Last Stand of the 5th Crusade

Riva: The Twin
7th of Neth, Drezen

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The Twin signals duality of purpose or identity. This doppelganger can also mean indecision, as a person or group wavers between very different options. It can also mean divided loyalties abound. The card makes a harrower wary, as it can also mean the entire spread has a hidden or reversed meaning.

There is so much to write of today. The symbol dreams, the Black Butterfly, and now these wings. The vision, as I drew from my Harrow deck. Ailara, my wind spirit! And finally Arueshalae. All of it under the sign of the Twin, a card rife with dual purposes and hidden meanings.

The dream was like the one I wrote about on the 16th of Rova. Reading that old entry, I had no idea what I was seeing, but now I believe it was the first sign that the Black Butterfly was part of these dreams. That night too I’d been exhausted and had fallen asleep early. Instead of the blue star, I saw a huge butterfly, its wings dotted with as many stars as the night sky itself. There was a serenity to it, unlike the terror that normally accompanies those dreams. This time the symbols started forming, appearing fast and dense upon the hills below me, faster than I had ever seen it before. The pain in my head was as intense as it ever was, and my whole back was wracked with agony as I felt my body changing, broken down and reformed. Yet as I stared at that butterfly, I felt its silent calmness. I closed my eyes and surrendered to that darkness. In that moment the pain stopped. I opened my eyes and saw that in place of the butterfly there was a woman like a living silhouette, except for her perfectly white hair and her wings, which remained the same, reflecting all the stars of the cosmos.

Ivan tells me that I was writing on the walls, chanting loudly enough that he covered my mouth lest someone think I was possessed by demons. I don’t remember that. I just remember waking up standing and seeing him stagger backward away from me, staring wide-eyed. A lock of my hair dangled in front of my face, and I could see that it was stark white. Then I realized: from my back there were wings, great butterfly wings, marked with galaxies and stars.

Next I remember I was lying on the floor, Ivan and Keeya reviving me. The wings were somehow gone, but not for a moment did I imagine that they had been a dream. I could see as much in the way Ivan looked at me. The pain was gone too. My head, and recently my back — they are always in agony after the dreams, never mind ones of this intensity. But now, I felt fine, aside from my head swimming and my nose burning from the smelling salts. It was as if a fever had broken, a fever that had lasted the past two months. Dear fates let it be so!

At that point it was midnight, and time to make my drawing. With the others still gathered around me, I placed my hand on the Harrow deck that Mama gave me — and the next vision began.

I won’t repeat everything that I heard there — I’m still processing much of it — but seeing these spirits for the first time was almost as shocking as what I heard. Maybe that sounds strange, but for someone who depends almost entirely on her sight, the ability to finally see them, momentary though it was, was a fascinating revelation.

Galea was the first to appear.
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She is indeed a middle-aged elven woman, wearing the colorful robes of a Desnan priest and bearing a star knife. But what I saw most clearly was the sadness in her eyes. Thinking back it’s clear now, but for so long I missed the sadness in her voice, which so often accompanied her words of care. I can make the excuse of not being accustomed to hearing emotion, but still … it saddens me to have missed that for so long. Galea, I owe you so much. As I begin to better understand this burden of yours, I will do everything I rightfully can to give your soul peace. But I hope that you can find forgiveness. I can’t begin to fully understand the pain and anger you feel because of Arueshalae — because of the creature she once was — but the person she is now has helped me through dreams better understand the nature of my powers, and it has been a great relief to me. There is kindness and goodness in her, I swear it. Please, pray to Desna for guidance and forgiveness. I will pray for you as well.

Next to appear was Livia.
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Even before she spoke, I recognized that ever-calculating, manipulative presence in my mind. She is trying to corrupt Galea, trying to bend her anger into evil; I will not let her. Her bearing is every bit as arrogant as her words, her appearance calibrated to intimidate, right down to the necklace bearing the pentagram of Asmodeus, resting right over whatever she has left of a heart.

And yet … seeing her reminded me of a portrait of my great grandmother, which sits in a place of honor on the mantle back home. Dad said she was the only person who ever treated him with kindness when he was a boy. There is no mistaking it: this Livia strongly resembles her. But in place of the warm smile I remember from the picture, there are only hard eyes and the sneer of cold command. Still, she too is surely in pain. And however much I wanted to deny it, I can now plainly see that her claim was right: she is family. Is she in reach of redemption?

I have hope, and I will ask the good spirits to help me in this. In this it seems I have a new ally and friend! The third voice in the dream, a voice that I have never before heard, belongs to the kind wind spirit. She is a sylph, named Ailara.
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Until now she has just been a distant presence, remaining quiet and just watching. Yes, watching. I can feel her in my thoughts now, and I’m sure that watching is right. She reminds me very much of Keeya: so very shy, but always curious and observant. I think Livia — ah, perhaps I should just accept it and call her Aunt Livia. Alright. I think Aunt Livia said something about Ailara knowing Keeya. I think. It all went by in such a blur, and there was so much to take in. I’ll have to ask Keeya about this. When the time is right. There’s been enough tragedy associated with these spirits that I want to broach the topic with care.

There was another as well, that deathly presence that first haunted me back at the Center, who when he last possessed me somehow compelled me to mutilate a corpse, cutting off its hand. He did not fully materialize, thank fates. I do not want to ever see his face. The other spirits were clearly frightened of him as well — and perhaps frightened of what I might do under his power.

The vision passed in an instant. I found myself again sitting on my meditation blanket, Harrow deck in my left hand, fingertips of my right just brushing against the top card. I drew it.

The Twin. What other card could it possibly be?

