Princes of the Apocalypse

Cassie's Diary Part 2
Dance of the Dead

For a town that has known peace and safety for the last few decades, it is suddenly a busy place for tragedy. Which makes me wonder, was the peace an illusion, the tranquil country life only existing because people refused to see the hardships and threats for what they were? If you have mercenaries, adventurers and crusaders solving all your problems without you ever asking too many questions, does the danger just become invisible to you? Maybe, but as yet, no true answer can be given for despite my unusual bout of cynicism, these people may instead be the victims of sudden happenstance, a change of power in the great Dessarin Valley casting dark clouds over these good, hard working people.

Those who can, should protect, but not at the expense of taking away responsibility of all people to protect themselves.

The old lady was sincere, the poultry vendor genuinely concerned that her granddaughter had unleashed a spirit upon the town, it being the reason for all the recent woes. For the genuinely adorable payment of some poultry, we agreed to inspect an old hill tomb her granddaughter knocked open by a fall a mile or two out of town. I have to admit, the small paths through the farms and low hills in this part of the North are just wonderful, the low, (well, to my companions anyway) quaint, fieldstone walls, grazing livestock and natural copses of hardwoods beats anything in Baldur’s Gate (well, except the university, temple and old man Grassinio’s bakery).

The strangely marked tomb was indeed open, and Seth detected a bit of movement since its fateful opening. Inside, only the remains of Wander’s belongings and an empty tomb met us. The strange violin music and shape left in the dust the only things of consequence. The goblin and half-ogre waiting for us on the outside was more of a surprise though, but Samara’s beautiful, accented voice seemed to bring them around – until we murdered them. I am still conflicted here, but I do not begrudge or regret our decision and it was an end they would have received if we were Paladins of Tyr.

The trip home was easy, the cool, dark night less threatening when with reliable people at your side. I guess maybe that was the same for the six strange men we witnessed leaving the old flophouse near midnight. With suspicions already growing, our choice to follow them seemed to reveal them to be possible followers of Grumbar, the god of the earth. Despite their strange ritual, no hint of foul play was present.

So, I can honestly say I have never had a shopping trip be interrupted by zombies before. In Baldur’s Gate, such a thing would be considered so gauche. Anyway, I at least hope that the appearance of zombie grammy and grampy distracted my companions from witnessing my defeat by falling books of considerable size. I would like to say it was my first time but you try being three foot tall in one of the greatest libraries in Faerun where even the bottom shelf is a dangerous climb. Can’t have those old men bending over now could they, it might crease their fancy new doublet, the buttons usually already under immense pressure? But I digress.

So, zombies. You hear the stories, see the occasional cleric of Kelemvor come through with their fancy undead slaying equipment but nothing prepares you for that level of……. rot. Or smell. Or toughness, they become stubbornly alive, ah, un-alive, when they get that second chance. Once down, a further horror from the grave appeared as a shadow upstairs. And zombie hands, really necromancers, is that really necessary? It also seems wasteful, but I shouldn’t really analyse the inner thoughts of necromancers, I am sure someone else is working on that thesis. Good luck to them.

So, zombies down, claws destroyed, strangled sorcerer revived and heroic town dog given a hearty “good boy”. But then it was the mystery of the violin music, the soft, sad sound coming down from the hills. With a directive from the the good constable Harburk Tuthmarillar, we managed to save the blustering but friendly Count Austell Murik before making our way to the town cemetery. The ground was shaking violently, the dead wishing to join their brethren in a macabre dance. But the source was here.

She was like a feverish vision, the waifish elf dancing upon a hill of unmarked graves. Her face a scene of joy, the rebec working with speed across shoulder. One look was enough to know that hers was a song of loss and despair, though she once again danced with her friends. Friends that rose from the ground to protect her. And yet, bringing her down was the easy part (eventually), but controlling the cursed instrument was another problem. One that was eventually fixed by smashing it against a gravestone. I feel that my contribution to combat is not in the form of physically wrestling the opposition. Even Samara threw me off with ease.

