(In sloppy handwriting).
I am surprised that I am sober enough to write this. But I suppose I should keep some semblance of habit up. Besides, I've been cut off at the Rose Shell. Something's got to occupy my time til the barmen change shifts….
Discussion of adventure began when those of us who had stayed in town gathered up at the Rose Shell for a round of drinks. This was my first time meeting Syd. I have little respect for thieves as a rule, but I've been able to put that aside for her sake. She's rather likeable, and her education of Kodu in the mystic ways of figurative language have eased my existence innumerably (though she herself did not know that the word for a dragon is, well, "dragon"). She absolutely has my respect, especially after I saw what she could do in battle. Plus, Charka likes her. All women are welcome to the party, I suppose.
The thought of trying to catch up to our friends in Shandao was entertained a moment, but they were at least 6 days' journey ahead of us. They'd be home by the time we got out there. Saru helpfully chimed that we had yet to inspect the fortress at the end of the Old Coast Road. A splendid idea, but this would be a far longer journey than I had intended to take. A quick romp beyond the wall for some kobold slaughtering would have suited me fine. I hoped to be home before Odiri returned. (She worries). But, alas, Albion had his murder kilt on and that meant there'd be no stopping until we'd sufficiently ravaged our way through some monstrous foes. So, to the Old Coast Road we went.
Instead of taking Roth's Road out, we headed through the town and farmlands—at a lighting pace thanks to Syd's city skills and my wild knowledge— down to the docks, where we boarded a dinghy that was apparently now charter property? As much as I think the sea is beautiful, I despise sailing on open water. The broad expanse with no means of escape is bizarrely claustrophobic. Watching Albion navigate was positively delightful, however, and definitely distracting enough that our three day journey passed quickly. We docked ashore each night to camp, feasting heartily on the fruits of the sea. I had never seen Kodu eat anything other than those goddamn apples, so seeing him devour fish was a bit of a shock to the system. A greater shock was his display of magic and his reveal of changed appearance. His ancient dragon blood had been awakened inside of him, producing scales and a fin of some sort across his head, hidden usually by his hat. That boy. He continues to impress me.
On our third day of travel, we reached the Old Coast Road, where we were greeted by a bronze dragon wyrmling. I thought at first we were in danger, but my newly acquired understanding of draconic speech and Kodu's delight quickly dispelled the notion. The dragon, Laughing Surf, was an old friend of his. Soveliss and I hung back, I relaying the conversation to him. They were planning some sort of a playdate, from what I understood of it? In any case, the Old Coast Road was bronze dragon territory. Laughing Surf would aid us and scout ahead for danger as we traveled. Because of this, we cleared a whopping 155 miles in two days, all without incident.
Arriving at the old fort, we kept close together, seeking a safe way inside. According to Syd, the place was crawling with undead. The fort itself was a single story of stone, positioned strategically atop a grassy hill, a courtyard. Very typical stuff, with the exception of the unmanned murderholes and battlements. I've spent too much of my life in forts to not know such intimacies, I think.
Entering, Syd illuminated us with her Sunblade. What a thing! As perfect as its name, like a blade of captured sunlight slashing through darkness. Stunning, really. We were immediately met with an uncomfortable heat, the source of which was quickly discovered. A curse had been cast over the building with the effect that all unwelcome intruders would be subjected to great heat so long as they remained in the building. Oh, joy. We would have to work quickly, or suffer.
The first room we entered— ironically, while trying to avoid the undead hordes — surprised us with a cloaked man at an altar of evil, leading in congregation fourteen grizzled warriors. After a shitshow of a fight, Soveliss ended it all with a display of heinous power, burning them all to a crisp. "You chose the wrong god," he cried, "because when I'm god, everyone dies". He cast a spell of cooling on that room, giving us a place to recover. Syd had quite nearly died in the swarm.
We proceeded through, the group choosing to follow Soveliss' suggestion to go towards where all the undead were concentration. Yeah, great, sure, listen to the charlatan instead of the military strategist. I'm not bitter. Of course, we were immediately assaulted by wights and zombies. Another clusterfuck of a fight, but we managed fine. In the next room, four statues of gods I'd never seen before. Kodu seemed particularly upset by them, which Soveliss explained was related to some masks they had found earlier. There seemed to be places on the statues to place the masks, but we did not push our luck.
Next we came to a locked door. Kodu gave it a shot with no luck, but Syd and her new magic gloves got it easily. Beyond it, two cambions in an uncharacteristically well-furnished room. I'd never seen one in the flesh before, and these were utterly ethereal. Charcoal black skin, clothed in ink black robes, striking red eyes. Soveliss, against our collective advice and in pursuit of personal fulfillment, disguised himself as one of them. The ruse worked entirely, and he spoke with them at length. A pit fiend was in charge of the fortress, which their forces had taken over as a base of operations. Two spies had been planted into Shore Blossom with the intention of creating dissent within the city, turning it against itself as a means of destroying it. Extracting all he could with the use of the disguise, Soveliss lit them up and we all sprang into action. Syd killed one while Albion subdued the other for further interrogation. Nothing useful save for the real names of the two spies— Mara and Tauref.
We returned to the cool room for a rest and to discuss. There was absolutely no way the five of us were going to fight a pit fiend. That was suicide. We would return later, when there we more of us up for the challange. For this particular adventure, our task would be to clear out the other rooms and scrounge up some sort of treasure for our troubles.