“The Twin signals duality of purpose or identity.” Indeed. I think multiplicity of identity is a fair reading, though the dueling influences of Galea and Aunt Livia would also fit — or, it seems, the dueling influences within Galea herself. Or Arueshalae.

“This doppelganger can also mean indecision, as a person or group wavers between very different options. It can also mean divided loyalties abound.” Again, this fits both myself and my spirits, and it fits Arueshalae.

And finally, the note of caution: “The card makes a harrower wary, as it can also mean the entire spread has a hidden or reversed meaning.” Even for a single draw, the card speaks of hidden meanings.

Making this mix all the more potent is the timing. Mama once told me that the influence of The Twin is at its most powerful during the month of Neth. I don’t understand why that is — I am but a novice at these readings. There’s just so much more about the Harrow that Mama could have taught me, if that damned Center had not torn me away for all those years! If all those nights had not been spent in nightmare, the days spent in fear! If I had only had the strength to— Stop. That is past, that is done. I have new friends now, and thank fates, I still have Ivan. As for the connection between The Twin and Neth, perhaps Kyrk would have an idea. I need to learn to trust my friends. The old fears are so hard to shake sometimes.

My focus wanders. It has been such a long day.

The Twin is a true neutral card, putting me in contact with all my spirits. I did not hesitate to invite Ailara into my mind. She was a voice of goodness and forgiveness in the vision. I wish to know her better. And finally … I feared channeling Galea, not knowing how she would react.

Those visions and that drawing — that perfect drawing — left me quite shaken. Combined with the anticipation of finally meeting Arueshalae, I barely slept.

In the morning, Irabeth came to take us to the cells below. What to say of Arueshalae? She is beautiful; she is terrifying. Whatever the change of heart she has had, she outwardly remains a succubus and a demon: horns, red eyes, bat-like wings, and a long red tail that moves with a sinuous, seductive dance of its own. For all the times I have seen her in my dreams, facing her there, in reality, was a shock I had not expected.

The catacombs of Drezen are a terror as well. Voices of damnation whisper constantly, a demonic chatter enough to drive brave men mad. It even was enough to get under Barca’s skin, and he had to return to the upper levels to recover.

Arueshalae and I spoke under the careful watch of paladin guards, who prevented private conversation or contact. Likely this was for the best. I am wary of everything that has happened today, all of it subject to The Twin’s influence.

I carefully broached the subject of Galea’s death. It seems central to Arueshalae’s conversion. Arueshalae seemed wracked with guilt about this, but it was important to hear. I think it was also important for her to say it. It happened in Ustalav, some 70 years ago. She admitted to luring Galea to an inn, where over the course of three days she drained away her life. As Galea lay sleeping, on the edge of death, Arueshalae looked into her mind and let herself dream. There, Desna found her. And rather than smiting her as a demon that had killed one of her own, Desna forgave her. In that miracle, the path to redemption was opened.

The others doubt. Irabeth warns of lies from “the succubus,” as she insists on calling her. Locke remains adamantly opposed and did not want me to even speak with her. Kyrk is concerned about her gaining influence over me. Still, in my heart I feel that her words are true. I feel that the duality in Arueshalae is not between lies and truth, but between temptation and redemption. Please, Desna, make it be true. Have you forgiven this woman? Can her path lead to you?

Arueshalae also told us of the tower where the Bell of Mercy can be found. A great spider is there, a demon spider. However horrifying, it may be a temporary ally, for it hungers for other demons. How can these monsters be so madly boiling with evil that they constantly devour and cross their own? That is the one grace that could save us all.

Time was running short, but I thanked and thanked Arueshalae for the dreams she had sent me, for the vision of the Black Butterfly, for the hope that revelation gave to me. I told her how she was already doing good, even if only through those dreams. She seemed deeply moved, a tear running down her cheek. I admit to starting to cry a bit myself.

That was enough for the guards. But before we left, Arueshalae offered a gift. I wanted to accept, but I could not. I was afraid that letting Arueshalae further into my mind might hurt and enrage Galea. Then there is the influence of Jerribeth; I did not tell Arueshalae about that.

Instead, we called Barca back down. This time, he was able to steady himself against the voices. We discussed whether he should receive this gift. I was in favor; Locke was opposed. That is fair: the choice became Barca’s alone, as is right. Barca accepted. He asked for a gift of wisdom, and Arueshalae granted it with a kiss on his cheek. He clearly accepted that kiss reluctantly. As for Arueshalae, there was no reluctance. However chaste a kiss on the cheek seems, in her eyes I could see deep wells of desire. I have no experience with romance, but I have to secretly admit … I was jealous.

Tonight I prayed. I prayed with a fervor that I have not felt since I was paralyzed and drowning in the poisoned waters of Storasta. I prayed aloud to Desna. I prayed in silence to the Black Butterfly. I prayed for Arueshalae’s redemption. I prayed for Galea be filled with the same miraculous forgiveness that Desna showed 70 years ago. I prayed for my companions, that they be safe on our journey ahead. I even prayed for Aunt Livia, that she find in her heart the good that I know is in my family, however buried by generations of greed. We all have difficult paths ahead, long and twisting journeys to safety and to forgiveness. May Desna bless us all in these travels.

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Cohort Logs 13 Neth

Ivan

The dynamics of Drezen are profound. Hellknights, low templars, paladins, thieves and clergy of numerous faiths stand on the lines together to face a singular enemy. I never thought ideals of such differences could be placed aside so easily: war changes perspectives. It is not only an idea of good vs evil, but more of an aspect of loyalties. Good men are imprisoned with loyalties to evil demon lords, or at least forced to do their bidding. Men known to have committed atrocities countries away stand over the injured protecting them from flame and debris. To know the heart of a man is to know the very strength we are capable of. With this, I now firmly know that Mengkare is wrong. There is no perfect race and the defective, the tainted are just as noble and strong as the perfectly molded exterior of a Hermean born.