The destruction of the rebec had an immediate effect, one that was actually quite sad. The once joyful elf become a figure of such tragic loss, I thought she may actually expire from the heartbreak.

Returning, some of the shaken and upset townsfolk began to stare the girl, they instinctively knew that she was responsible for the day’s events. I thought we may have had a mob on our hands but Harburk took control thankfully, as we managed to find some older residents who had seen the elf before. Apparently, she once roamed with human Wanderers of the valley, enthralling the crowds with her dancing as the Wanderer’s played their rebecs. But one day, they were all found slaughtered, ripped apart except for her, who was standing silently in their midst. Her voice stolen by the horror she had seen. Cloven hoof prints were seen scorched into the ground. A mystery now still deeper as more were found this day at the graveyard. The girl was cared for by the people of Red Larch but she was catatonic and could not be helped. She was eventually sent to an asylum for further treatment, Dark Moon Temple. A Shar run facility. The poor child, her mind will most likely never recover. It appears she has been there for decades until escaping days ago. Again, another mystery on how and why.

If I thought this mystery had run its course on this day, I was wrong, something I should maybe keep in mind when out in the real world. An elf, no, a winged elf. Apparently they are real. Well, we know they are real, just not seen, or seen in human lands anyway. But an honest to Oghma winged elf, a powerful and commanding figure who took the elf, promising to care for her in a way humans could never provide. It makes sense, but I feel not one of us was feeling 100% with the decision. All we have is a name, Aerisi Kalinoth.

But the day is done, and the people of Red Larch must go through the harrowing experience of re-burying their loved ones. Maybe at the end of the day, we had the easier job. Maybe tomorrow will bring better fortunes these people.

As I settle down for the night upon a straw mattress that stinks of wet dog, I have decided to be careful about how I end my journal entries, for Besheba, the Bitch Queen is apparently always listening.

My abode for the night is a rustic but admittedly warm farm home, a large, long wood and thatch house that is shared by an extended family of eleven. I suspect the warmth is less from the fire pit and more the crowd of bodies at the opposite end of me, no internal walls separating the various couples, just a few, worn and moth eaten curtains. Friendly!

And yet, I am sure my rest this night is more comfortable than my friends, for they perch in the barn to supposedly catch an intruder who braids the work horse’s mane. The barn gave me the chills in the dusk light, I can only imagine it now. To be fair though, I have had a feeling of unease ever since we arrived a few hours ago. The remote, three family farmstead pushed up against a small but dense woods had a nice rustic feel to it, the people friendly and welcoming but something was certainly off. I guess that is why we are here though.

It started with two youngsters arriving in Red Larch looking for assistance. Apparently chased off from the All Faith’s Shrine by a local grump and elder, they were taken in by our kindly innkeep. The two spun a bad lie about bandits but I think that would have been preferable. They believe they are haunted by something, a curse or something supernatural that is stealing their people and causing accidents and ill portents to occur on their new farmstead. The trip was pleasant except for the unfortunate rabid dog and master. Oh, and the randy wild pony who took a liking to Sheaf. Less laughter and more help from my companions would have been appreciated.

Getting here though, I can see why anyone’s imagination would run wild, there is something off-putting in such isolation. Not that I do not believe them, but I am sure they are adding fears to things that are not present. But we will see. I will try and get some shut eye now and see what the morning brings.

Horror, that is what the morning brings. Again, I must think before I put pen to paper. While I am not superstitious, I must learn the world seems to operate differently outside the stone walls of Baldur’s gate.

So, a cat made of wicker and fur pulled over it with a sap brain was braiding the horse’s mane. I do not like that much but it got so much worse. Where to start. The woods, the horrible woods filled with brambles, hidden drops, looming hardwoods and general unpleasantness. Unpleasantness like animal funerals, wicker giants with a giant sack, dancing, bleating goats and an old holy hunting site to Malar where the souls of animals past slain rise to the sound of creature’s church bell. As a student of the natural world, I knew I would have to keep my mind open in these lands but I believe by the look on Samara’s face, she shared my thoughts on this forest. Raze it to the ground. I jest……maybe.

