In the Cities of the Dead

A hurried note

I have found a brief moment to scratch these words while my companions are planning a ritual of vulnerability—perhaps the first in history to be cast on a large rock! Much has happened, and Erathis knows I’m not completely sure I comprehend it all.

When last I wrote, we were approaching the statue of eyes. As we drew near, a scout hailed us—a human, of Nix’s mysterious city. He claimed to be from something called the “Overlook Historical Society”, and announced that he was with a group of scholars (yes, scholars!) investigating the strange monument. We tried to warn him of the danger, but he would not listen. So, we returned with him to the statue, hoping his companions would heed our words, only to see them engaged in some ritual which was surely designed to wake the sleeping beast. At once, we were beset by the strangers and forced to take arms. Anakat charged at the leader and chief ritualist, driving him from the statue, but the strange pink glow he had conjured did not fade. So we fought on, till at last the glow surrounded us and seemed to give us visions of some terrible other world, blasted and lifeless, yet full of malevolent force. I believe that all of us feared imprisonment within that strange land, and perhaps it was this which gave us the strength to seize victory over the cultists. And over the frozen demon as well, it turned out, for as the last cultist perished, the glow disappeared, and the statue shattered. It seems there will be one fewer beast to trouble the earth, thanks be to Erathis.

Nix confirmed that the men we had slain hailed from Overlook, and we resolved to go there, and see what there was to see. But first we decided to return to the Black Queen and report on our success.

Following the amulet back to Her shadowy domain, we presented Her with the evidence. She seemed pleased, as much as such a creature can be pleased. From the filth surrounding Her, she dug up three ancient corpses and bid us strip them of valuables by way of reward. She also informed us that the scrolls we collected were not the last; rather, Nabial gave copies to many of his far-flung allies. The nearest of these, She said, were the Hyena-men who dwelled in a blasted crater near the statue we had lately destroyed. The Black Queen then bid us kill the Hyena-men’s leader, collect Nabial’s scrolls, and (as if this were not enough) kill as many of the Hyena-men as possible. Having little choice, short of joining the corpses beneath us, we departed again on her quest. During the journey, Lesthal the lizard prince shared words with me about his people. They have, it seems, dwelt with the Black Queen for all of remembered time. None of them know of a life before, though I am convinced that once they were noble beasts and not creatures of shadow. Such is the perversion of the Shadowfell!

(If I may be excused a personal aside: the black dragon calls me “emperor,” what for I cannot guess save that She has seen my tabard and recognized the device blazoned there. Whether She means this as a complement or as mockery, I cannot tell. In any case, I choose to be flattered. I do not rule an empire, nor wish to, but this symbol I wear proudly. The wyrm will someday face its like again, and perhaps will not be so quick to mock.)

We returned through the veil onto the familiar earth, and the morning sun seemed sweet after the dragon’s gloomy demesne. Following Lesthal’s direction, we set off towards the road to Crossroads village, where we might provision for the attack on the Scar. Before we reached it, however, we encountered a man—Jerek, the hunter—trudging towards us, unhorsed and much abused. He explained that he had lost his friend and horse to a pack of blue-skinned drakes deep in the woods beyond. Such attacks were not rare, but these animals were unlike anything Jerek had encountered before. One of their number, slain, began to blister and burst, releasing a quantity of residuum from its skin. This, Jerek believed, was the result of the Scar’s influence. Wild beasts in the area become tainted with magic, leading many to try their fortune at hunting and trapping the twisted creatures. We gave Jerek an amethyst in exchange for the skin and the residuum it still contained, escort to the lair, and introductions to possible allies in Crossroads. Taking the gem, he warned us not to be so profligate in the village—thus, I suppose, beginning to earn his sizable tip.

The drakes’ lair proved to be a muddy hole in the ground, which we descended bravely. Nearing a rockfall, a blue glow in the darkness alerted us to the presence of our quarry. A skirmish at the base of the fall was inconclusive, and we pursued the retreating drakes into the next chamber. There, we saw first-hand the effects of the Scar: from the walls of this cavern bulged two giant crystals, each glowing with a sickly purple light. And these were not mere minerals! As we moved to attack the largest drake, the crystal seemed to come alive, knocking Dox and Anakat prone with beams of light. Still, we dispatched the drakes with speed, and began to investigate the stones. They no longer seemed hostile to us, yet Anakat proved with her head that the larger crystal was far stronger than it seemed. Thorgrim sensed an enchantment of some sort, and proposed a ritual to break the arcane protection and allow us to collect a sample of the stone. As Thorgrim worked, Dox and Nix searched for the drakes’ treasure hoard, finding Bracers of Mental Strength and a number of coins. Unfortunately, as we searched and planned, a noise from the ceiling drew our attention to a new problem: namely, two winged demons and a swarm of silver ants descending towards us from a hole above. We briefly contemplated running away, then realized that we would have to abandon Thorgrim, as he would never leave the amount of residuum contained in the drake corpses. All for one, as they say.

Despite an overly “friendly” sturge, which it seemed for a moment would be the end of me, we defeated this new threat. Strangely, rather than fight us—who, as morbid as it sounds, are still living meat—many of the ants attempted to carry away the corpses of the drakes. They were killed before they could make off with their cargo, but something strange is definitely going on here.

Having driven back or killed the insects, we collected residuum from the corpses (only slightly charred from Thorgrim’s Colossal Inflagration) and began the ritual again. My part completed, I have found time to record these thoughts by the eerie glow of the crystals. I shall write again anon.

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