I will only return to Hermea when this is over to proclaim my desire to depart. The world is to large of a place to stay confined to an island ignorant to the world’s problems.

Keeya

I have never been in an area with so many influential and powerful individuals. As I walk through the grounds, the auras of most people shine like a festival, but this is anything but. At first, I reported any transgression to Anevia, much to my dismay. There are people here with less than noble ideas about the world that still fight for the cause. I have made enemies I think, and the people that think less of me are not the kind to restrain their feelings. I have changed outfits more times than I can count.

These days, I keep a log of suspected individuals and report them at the end of each day. Anevia records the information and sends any people that have not been cleared to her investigator and people like Ivan. Magic, it would seem is not a definitive solution and the timeless process of listening and watching is the best defense against the forces of evil that would undermine our cause. This is comforting to me and provides me with a calm that I would not have expected. I now use my gifts of magic, along with my natural gifts of listening to see the truth in actions.

A siege is underway in Drezen. Demon’s storm the walls with their General flying in the distance directing them. The walls of Drezen are powerful and we are holding the front, but the soldiers of the enemy are limitless, and many of them tireless. Kyrk no longer speaks to me unless it’s a matter of magic. I have lost his friendship, I am certain, but I will continue to aid him for what he did for me. I miss Riva and our nights viewing the stars and talking of her realms of dreams. At night, when I cannot sleep, I stare into the void and know she is there.

Auctus

My progress with the corruption forge is progressing, but without Johan, it is exceedingly more difficult. His experience with the forge was a true asset, and his spells to protect me from the heat was something I could use again. I dare not to ask Ivan to help brew me addition elixirs, he is occupied with the crusaders and spinning tales of their return. His ability mold the minds of men is truly amazing. I saw him reverse a battle between two crusaders and turn their energies into a budding friendship in only minutes, something I thought only possible with magic. Another lesson my father surely wanted me to learn.

The battles over the past few days have given me reprieve from the forge. The constant chanting drains me, taking much of my resources to keep my sanity in check. I have participated in battles the best that I can, but my knowledge of demonic weaknesses has been the greatest asset. I will continue to advice Irabeth in tactics until it is time to flee Drezen or the Heroes have returned, but I must say, they have been gone for a long time and I fear the worst.

Arueshalea

Oh, my sweet Barca. Peering into his thoughts, his soul is so exciting. It has been far too long since I have flirted with the idea of closeness, and yet, he is strangely distant. I know my chosen form is not to his attraction, but I feel he is man of deep passion and once unleashed, an anger of lust and desire is only a kiss away… but I must control myself. I have to truly focus my desires on helping and not destroying, but it is so very hard and, to my regret, unnatural. To feel his breath on my lips as I reached to him, I had to fight with every ounce of the soul Desna reminded me of to not bite and suck and drain him of… no, I must fight. I kissed him on the cheek and passed on my blessing. I didn’t have to. I could have simply touched him with my hand but the thought of even a moment of passion was too hard to resist.

I must have control. I have been alone the past two days. I worry, but at the same time I am overjoyed watching Jaruunicka fall silent. She needs to eat, but more importantly, she needs water. If someone doesn’t come down soon, I will watch her die a slow and painful death. The explosions above ground have continued throughout the past few days, brimoraks no doubt, although it could be the blackfire adepts, Desna help the crusaders if they are among the army.

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Riva's Vision

Galea sits, staring across the room looking into another world, another time. A familiar voice speaks to Galea, “It’s nearly time Galea. You have been waiting far to long to get your revenge, or at least your peace, cowardly as it may be.”

“Leave her alone, Livia” a wispy voice forms slowly taking a form next to Galea. Ailara, coalesces into a solid form, a sylph female with beautiful eyes floats just above the couch reaches down and holds Galea’s hand. “We have listened to your callous words for decades, this is not your death and certainly not your right to sway Galea’s actions.”

“Silence your tongue voyeur” Livia snaps, “you have what you came for, your precious Keeya”, Livia walks in front of Galea and gently places her fingertips on Galea’s chin to lock their eyes “You have searched for over 70 years my dear, bouncing between conduits in hopes to finally meet up with this creature. Don’t forget what she did to you, what she took from you.”

Tears well up in Galea’s eyes with only one dropping down her face and landing on Ailara’s hand. “I haven’t forgotten” Galea says with a weak shaky voice.

Livia bends down to one knee to look deep into Galea’s eyes, hand tightening on her chin forcing Galea to continue to stare into Livia’s eyes “You disgustingly weak creature!”

“Livia!” Ailara shouts standing quickly, wind rushing across the room nocking over papers and candles littered across the room.

“You still love her, don’t you?” Livia shouts.

“No” Galea says weakly, tears moving down her face.

Ailara steps in between Livia and Galea “Livia that is enough. How dare you!”

“Dare?” Livia steps back, shocked, eyes wide. “How dare I what? Ailara? How dare I remind Galea that lust forced her from her duties? How temptation urged her off to a private inn three days from her church, from her place of protection to lay down with a woman she had only met a month before. And a demon no less” Livia spits with disgusts on the floor to her right.

Ailara steps to the right, now looking Galea, shoulders slouched, “It was a long time ago Livia.”

