anyone, is still alive. In all the chaos, I might be able to retreive Kyrk, Keeya and Neleryn in one move. Third, to find Ivan and hope his ability to blend in served him well. I have little time.

Ivan

My arm is definitely broken. I can barely move my swollen fingers and picking this lock with one hand in the dark is impossible. Thankfully, I believe this a blessing in disguise. I have heard terrible screams the past few hours. From Hallit prayers to what must be Abyssal cahants: something went wrong, something went very wrong. All of the violence stirred after a thunderclap shook the ground. What is happening outside? Riva, are you safe? Keeya… anyone?

Keeya

Is this a dream or a nightmare? Am I witnessing the beginnings of the end of days? Riva, Locura and Barca brought me comforts, which made the time here so much better, but that was a fleeting comfort. The watch commander informed me just this morning that my release was coming soon. He has been very kind since Riva spoke to him, even apologetic in my treatment. He was silent on Neleryn and Nelethiel; I believe this to be outside his ability to speak. The men of Kenabres are good, I can feel it, but they are tempered in tragedy and hardship. Getting them to open is difficult, and for the first time in my life, I can feel the struggle that everyone must have dealing with me. I have no time for this now. What I see outside my window is beyond belief.

The sky is red and I can hear it proclaiming victory over the people of this town. The screams from the city and the laughter from the wind is more than I can bare. From my window, I see families devoured, soldiers outmatched and powers beyond my ability to conceptualize. The guards moved to defend the people and it has been hours since I have heard any movement in the halls. I beg the demon hoard does not walk onto these jail cells. We are powerless to resist. The idea has me in tears. Neleryn is holding his sister tightly, the guards have preserved her body against deterioration, but the decay continues in Neleryn. Will anyone come to save us or is this the end? If I am going to die here, I do not want to die alone. Neleryn, please talk to me, please open yourself to me and share our final moments together. We will see our departed again soon.

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Barca's Journal 0.2
III. Waking Nightmare

I think I am beginning to understand why so many people outside Hermea pray…
The sight of the wardstone failing and that horde of terror flooding the city will forever be with me; hopefully, if we live through the next few weeks, it will not be all I see when I close my eyes.
Auctus – are you hurt? are you even alive?…no, I have to focus, I can’t do him any good if I’m dead. Time to get back underground, bust some skulls, and figure some shit out.

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Adventures Underground
Trynna's Journal

We had defeated the 3 undead dwarves, re-consecrated the Temple of Torag, and captured an out-of-his mind Dwarf Wizard (a master of evocation magic it seems) from his lair near some hideous stalactite dwelling octopus like creatures. Thinking we couldn’t do anything to help the brain-addled fellow, we decided to go aboveground and drop him off at a sanitarium or temple for some mind healing. But when we got there, all of the Abyss seemed to break loose!

Kenebres was being invaded! No, Kenebres had FALLEN! Or so it seemed as we fled the surface back to the realm of the Mongrel Folk. Demons by the hundreds, maybe even thousands, were flying or gating in from the Worldwound after the Wardstone at the Kite was destroyed or circumvented. I don’t know if I will ever see as terrifying a sight as that of the Balor Lord Khorramzadeh battling with and beheading the ancient silver dragon that has long been rumored to protect the city. Perhaps the dragon had gone too long without a fight, or perhaps, the Balor was just too powerful. Either way, we had no choice but to abandon Kenebres and go back underground to look for Aron (but, really, just to get away from the demons, as finding my friend suddenly doesn’t seem as meaningful).

We managed to aid some Mongrel Folk whose family member was stuck under a boulder from the earthquakes associated with the demon invasion. In return, they gave us safe passage to their community and their leader Sull. Locura sang the song of the 1st Crusade, and that gave the community of frightened and injured Mongrel Folk hope and fortitude. Full gave us 6 healing potions and gave us directions to where we might find Aron (and possibly Horgus Gwerm).

We made it to the checkpoint, and though I nearly died in the first assault, I did a terrific amount of damage on those opposing our progress. But in the next room, we were set upon by three human female archers and a couple of Mongrel Folk who had no love for Full. I managed a few solid attacks, but overall, how poorly did I fight?! Maybe those leeches had drained too much blood. My timing was off; my movement somewhat clumsy. I even managed to get myself punched in the nose by a godsdamn archer. An archer! Letting myself get swatted by a girl with a stick and a string… pathetic!

We did prevail, however, and I have to admit that the teenager from Hermea and the half-orc crusader acquitted themselves quite bravely and ferociously. And Riva proved to be both adept with a bow and a most interesting seer with a deck of Harrow cards. I feel a fool for having been so flippant with her previously. But then pride and launching off half-cocked have always been my biggest weaknesses. I hope we can become friends, though she seems a tortured lass that isn’t quite right in the head. Then again, I’ve heard the same slung at me.