But the baby has returned, brought home by a friendly cow. In fact, many of the animals are exceptionally friendly and have apparently wandered out of the forest over time. The child seems healthy and I cannot offer any advice on whether it is sick or dangerous, despite Samara’s continued opinion of it being cursed. Maybe one too many fanciful bard ballads have come to the forth. Still, in the pursuit of knowledge, nothing can be discounted.

Again, night has come, and this night, I share the barn with Seth and Samara. She looks uncomfortable but Seth seems surprisingly at home in the stratchy hay and straw. I also commend his ability to power nap and stay somewhat alert. The dragonborn is keeping an eye over the family tonight, to ensure no ill comes to them or the returned child.

Nope, leaving on a neutral note did not help. The family men are plagued and the women all pregnant. The baby seems to have coughed up a strange spore during the night and it seems to be of dark origin. The bard was right it appears and Seth had his own suspicions about what caused the horrible attack. But first things first, stopping the men from driving out the women into the elements.

Here, I have to admit, is where I get angry. I pride myself on being level headed and looking at things academically as well as their presence and history in a given cultural context. And it is not just the hypocrisy of the world where the plagued men chase out the “tainted” women but the sheer inability to save themselves. I understand they follow the Goddess of Peace, Eldath, and it is commendable to strive for that in this age of Faerun but peace at the sacrifice of your own or family’s life due to being fearful of divine retribution is actually cowardice. They have willingly given up their own responsibility to themselves in attempt to make no hard decisions, it is in the hands of another and how that falls is beyond their control. What drivel. These humans need to grow up. They do not deserve the attacks on themselves that is occurring but it does not give them the right to give up and become mewling kittens whose only attempt of power is to take it out on themselves. But, I smiled and I helped. I feel I should feel guilty for such thoughts, I honestly want to make the life of the people on the land easier and solve problems that are beyond their capability but these people peeve me. The others would think me such a cold person, and I enjoy their company, so for now, I will stay silent. Again, off topic.

So, we sold them a lie, some peace of mind and cleansed them with the grace of Eldath. I feel it was a mistake, again we reinforced their belief that a higher power will solve all their problems. But, they spent the day waterboarding themselves afterwards (funnily enough (bad Cassie), the same acts that would be visited upon them if they ever fell into the clutches of worshipers of Loviatar, the Mistress of Pain. Odd People).

So, it was back to the forest. Yay? At this point, I was studying the ground to see where the driest patches were that would start a wonderful fire. Bad Cassie. Think of the animals.

So, creepy witch den. And better, with two hags. Tag-teaming, invisibility using hags with head scooping knives. And by Oghma’s beard, so many eyes. Apart from the wanting to claw our eyes out, the twiglings were almost cute except for the horrible cry they made when destroyed. But every time I thought the woods could not get worse, well, I should just accept is was a pit to hell. A polymorphing pool of water that turns humanoids to animals. Friendly animals we guessed. Friendly animals that were devoured by the hamlet and offered to us on the …… nope, not finishing that line. Knowledge should never be hidden but that memory can be offered to Shar happily.

So, loot found, hill collapsed, site sanctified (well, I waved my holy symbol at it a few times, that seemed enough to appease the locals) and some ground rules laid down about not eating the friendly forest animals. Even better, plague gone and the women healthy. All praise Eldath. I mean, all praise mortal hands actively improving the world for each other. It may seem to strange to some that I, a sanctified channel of the divine should level such harsh words but I think it is because of my blessing that I have an understanding of what they want from us. Yes, they want out prayers and thoughts but they do not want weak worshippers, ones who do not at least to try and live a life instead of waiting to be directed. My powers are given to uplift and guide others, not provide a crutch and make the people dependant on it. Teaching, there is always more to teach.