“A long time, yes, it was. And finally, after all this time she can have her revenge”

“Revenge?” Ailara gasps

“Of course, Ailara, what do you think gave Galea the power to return? Do you think love is what brought her back? No, love is weak, but hate. Hate gives birth to the most powerful of emotions. Hate brings change in the soul, hate moves people closer to order and forces justice on all that have wronged us!!”

Darkness shrouds the room, a loud deep growl resonates. Ailara nervously looks around, Galea grasps at her arms in fear.

“How do you think He found his way here?” Livia says coyly, glancing around the room.

Ailara, shuttering, “You… you brought Him here Livia!”

“No. I only welcome his company Ailara. Galea is the one who invited the unknown.”

“Galea” Ailara whispers, “is that true? Did you bring this creature into our world?”

Galea touches her forehead and wipes her tears from her eyes. “Yes”

“How could you? How could you be the one that invited that creature into the mind of this innocent girl? How?

“How?” Livia exclaims. “Are you a fool Ailara?” That demon took everything from her! All she deserved, all she worked for! She lost everything, everything that was rightfully hers died that night!”

“This isn’t about you, Livia. This is Galea’s past, not yours!”

“It’s not fair!” I deserved that life they stole from me!”

“Shut it Livia!” Galea finally jumps to her feet and presses her two fingers into Livia’s chest. “It was my life she stole. It was mine!”

“Then do what is right! Kill that demonic creature before she infects you again”

“No, Galea, you cannot” Ailara gasps

“I don’t know what I am going to do” Galea paces the room with her hand to her head “for the longest time I thought I would kill the creature that took my life, that stole me from my final calling, but now that I am here only a day away from confronting her, I do not know what to do. Desna blessed this creature and it was my death that gave it that chance of redemption”

Livia gasps and rolls her eyes

“This is the will of the gods and my hatred is now a front to their will”

“What?!” Livia states “Your life for a damned creature, and that somehow is fair? Does Desna think so little of you that she forfeits your life for an experiment? And to find out she was hiding at the temple you yourself have visited is only another insult to your memory Galea”

“Where was she to go Livia? You have to think how confused she must be” Ailara continues to try to reason with Livia and help ground Galea “She didn’t ask for this just like Galea didn’t ask, but we have a chance to play a larger role here, to work out the mysteries of our gods and see where life leads us”

“Ha! Your naiveté is tiresome. That creature has wandered this land longer than you lived and you think she has no ideas of what is going on?”

“Livia, this discussion is tiresome” Galea firmly states “I will know what I am to do when I see her, and through Riva, we will determine the best course of action”

“Yes” Ailara says in agreement “We really do not have a say here anyway Livia, we can only influence and not act”

“You don’t think we can act?” Livia retorts “Just wait. I vow to you both clearly, if I am able to exert my influence, I will do what needs to be done, for you my dear Galea, whether you have the strength or not. And let’s all hope, for your sake, He does not take control. We have seen what HIS influence can force Riva to do, and I will clearly say without remorse, whatever HE does, she deserves”

The vision ends.

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Staying Out of Danger
Kyrk's Journal 11

I’m starting to understand, in a more visceral way, why everyone seems to hate or at least fear Tieflings. So far, all of the ones I have met have been duplicitous servants of evil. Not doing much for my self esteem, that’s for sure. And in our most recent encounter — with the yellow-eyed arcane caster named Barrad Isem — it nearly did too much in terms of ending my life!

I felt like such a fool that we subjected ourselves to such an obvious trap, but Atepna seemed certain to dismiss us (or at least me) from further consideration or respect if we didn’t go in her stead, so it seemed the only course of action. The fact that we retreated successfully (mostly) is small comfort given how we scattered like roaches and I and Barca took so much damage. All for a ruse to kidnap Staunton Vhane’s brother which worked. Now Drezen has lost an ally and learned that a number of tower guards were corrupted. Hopefully, he can be re-rescued and set back upon his path of redemption.

Luckily, we were able to dispatch the recently resurrected (?) chimera Stolengrab without too much difficulty but we were unable to stop the Vrocks from transporting the brimoraks into the fortress. And once again, I was harshly tutored in the consequences of bad tactics when I followed my Hound Archon down the tower stairs into a room full of the fire-throwing bastards. They fireballed my Archon out of existence in one round and sent me back up the stairs horribly burned, even with my natural resistance. Mortifying. And almost dead-ifying…

I have to get it in my thick horned skull that I can do the most good for my friends and our cause if I stay AWAY from danger such as that so that I might stay up and mobile to give aid where I can. It felt great to finally summon monstrous allies, but so frustrating that the process takes so long and opens me up to disruptive attacks (as happened in that battle with the Tiefling).

But it was impossible to resist following the brimoraks into the tower, since there were no other defenders or allies nearby to stop their pyromancing ways. And I wanted to back up the Archon with additional spells. Still, close-quarter combat is a BAD idea for a wizard, and I could see that the towers were small in diameter.

I am sure there are many more battles to come, and I will just have to get smarter faster. For now, it looks as though our next task is to recover a powerful artifact imbued by the goddess Desna: the Bell of Mercy. Apparently, it will greatly protect Drezen (in addition to the Sword of Valor) once the corruption forge is purified. I’m not sure if the Bell will aid in that purification or if the purified forge will aid in harnessing the Bell. Either way, the item must be acquired, and we must face great danger to get it. The demon Arushalae was taken from the place where the Bell remains. I am greatly worried about this demon and her interest and interference in my friend Riva. Is it not enough to be marked by one treacherous demon — now she needs to interact with another?! It is a strange and terrible world away from Promise.