The rest of the damned place was a bit of a haze. We went through room after room after room, getting lost in the maze of it. Was it bigger on the inside than the outside? It had to be. At one point while Soveliss tried to melt down a metal door, Kodu, Syd, and I all fell from heatstroke and had to take a night of recovery in the cool room, further slowing our journey. As though some cruel joke, we came across a room where some intrepid questers before us had tried to break the heat spell, leaving behind a scrawled message telling us what we already knew. I will say this: there was not nearly enough alcohol brought with us to genuinely ease the terrible times.
In another room, we were assaulted by nine spectres, screaming at us the moment the door was open. Syd, Albion, Kodu, and I did the brunt of the damage, Kodu kicking them into oblivion as Albion slashed the living (rather, dead?) shit out of them. Fabulously done, even if I did almost nick Kodu with one of my attacks. For the second time that day. It was fine! I knew he could dodge!
In the last room our exhausted bodies could possibly handle, Syd's discovery of a moving stone in an alcove opened up to us a chest of fantastic wealth! In Republic coinage as well. The specific contents were a little disconcerting, as the quantity of platinum present would only really be found on a nobleman, or a senator. Ah, some ships had been moored in the sea below. Perhaps this hell-joint also served as a smugglers lair? Before we could think too heavily on it, our keys began to glow, and we were dispatched homeward.
(CW: It gets sappy.)
As we walked back thought the gates, Tim caught up with us, hasted to inform me that my son, Tannion, had come to town looking for me. My own son! Who I had not seen in 70 years! I'll admit I panicked. Really not my best moment. Tim was sent off, and I gathered myself as we all headed to the Rose Shell. My heart seized up in my chest the moment I saw him there. Though I had left the family, I did not love them any less. How could a father truly put his son, his own blood and progeny, out of his heart? God, he was the spitting image of me in my youth, though he had his mother's eyes… Without hesitation, he embraced me, thanking the heavens that I was alive. I was shocked. I had expected nothing short of complete hatred and loathing. But that he would still find love in his heart for his old man! The happiness was short lived, for he came bearing grave news.
In private, we spoke at length. Allaya. God, my wife… Two months ago, Tannion came home to find her dead. Murdered. Assassinated. Poisoned. He took the body everywhere he could, but there was no hope for resurrection— or cremation, for that matter. The body was too heavily tainted. He did attend to her last rites and saw her buried under her ancestral tree. Long may she rest there in peace. It took him a month to find the man who had done it, a hired assassin for the Head and Hearth. Religious cultists sworn to death. And secrecy. The contract was double blind and, try as he might, he could not find who had ordered the killing. Though the real culprit was unknown, the cause was obvious. My ferocious Allaya had risen to a place of prominence, machinating politically, all in effort to arrange my pardon and honorable discharge. She certainly had to have made some enemies along the way.
God, had I known what she had done for me! I would have returned home into her faithful arms the moment my mission was completed. There are not the words to describe the pain and regret. And to think, this entire time, I'd been banging away some charming halfling slut! While my wife lay dead! Not a sin against faith, sure, but a sin against decency. Had I returned home right way, if I count the time correctly, she would have already been dead. Yet, it is the fact that I chose to remain here. I don't know how I shall live with myself…. or how I shall live with Odiri…. This is all too much. Too much!
(Some spills of wine have been dashed across the preceding page, blurring the ink. The following lines of text are written over the dried spots, clearly after some passage of time.)
We stayed up the whole evening, chatting away for old time's sake. Tannion caught me up on what he had been doing in all these years. He was completing the last leg of his magical training, splendidly I might add. Though the Crowsley House had little magical capacity in the blood, House Grey thrived on it. Another thing of his mother's he inherited. I knew he would do well if I sent him for schooling in it. That, and sending him away meant that he would not have to suffer the worst of the War. And here he was, ready to go out and make something honest of himself. I made him swear to me that he would never enter the military, not even as a magus. No man should go through what I had, and my son especially, brilliant boy he is, should be kept out of the wringer.
He asked if I would be coming home. He had, after all, taken that second month of time to find me. My letter had never made it. Tannion followed the paper trail of bureaucracy to get to me. I will admit, I considered it for a moment. I was, by all means, a free man. I could return, reclaim my right to the House, find some means of living, be with my son. But a happy future it could never be. Every thing that I have ever laid my hands upon has ended in disaster. My son has so much good going for him. I love him, dearly, and it because I love him that he deserves the chance that my shit work would undoubtedly rob him of. He asked if he should cover the paper trail. Smart boy. I told him to return with the news that I had died, so that there would be no question of his right as the sole master of House Crowsley.
God, I was so ashamed. Tannion had blossomed into such a fine young man, and I was there for none of it. No guidance, no words of encouragement, no love or even acknowledgement. No son deserves such shoddy treatment from any of his blood, much less his own father. I was as sorry for it then as I am still sorry now, putting this to the page. Embarrassingly glassy in the eyes, I told him as much, and he offered back forgiveness. He wished only that I be part of his life. That I know his children, when he has them. I… I do not deserve such kindnesses. I am not a good man. It comforts me to know that my son is better, perhaps because he knew me so little… I amended what I'd said, and told him to write me when he could, addressed to River Hawk. That was Allaya's name for me…
I expect I will be too drunk these next few days to write.