We managed to find Aron, but he’s prisoner of some blasted Deskari cultists! Two of our party are thoroughly depleted and yet, if we don’t intervene, Aron could bleed out on the floor below. They shot him in the chest, those demon worshipping fucks! Perhaps I’ll quaff a couple more of these potions we got off the dead archers and try to rescue Aron myself. Yeah, that doesn’t sound wise…

Hopefully, I’ll live long enough to pick up some of that wisdom I keep,hearing about. Seems to be all the rage with the elderly set. Be nice to get elderly someday myself. Maybe I’ll work on that.

But what does any of that mean, when above the city of Kenebres, the only other real home I’ve known since leaving Almas, is surely destroyed and all its people killed, enslaved, or about to be one or the other?! My new companions talk of trying to rescue their imprisoned friends Kyrk, Keeya, and Neleryn, but unless we hurry and, especially, unless we are blessed with the luck of ALL the gods, I know not how our small band can survive and remain undetected long enough to find or free any of them. But if any of us are to live, perhaps we will need these other Hermeans to have a chance.

If I die here or above ground, I hope that my parents one day find out about my death and are able to mourn as proud parents not disappointed ones.

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On the search for Aron

I’m not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into. Trynna has convinced me to help her and an old acquaintance named Locura search for Aron. With them are 2 companions from some island far away in the steaming sea. What brings them all the way to Kenabres?

We traveled underground beneath the city streets where we were greeted by some mongrel men as well as a nasty swarm of leeches. We will need to be careful.

We followed some tracks that led us to a church of
Torag underground. However it seems there are evil denizens lurking about. They look like dwarves, but there is something off about them. If they are undead, we will have to cleanse this once holy place.

-Locke

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That was close!
Trynna's journal

I haven’t been that close to death in a long time! And NEVER have I been that close while being completely USELESS in a fight!

Nearly drowning in murky underground water while a leech swarm sucks the life from me?! Pathetic!

I can sense the lack of respect these people of Promise have for me now after witnessing such a debacle. Their smug superiority oozes out of them. Though I do sense that they want to do right by Kenebres.

I have so much more to prove to them now! It’s hard enough to get respect being a halfling and a woman, but I just looked like a useless child!

If I had only made it to shore during that fight. That teenage barbarian or whatever he is would have seen a real warrior in action. I would have skewered those stinking mongrel folk, hiding behind their stupid bows!

Can’t say as I care much that an abandoned, sunken church of Torag is being desecrated by some undead Dwarves, but I’d sure like to stick my cold iron blade deep in their guts right about now.

Leeches! Fuck. Damn embarrassing…. Let’s fight something real!

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Imprisoned
Journal 2: Kyrk's mental journal from jail

It’s so cold.

I can’t think.

No, all I can do it think… The thoughts won’t stop. I know they’re not dreams because they won’t let me sleep. How long has it been? Two days? Three? Longer? It’s so wet, and the rats they keep conjuring are biting and biting and biting.

How to stay sane? Is it too late? How late is it? Am I in the Abyss? Might as well.

I’m babbling. I’m burbling. I’m bumbling. Buuuuummmmblahhhmannnberrr….

What was I saying? I’m not saying anything. Won’t give the bastards the satisfaction. What was I thinking? Am I thinking? Or is there something else in my head?

Is this what Nethys felt before his mind split? Is his power because of it? Is that the price I have to pay?

Why are they torturing me? Don’t the idiots know by now that I’m no demon?

They were going to BRAND Neleryn. Savages… Why do I care if this city falls? It’s a horrible place, full of inferior intellects and weak, scared people. No, they are strong. Stronger than me. For now. I should pity them. I do. Or I don’t. I am angry. What kind of justice is this? Mengkare would have incinerated these guards long ago.

Is this a lesson I was meant to learn? Fate… Never been clear to me there is such a thing. Seems more like rationalizations of weak minds to think “everything happens for a reason.” Yeah, they do, but not because it’s preordained. Ordinated. Detained. Berrrr… bkjkghdd….

So hard to think. Make it stop. Make them stop. Let me out!

I will rise above this… Show them their folly. Show them I and my friends are superior to them. That they should bow and scrape and apologize for the harm they’ve caused us when we’re trying to help them!

That’s pride talking. I know. Can’t help it. I can, but I won’t. Not now. Not for now. Now now….

Self pity and rage isn’t much good but it does provide some warmth where there is none.

OH FOR SOME SLEEP!!

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