But each day, I feel more and more like I belong here trying to beat back the forces of the Worldwound and, ultimately, assist in sealing it forever. Our former commanders and advisers are looking increasingly to us as leaders in this fight. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not a roll to which I’m accustomed, but perhaps it is what is necessary now and for the immediate future.

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Riva: The Avalanche
6th of Neth, Drezen

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The Avalanche is disaster. It is an unthinking, unreasoning thing that overruns all who get in its way. It can represent physical disaster or the disaster that comes from a panicked crowd or other unthinking group or entity. If the card is misaligned, the calamity is likely to be averted, though not without consequence.

The Heros of Kenabres departed today for the Ivory Sanctum. I warned Irabeth Tirabade that today’s omens were poor and advised that their expedition wait another day, but she foolishly disregarded the cards, curtly stating that she holds no believe in such things. Can these paladins ever see past their own self-righteousness?!

Stop. That is no way to think about this. Irabeth has vastly more experience in the Worldwound than I do, and who’s to say what will come tomorrow in this place? I can feel Livia coiling around my mind, poisoning my thoughts. I must stay on guard for this. I am stronger than she is, and I grow stronger still with every day. Livia, poor Livia, I don’t know how you managed to get yourself killed or how your ghost wound up being just one of many spirits in my mind, but I will not let you have such power over me! And when midnight comes again in a few hours, even your small measure of influence will vanish.

I am so tired. Between the visions from Arueshalae and the symbol dreams, my sleep has been even more broken than usual. I’m physically tired too. We fought a chimera today, an ancient and mythic one I’m told, plus some brimoraks and a demonic shade of some sort. I fell again, hit by a fireball this time. I must be more careful. This was only a test; the real onslaught is yet to come.

To protect Drezen against that threat, Irabeth has ordered us to retrieve the Bell of Mercy, a powerful artifact sanctified by Desna. I am excited about this mission, but I’d be a fool not to be worried about our deepest foray yet into the Worldwound.

I’m even more excited by the prospect of meeting Arueshalae tomorrow. Irabeth finally conceded to pass along my letter to her. The messages she has sent have already been such a help in my understanding of the symbol dreams. Can it be true that they are from this Black Butterfly? Fates, I hope that is true. Maybe it is silly, but I feel a kinship with her. She too is undergoing a transformation — in truth far more profound than mine — and struggling with her new faith. Her life as well has been touched by Desna. In that we are sisters.

Ivan and my friends have been so kind to me, but the few times that I’ve mentioned Desna to him and Keeya, I felt a distance. It would strike me as comic — if it didn’t make me feel all the more alone. I can sleepwalk all night long, writing ancient glyphs on the walls and speaking in tongues, but it is a mention of a goddess that gets me the oddest looks from them! We have all been so sheltered in our own ways! But enough of that. I can barely hold the pen anymore. Dreams or no, I must sleep.

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Riva: Letter to Arueshalae
5th of Neth, Drezen

Dear Arueshalae,

My name is Riva Tallix. Perhaps you know that; likely you do. It has been two months since I first heard your voice in one of my dreams, and you have appeared to me many times since then, often the only respite from this plague of nightmares. I can only assume that you know something about me, and that you have chosen me for some reason. I apologize if that sounds presumptuous.

I have asked Irabeth Tirabade to pass you this letter. It is a poor substitute for meeting in person, but so far I have been forbidden from entering the catacombs of this citadel. I very much hope to see you soon so that I can properly speak to you! In dreams I have heard your messages, but it as if I am mute and invisible, speaking and gesturing in vain. If you know much about me, you may appreciate some irony there.

How much do you know? I don’t know if you can see what all goes on in this dreamworld that haunts me, but so much is a mystery. In a dream last night, you drew the symbol of the Black Butterfly. That clue was the final piece that led my companions and me to learn of her in a tome of Empyreal lore we found in the Drezen library. Thank you, a thousand times thank you. Reading that book was a revelation, the words pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul! The goddess of silence and patron of the deaf! She who lives in the darkness among the northern constellations! Her holy symbol, a butterfly marked by a star, which I’ve seen in my dreams and have written about in my journals! So much fits. My greatest question is whether she is the one sending these dreams that are changing me, or if she is protecting me from them. Can a goddess of good inflict such torture if it is part of some greater purpose? Is a caterpillar fated to weeks of agony as it consumes itself in its chrysalis? It seems so horrid and capricious and cruel. And yet … every change makes sense: the deafness, the dark sight, the ability to cloak myself in shadows, and finally these wings of darkness that I know grow inside me. Every one of those steps brings me closer to the Black Butterfly. Maybe I’m fooling myself with false relief — fates know that I need it! — but in my heart I feel it has been her all the time.

I’m sorry, I write too much of myself. I know that you too have been touched by Desna, and however hard my path has been I am truly humbled to hear of yours. I can only imagine your struggle, and if I can help you in any way, I would be honored to do so. So many seem to doubt that such a transformation is possible, but I believe you.

Have faith, and may Desna continue to bless you. I hope to see you soon.

Riva Tallix

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Riva: The Peacock
3rd of Lamashan, Nerosyan

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The Peacock is a creature of astonishing beauty, but it is a beauty that can only be retained if frozen like a cockatrice’s statues. Smarter people accept the passage of time and dance out of The Peacock’s way. Its appearance always signifies a sudden personal shift in attitude or societal change.

The past week has been a blur of nightmares, sleeping and waking. At night the dreams have continued. Black shadowy wings, rolling grey hills, flying toward the pale blue north star. Each symbol carved into my mind — the writing must go on for hours, though I have no sense of time. The pain and terror are all-encompassing; they leave no room for thought. The sameness of those grey hills and the utter incomprehensibility of the runes admit no marking of progress. It just goes on and on until it ends. At times it was Ivan shaking me awake. Other times the road woke me.