We leave soon to return to Red Larch. We have more following up to do, their troubles starting long ago and these ones sounding less supernatural in origin. I dislike people who will not help themselves, but I despise those who prey on the weak (and stupid, let’s be fair, the story should have had warning bells for most people but you just can’t help stupidity). Bad Cassie.

Additional Musings:

While the presence of the ancient and magical pool of polymorphing water is foul and unnatural, I have to admit, I wonder what we would have become. I can imagine Samara as a gazelle or deer like animal. Or maybe a bird of paradise. Something free and beautiful. Seth, he is earthy and handsome but there is a hint of a predator there, and not necessarily in a bad way (careful Cass). Something a little different. Maybe an owlbear. Power of the bear but that wisdom and natural majesty as well as the silent predatory grace of an owl. And Naaluka. Hmm, he is already awesomely half dragon. What is better than that? A rhino from the far off lands of the Great Shaar. Large, stoic, fascinating and calm but can bring the fury at a moment’s notice. Rhino is good, I could see myself riding a rhino. And me. I know, if I asked, I am sure I would be told I was a hedgehog or rabbit. Something small and cutesy. Hilarious, humans are always hilarious when it comes to us Hin. I would want to be a ………….. Fine, a hedgehog, I would be a hedgehog, small and prickly.

One day, that is all the distance between the farmstead and home and yet it ended in pain and some more horror. Apart from the friendly meeting with some crusaders and their “friend”. Handsome friend. Wonder what is name was and what he was doing with …… So, anyway, back on topic. Necromancers. And more zombies. I hate zombies now. Especially rock throwing zombies. Thankfully, these ones fell quickly, probably lulled us into a sense that the necromancer was weak. Oh, hi Beshaba, what are you doing here – oh, you are here to screw with us more. You’re a bitch. Any chance we can get your sister, the Goddess of Luck, for once? No. Fine, begin the hurt.

So, necromancers, for people who raise the dead and partake in foul rituals and hang out in creepy caves, they are pretty cowardly. The look on his face when we did not run from his threatening words and Seth landed on the table in front of him was priceless. But, they say never back a wild animal in a corner even if it is afraid of you, well, that also goes for necromancers. Poor Seth felt his life force rip form his body before he got away and I have to admit, I got a little cocky when I dragged the skinny bag of bones (not literally, though apt I guess), back from his escape. Well, I never want to experience that pain to my soul again. It was like a cold fire inside of me, and the whispering, oh how that was foul.

But, despite our initial difficulties, we found him cowering behind a curtain. Really, a curtain. Can raise the dead and the best he could do was cower behind some linen. Maybe he thought it was arrow proof? Either way, Seth was beyond talking at that point. He died, and while it seemed similar to when we gave justice to the goblin and half-ogre, I had no doubts this time.

But, apart from some treasure (a concept that makes my companions faces light up like children on the harvest holiday) we did find a disturbing relic of a strange god or cult belief. I have never seen anything like it, but I know it made me feel uneasy. While I would like to say it was a unique and one off appearance, I am learning to not be that naïve.

But home now, in the Swinging Sword, my belly full with mead and food and my bed actually comfortable. The last week has been more eventful than I could have ever imagined in the marble walls of Baldur’s Gate. I have grown I believe, more confident in my ability to change the world for the better, certainly more than I could in a stuffy office. And my companions are fine folk who I would find hard to better on the many roads of the Sword Coast. They seem to like me (unless they ever read my diary and see all the horrible things I have written) and for now, that is enough to keep me content. In time, I will see the wonders of Golden Fields.

More musings:

Seth: Intriguing. Something drives him but despite his open charm and friendliness, he is certainly hiding something. We never found the giant man we were looking for, but hopefully new leads will appear soon. Otherwise, I will use the opportunity to learn from him what I can. His natural ability in the wilds is fascinating, his knowledge in local customs, old legends, hunters signs and survival skills make for great studying. If he is interested, maybe I can start teaching him at night, he has untapped potential to understand high academia and fuse both civilised and home wisdom into something new and fascinating.