I would find myself in a cage, one of the prison wagons from Raliscrad. Sometimes I would be bound, still gripped by confusion and terror from the fading dreams. Often Ivan would be there with me, sometimes Keeya or one of the clerics we rescued. Early on I remember being very weak, still poisoned by the belladonna I took to ward off lycanthropy. I think the clerics or paladins were working to heal me. I recall the pungent smell of salves, the bitter taste of emetics and purgatives. Utterly helpless, clutching a bucket for vomit or worse, the wagon rocking its way along the hard road back south. No privacy at all, on display like some circus creature. It’s just as well that I remember so little.

Later in the trip I regained my strength but often not my sense. I think I woke up in a panic once and punched one of the clerics. I don’t remember who. If it happened, I’m very sorry about that. The monk training probably didn’t make it any easier on you, but I take solace in knowing you could heal yourself. I’m pretty sure I was bound every night afterward.

We must have crossed the West Sellen, probably west of Storasta. I have no memory of that.

All I remember clearly are the dreams. They are changing me. I dread to speculate how.

————

Now we are in Nerosyan, where I write this. I am feeling better in all respects.

Shortly after we arrived, we were summoned by Queen Galfrey. Ivan tells me that we were all knighted for our roles in rescuing the crusaders from the prisons of Raliscrad, but it was as if that happened to a different person. I turn over in my hand the signet ring of knighthood — I see its royal seal, dominated by Iomedae’s sword; I feel its weight. Yet I remember virtually nothing from that day. Apparently I spoke little, which is just as well. I truly wish I could have said more in Cormonoth’s behalf, but I’m told that Locke spoke valiantly, and his words saved Cormonoth’s life. Thank fates. To have taken on this demonic burden for naught would have been too much to bear.

Fortunately that knighthood opened doors throughout Nerosyan. My companions sold many of the items we found in our travels for excellent prices. It seems that my dear brother took some of the newfound wealth and sought out for me a monk trained in eastern meditation, hoping that it would help my mental state. I cannot thank him enough.

He introduced me to this monk, who calls himself Ping Lao. Master Ping is a quiet man, and when he speaks during practice the words and sequences are almost entirely different from what I learned from Katsuyama-san. Still, the core remains the same: the breathing, the focus. With each breath I can feel myself returning, the flow of air parting the fog.

I have practiced with him for five days now. The dreams still come at night, but they no longer so completely strip me of will. When I wake, some of the pain persists, as it always does, most recently in my back and shoulders just as much as my head. But it does not break me. I wake and I breathe and I remember that I am Riva Tallix. I note the pain and fear, but I am not consumed by it. Not today.

Master Ping also taught me a bit of calligraphy. He showed me how to write his name in Tian Shu. I asked him to teach me how to write my own name, but he just shook his head and chuckled, then corrected how I wrote his name. I spent the better part of this afternoon writing it again and again until he finally nodded and smiled. Then he started laughing, a great belly laugh that went on for minutes. I couldn’t help but start laughing as well. I have no idea if this was all some kind of a joke. What in the hells was I actually writing?

I’ll write it again here, for posterity:    鸡屁

Joke or not, it was very relaxing.

————

Archery has also helped. Since leaving Promise, almost every time I’ve notched an arrow it’s been an act of violence. Finally we have some time to rest. I’ve been enjoying target practice, again finding the peace at its core. Katsuyama-san called it seisha seichū, meaning “true shooting is true hitting”: giving oneself entirely to the draw, release, flight — and if the spirit is true, the hit. It too is like breathing, and in its ideal just as natural. Draw, release. Draw, release.

Still, it’s not against the spirit of the this pursuit to improve one’s weapon as well, is it? I’ve been training with a loaned bow, while my darkwood bow is at a wizard’s shop getting some magical enhancements. Correction: it is a general magic shop. The gentleman working on my bow is an elven druid. He was quite happy to see a darkwood bow come in — apparently not a material most crusaders bother with. I asked that he make the composite adaptive, so I can use it to its fullest whether I am weakened or magically strengthened. Even more exciting is that he is enhancing it with the power of seeking, which will veer the arrow even toward concealed targets! Alright, that part seems a bit like cheating. Even still, I feel it will help in this fight, so it is worth doing. And besides, who’s to say that the ancient zen masters did not have similarly enchanted bows?

To that end, I think I will call my bow Seisha Seichū. True shooting is true hitting. A weapon like this deserves a name!

————

I’ve had a chance to do some other shopping as well. I had quite a list of items that were exhausted in the Worldwound — I shouldn’t run out of healer’s kits this time! — and a list of items that I missed not having in the first place. Best of all, I got a handy haversack. What a relief it will be to have such a lighter load!

Actually that’s not quite best of all. My druid friend showed me a Circlet of Persuasion, and — well, I spent more than I perhaps should have, but it is the most beautiful piece of jewelry I’ve ever seen. It’s clearly of elven handiwork: a slender silver circlet engraved and filigreed with a fine pattern of leaves and branches. Its enchantment gives an edge in the social skills — but I’m going to credit any greater success just to looking good! I wish I could show it to Mama. I’m sure she’d love it, the way it sparkles and glints in the candlelight even as I write this! She always loved her jewelry and

Desna protect me. I was just now admiring the circlet in my mirror — I don’t know how I never noticed this before — but my eyes are the same color as the North Star, Cynosure, the star in my dreams. The exact same color, no mistaking it. I suppose they always have been. I don’t know what that means. I’m so scared. Gods I’m so scared.

I just need to keep breathing. It’s almost midnight. I need to follow routine, let the cards guide me.

The Peacock. A true neutral card. It speaks of the inevitability of change over time and the folly of trying to prevent it. It also signifies a “sudden personal shift in attitude.” I can only laugh, bitterly laugh. I have felt so many shifts in attitude over the past weeks that the card may as well be predicting sunshine in the desert. As for the inevitability of change over time — I don’t wish to think of that now.

The only grace here is that I’ve discovered that true neutral cards bring me close to all my spirits. I need only reach out to choose which one. I did not hesitate: Galea Vahnwyn, elven priestess of Desna. The first spirit who came to me, when I was bound to the operating table at the Center. Galea, I can never repay you for offering me comfort and getting me through that place. But I need you still. Please help me now. Especially now. It is time to set this pen down and sleep.

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The Bigger Picture
Kyrk's Journal 10

I fear - no, I KNOW — we have made a big and terrible mistake.

Since forcing Minagho and Midnight to flee Ralinscrad and leading (herding?) the surviving crusaders and prisoners out of that doomed city, I have told myself that I am now seeing the big picture and planning and prepping for “the greater good.” That my growing arcane power has been in the service of the mission — closing the Worldwound — and my intellectual arguments with my friends and party members based on sound reasoning and measured calculation — balance, even.

And yet, in no small part because of MY thinking and exhortations, we just left 30 or more people to die in the Worldwound, because the overall “mission” required us to get to Drezen as quickly as possible so that we might fulfill the instructions of Queen Galfrey. I told myself and the others, that we could still help the people being led by the heretic cleric of Erastil (whom, I suspect, is actually under some sort of demonic possession) to the Tomb of Delemer in the Weeping Hills by informing those in Drezen who could then rescue them, but I know now that that was a lie I told myself to justify my fear of making an ACTUAL decision of consequence and leadership. Much easier just to defer to the supposed wisdom of the military commanders and just keep following orders.

But meeting Tirq, hearing of the elf Daeven’s death (and somehow his consignment to Hell?), learning that that Tatsu is also compromised infernally, Airyn somehow in violation of Erastil’s traditions, and the powerful sorcerer Atepna either corrupted by the pursuit of raw power or isolating herself from the empathy necessary for a balanced perspective — or both! — has shaken me to my core. The vaunted Heroes of Kenebres are broken, perhaps beyond the point of repair and redemption. And the leaders of Drezen now complicit (along with members of OUR party) in maintaining the fiction that the Heroes are as strong and vital as ever in the crusade.

This moment requires more than just following orders or rationalizing the bigger picture to be a military mission to defeat the demons and close the abyssal rift. The balance of nature and power requires more than just a tilt back from Chaos to Law. In equal measure (and perhaps now to a greater degree), this moment requires the championing of what is Good over Evil. Individual lives must not be ignored. Corruption cannot be prevented purely by force. It must be countered by champions of heart and kindness — empathy as well as bravery.

Riva has been battered emotionally, spiritually, and now possibly demonically. Barca, for all his bravery and strength, is still a child, and he has been staggered emotionally by the true state of the Heroes. I will try to rise to the occasion and become a force within our party for a more holistic approach. But I suspect it is Locke whom we should look to now for leadership. Without him, we would not have been able to rally the crusaders in Ralinscrad to follow us out without allowing Corminoth to be killed. And without Locke’s pure-hearted assessment and forceful presence, I don’t think the rest of us will be able to address the upcoming moments and decisions we face with the just, honest, and Good response that will be necessary. I will do my best to convince him to step up, even as I swear to myself to take each moment — each metaphorical fork in the road — as an opportunity to do the right thing, not just what seems to be the most rational thing.

If we are truly to be Knights of Promise, we must demonstrate that we do in fact show promise to be more and bring more to the fight than even the powerful Heroes of Kenebres have. Clearly, how they prepared and what roles they took and decisions they made, were not up to the task. It’s possible we might fail as well, but I hope and have to believe that we can learn more quickly than they did what this bigger picture requires.

Power is important, and I will still continue to push my arcane knowledge as far as I can. But power applied properly is crucial, and finding the wisdom to make the right decisions should be just as important to me and my companions. I will carry the weight of the souls we just abandoned with me and try to find the inspiration to do right by them from now on by doing right for all.

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Cohort Logs: 2 Neth 4713

Auctus

We have arrived in Drezen, a worn-down city occupied by demons for the last 75 years, and even before, was only occupied by crusaders for 10 years prior. This fortress has much more history to tell, and I am eager to learn about it, but the present takes priority. The city is rebuilding slowly, with over 2,000 men and women station here. After my first night, I felt safe within the walls and slept better than I have in months.

I met a dwarf named Joran Vhane, the younger brother to Staunton Vhane, the anti-paladin that betrayed the crusades in 4638 by giving Jerribeth the Sword of Valor. He is a troubled man that the Heroes of Kenabres have saved from certain death at the hands of his brother and are giving a second chance. He is curt and rude, but we have found a mutual respect for each other working at the forge. The Corruption Forge housed in the basement of Drezen is an artifact of incredible power and opportunity. Joran is teaching me to use it through the pounding of steel we are finding a sense of peace.

Ivan

We have finally arrived at that vanguard of the crusades, and if what I am hearing is of any consequence, the crusades will not last long. I have spent time learning of the soldiers stationed in all three rally points: the Northbank, the Southbank and Paradise Hill. I have avoided the cemetery for obvious reasons.