Samara: So many stories, so much knowledge from the common to the esoteric. And yet, I do not get an academic vibe from her. I do not mean this to be insulting, I do not think her mentally insufficient, quite the opposite. I am envious of her ability to get people to talk to her, share their knowledge and Samara’s ability to both memorise it and make it much more interesting. But why is she here? It only just occurred to me that Samara and Naaluka came together from what I imagine is Waterdeep. Her inflections and certain word choices sounds like a Waterhavian accent. She seems happy to dig in an help despite being a far cry from where I imagine her, a noble court or maybe the hall of records dressed in black, seeking secrets that need to be freed. Too much? Maybe, but I can see it though.

Naaluka: The mystery of the Dragonborn. So little is still know about them since their arrival. And now their home is lost, returned to Abeir, leaving many of their kind stranded. And yet, despite the looks he gets, he remains civil and quite friendly. I wish to know more, but without him thinking that I see him as an oddity to be studied. Well, it is a little like that, but I honestly wish to know more about his kind and their history. It should be something shared. They are part of our world and they suffer such bigotry. Knowledge should chase some hatreds away and I think that all races should make the effort to welcome new allies. But again, why is he here. Such common bandit hunting and problem solving seems too trivial for such a regal man. Is it man? Oh Oghma, I used “it” to reference to a person. Is that racist? He’s not human, so man might be out. Hmm, step 1, learn the proper terms of address in draconic.

Cassie's Diary Part 1
A Wider World

My travels from Baldur’s Gate have been both safe and interesting, the roads up to Waterdeep filled with people and races from all over the Faerun. From caravan guard to wandering tinkerer, almost everyone I have travelled or camped with has been uniformly friendly and kind. I believe the derogative stories my colleagues told to me of the northern Sword Coast people was purposefully unkind and quite ignorant. I will note that for when I return and hopefully take a posting higher than their small minded selves.

I had thought Baldur’s Gate to be an immense city of beautiful chaos and human geography but it now feels like a country town compared to Waterdeep. While wondrous in its size, it is certainly less friendly to the smaller folk like myself, the constant hustle and bustle putting me on my derriere more than once, and the impending doom I felt as I was pushed out in front of a fast moving carriage was the worst feeling I had ever felt. Thankfully, Oghma’s guidance allowed me to reach out to the horses who stopped suddenly for me. In turn, I made sure I properly tended to and repaid the poor driver who was flung from his seat. But Waterdeep was not my destination, but it was a curiosity. Such an immense city with little to no way to support itself with food, a strong reliance on regional farmlands and forests to keep it working. This seemed to be a fault with many of the independent cities of Faerun, one I hope to one day amend, to make all communities self-reliant.

The trek into what will become the true North has been filled with natural beauty I had never witnessed outside of the many naturalist portfolios I had read. The sunsets are grander than any water-painting that hangs in my old university and the emerald valleys and groves speak of both peace and ancient wonder. Until this point, I had harboured some regret and fears of my decision to step-down from my position but for the first time, I can feel Oghma’s touch in all things, even the natural world that is cared for by Mielikki and Silvanus.

Detestable! I had always heard stories of marauders and bandits in the night, boogeymen who would sweep down from hidden camps to loot and burn. But in my far away Baldur’s Gate, behind the ivy covered marble of my university chambers, they were little more than horrific stories told by students to scare one another. But I have now passed several small hamlets that have been raided and their land pillaged and burnt. The families, some now left without husbands and sons due to foul murder, left sitting on the ruins of their whole world. What good is discovering a way to help the people of the land work and prosper if it can be so wantonly taken away from them? And it seems to be getting worse the further I go, many of the roadside inns are filled with whispers of groups of bandits, mercenaries and others of ill-intent moving through the valleys, drawing into the Dessarin Valley, ruin and tragedy left in their wake. While I had never felt in danger on my journey, I am now mindful to try and keep good company on the road as much as possible. My goal of seeing Goldenfields now on hold, I wish now only to see what I can do to help the people of this grand valley, my service to Oghma surely helpful to some. Red larch is now my destination, a small town halfway through the valley where traders and travellers of all kinds pass and meet. Here I hope to offer what help I can.