Everything seems to hinge on the Heroes of Kenabres. The soldiers tell stories of a recent chimera battle and how the Heroes nearly single-handedly stormed the gates to defeat the demons of fire and pain and allow the crusaders to pour into Drezen without losing too many lives. Lives were lost, but if not for the valiant display of power and nobility, many more would have perished. The reality of these stories seems to be much different.

Keeya has seen into the hearts of the people here. She is certain demons walk among the wall of Drezen, but cannot confirm it. We were able to determine that Daeven’s body is warped with the powers of Hell and believe that Tatsu is also hell-bound. R’atla’s stories of Atepna seem fairly accurate, but I can see there is much more behind those eyes. I feel she is not the cold temptress that R’atla is sure she is, but a woman with a weight on her soldiers that only a few could understand. I have had little contact with Airyn, but she is quick to anger and seems dangerous.

I have decided to work closely with Anevia to help spread stories of hope. If people find out the truth, if they find out the heroes are corrupted, we will lose this war.

Keeya

I am fearful. I walk the grounds of this fortress and listen and watch. The people are truly good at heart but weak in spirit. Riva, my dear friend is dealing with so much and I only fear her interactions with a demon held captive below could strain her. We are not allowed to speak to this creature and I dare not try my hand to force it. Retribution is swift here and I do not blame them.

Ivan walks with me and together we are learning more of the crusaders. I am seeing much change in him, a maturity is starting to surface and he is actively taking a role for the greater good. I am proud of him and am starting to see him as a brother. His flirtatious behavior with me is also starting to pass and I think he is beginning to see me as a sister, or maybe an aunt. Auctus is right at home and is working with a dwarf to purify a forge in the bowels of Drezen.

Barca is my greatest concern. He seems to be taking the reality of the heroes to heart. Of all of us, I think he feels betrayed that the Heroes of Kenabres are capable of corruption and could fail at their mission. Barca is so very young and he truly does not understand the complexities of the heart and soul. I have seen so many men fall and so many people do nothing in times of need, please Barca, do not falter where others have.

R’atla

Back in the heart of temptation and fear. I carry more weight on this trip, both Tirq and now the thought of all those men we left to die in the wounded lands. This priest of Erastil who led his followers with him into the night for safety, did they survive? Was he possessed or dominated by a dark force? And what did we do? Nothing. We continued on our way somehow telling ourselves this mission we are on takes priority to anything else. Yes, I can see the argument, but what of those lives? 30 more people have probably died and only Iomedae knows who are what else is dying in those blighted hills.

I must follow the steps of my faith. I must stay true to the people I am to protect. I cannot let myself be overwhelmed by the loss of life just over the horizon. To be a hero means to fight the big fight and to let the innocent parish, let the lesser man deal with the lesser men… but isn’t that what we are, the lesser men? I am conflicted and wracked with guilt. Iomedae, matron of battle and valor, please give me strength.

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Riva: The Uprising
17th of Rova, Raliscrad

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The Uprising represents being caught in the clutches of something much more powerful than you. It is an overwhelming strength that often crushes what comes in contact with it. The crown held high signifies an overthrowing of a leader of some sort. In the spread, it indicates a force much stronger than the person receiving the reading.

And so it was. When I drew The Uprising last midnight, I didn’t share it with the others. I knew too well what it meant.

I went to see Ivan, but he was already asleep. He’d been scouting for the entryway of the werewolf’s prison all morning, then working with Auctus on Minagho’s journal all day. Let him sleep. I kissed his forehead and told him, “Little brother, I’m so proud of you.”

Keeya was still awake. I took her hand and thanked her for being there for me, for just being a friend. She looked at me quizzically, her green eyes searching. I wonder what it’s like, seeing generations of humans grow old around you. I can’t imagine we make any more sense with time. After a few moments, she just smiled worriedly and gave me a gentle hug. I felt the urge to cry, to tell her how scared I was, to scream as loud as I could just in the hopes that I could hear myself, and most of all to beg her to just please keep me from sleeping. I held her tight, feeling the emotion burn through me until all was cold ash. She offered to sit up with me again, but I just shook my head.

My fate is clear. There is no point in denying or fighting it.

I laid out my bedroll, lay down, and pulled the blankets around me. I remembered an old prayer-song that mama once taught me, a blessing for the traveler bound for unknown lands, not knowing if she will ever return. In my mind, I sang it with her. I closed my eyes.

————

The dream again, flying over grey hills on black, shadowy wings. This time no butterfly: just the cold blue light of the northern star piercing straight through me. It went on and on. So many symbols.

Kyrk and Auctus copied some down. Their efforts are kind, but I know that I am in this alone.

————

The Uprising, grim message aside, is a card of chaos. It seems that my chaotic spirit is one of fire, and purging flame is this card’s motif. This spirit has never spoken to me, but I can sense it on the periphery of consciousness — a sense of warmth, an orange glow to the world around me, feeling like dancing sparks are coursing through my body, stirring my blood and quickening my step.

In battle it is anything but subtle, though! I cast fire from my hands again and again while fighting the werewolves, even when I was surrounded by them, badly wounded, bitten by their master. I fell in battle, surrounded by wolves, pulled to safety by Kyrk. I poisoned myself with belladonna to cure myself of the lycanthropy that had taken hold of me.

I need to be more careful. This spirit whispered to me in the chaos of battle, urging me on without any regard for safety. I must remember that next time. Still, even when I felt the lycanthropy inside me, I knew: this is not how I will die.

————

It is night again. I’ve told Ivan to bind me should I begin to sleepwalk: I cannot allow myself to be a danger to the others.

I am beyond exhaustion, but I know that if I do not sleep it will come regardless, and the hallucinations of waking dreams are worse. So I sleep! Desna protect me.

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