My growing disappointment in humanity has now at least been alleviated, for a stranger on the road offered assistance without pause or reason. If he had not alerted me to the uncouth farmhands who wished harm on both myself and the poor dog, I am unsure where I would be at this time.

Seth Blacksilver, a young human traveller and woodsman as far as I can tell. He ended up being good company on the final stretch of the road to Red Larch though he seems not much of a talker. Back home, he would be considered a brooding type, at once considered both a ruffian by the women of high society while secretly wanted for his dark appearance. He seems driven though and while my dislike of bandits and murderers is new, his seems to be much more personal. For someone so young, it seems a shame that he has suffered something so terrible that he now has such single minded vengeance in his heart.

Seth however, is not the only pleasant surprise I have had since reaching the town of Red Larch. While it has a very frontier and sparse look to it, the people are friendly and the homes and cottages off the main road are surrounded by small gardens of flowers and produce and well shaded by the many trees dotted throughout. I would use the word quaint but I feel that it would be considered an insult, though I truly mean it, it has a peaceful atmosphere that has been built out of hard work and neighbourly care. Because of this, I feel that their fears of a darkness descending upon the Dessarin Valley are affecting me much more than normal, they have put blood, sweat and tears into having this lifestyle and the possibility of losing it all to something outside of their control of ken seems wrong.

Luckily, I have already been able to help, though small it has been. Seth asked me to help with a bandit bounty and he had already drawn some other travellers to his side. The half-elf Samara Greenshield is beautiful, her accent and grace seeming at odds with terrain around her and yet, without complaint, entered the nearby hills to help track down bandits who were plaguing the area. While Baldur’s Gate had more than a few half-elves, few showed the vivaciousness and confidence that Samara seems to display. Is this the result of northern resolve and tenacity in the face of such a harsh climate? And the other, the dragonborn, Naaluka, is a delight. Knowledgeable and cultured, the towering figure seems to care little of the stares he gets, seemingly content and comfortable with his place in the world and his own ability.

After witnessing the strangest civil works I have ever seen, the bandits were found. I am not sure what I expected of my first encounter with bandits. Heavily scarred and bloodthirsty murders who licked their blades with glee as they bellowed forth profanities and threats of hideous things done to our corpses was what I imagined and yet, these were just people. Randy people, but people. As a professor of various biology fields, I am quite familiar with the naked forms of many races and creatures and yet, the view that my eyes took it was not one I wish to keep in my mind. Despite rarely drinking, I may join my new friends in the celebratory imbibing of alcohol to see if I can erase that image. But as I said, just men (and a harlot). Desperate and opportunists but not the murderous terrors I imagines. I feel almost bad for handing them in, but they have taken from others who are also desperate. If the law in this land is fair, I hope that maybe, instead of lethal penalties, they work the lands in penance. It would seem just. But that is not for me to say or offer and I am still proud in my role to bring them to justice, small though it was.

So now I find myself back in Red Larch, enjoying the praise of the populace and enjoying the company of these three strange but fascinating and good hearted people. I am yet to know whether this was but a short partnership where some good was done or if we are to work together more to bring light and prosperity to these beleaguered lands. I not sure of their reasons or motivations, but I know Oghma has guided me to good people who I can at least assist with my minor prowess to ensure they see their own goals through.

- Laurel Seeker Cassie

Spread knowledge whenever it is prudent to do so. Keep no secrets for their own sake. Curb and deny falsehood, rumour, and deceitful accounts and histories whenever you encounter them. – Oghma’s First Accord


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.