Our heroes venture north beyond the border of Oesel into the dwarven lands in Spring on the 32nd of Varpulis’s Month in the year 739 AC (after christening). The caravan carrying them for separate reasons will soon unite their fates.
By Sarril (Anthony), half-elf Ritter of Oesel:
Field Report: Sarril, Ritter of Kotkas, Envoy to the Crown
It has been far too long since I have put quill to paper. As a lad, I remember writing for hours a day, copying the word of Hoidga and other religious texts for High Priest Caiaphas. Caiaphas was a stern man but he taught me unwavering devotion to the Crown. He would constantly remind me that it was the generosity of the Beloved Pantheon that saved my life, as my elven mother had abandoned me on their doorsteps when I was an infant. I never wanted to be a burden to anyone and constantly strived to earn my keep.
It feels like a lifetime ago, when I saw my first City Watch patrol in the streets of Kotkas. The knight defenders of our majestic city stood tall and proud, clad in armor that shined like the sun, and crimson capes that billowed in the breeze. I knew that day, a lowly orphan of the Church, that I would do whatever it took to become a knight. I trained day and night, swinging a battered blacksmithing hammer that I had found discarded in a trash heap. I enlisted for the City Watch the very day I became of eligible age and have been serving the Royal Family for over three decades now.
-The Journey Begins-
I have been entrusted to bear safe passage for my former student Malek Klinde, a member of the Royal Bloodline, to make an audience with Baern Thunderknuckle at Thunderknuckle Keep. For years Baern has maintained peace with the Frost Giants and protected the borders of our kingdom, but I know the King wishes to ensure that that safety continues. I have never met Baern but I know that his legendary reputation precedes him. I am looking forward to meeting this dwarf, and I hope that our journey be a swift and uneventful one.
Malek and I are part of a caravan to the North, full of a wide range of misfit characters. I didn’t want to be involved with such a big group of strangers, as I feel it puts unnecessary risk on our mission’s success and Malek’s safety. He assures me that I am just being overly suspicious and that a Royal envoy provides the safest passage for these travelers, wherever their final destinations may be. While these roads seldom see the presence of Orcs anymore, brigands and highway robbers can always strike unexpectedly.
As our carriage bumps along the road leaving the town of Quill, my eyes look down at my calloused hands holding my warhammer. I pray that I will not have to use it.
We encountered some men examining the goods of a Half-orc named Jurek and his supposed “sister” Olya (who clearly is of half-elf descent) near the tail end of the caravan. They spoke with thick accents and seemed to be traveling salespeople, eager to sell off their various trinkets and oddities. They seem to be pleasant enough folk. They were followed by a funny looking turtle creature by the name of Haiko. He speaks in twisting songs and poems, which is interesting to say the least! Never before have I seen such a creature, who seems to look at everything around him with a sense of wonder and awe, as if it is the very first time. Travok of the Anvil is a dwarf in our company who assures us that he can grant us an audience with Baern Thunderknuckle. I am quite fascinated with this dwarf who carries with him a sense of importance and mastery of arms and armaments. It is good to speak Horken again. The Elf women Myuki and Zenvari are highly suspicious. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel like Zenvara is not from this land. Her shimmering skin makes me uneasy and her gaze is that of starlight. I should be careful what I say around her so as not to not fall under her spell. Myuki is a prideful warrior who seems to treat her sword as if it is her soulmate. She has a fiery temper and a fierce loyalty to the dwarf. I will be watching this one closely. Our guide Aleksander is a human with crude manners but an astute sense of direction and survival instincts. I am interested in his pet crow that flies around him and occasionally rests on his shoulder. They seem to have an understanding of one another that traverses spoken communication.
We make camp for the night as the sky darkens. Our journey’s end will still be two days out.
-Falling into Darkness-
My sleep is suddenly interrupted by the cracking of the earth beneath us. Before I knew it, we were all falling into dust and rubble what must have been over 100 feet down. A goblin ambush awaited us in the dark! These foul creatures slinked in the shadows towards us and seemed to move with an unnatural speed and coordination. Aleksander learned that the goblins had been making and consuming liquid concoctions using cave fungi that grew along the underground grotto. Aleksander tasted the goblin potion and was suddenly revitalized from its effects. I was pleased to see so many of these caravan strangers were armed and able to help in combat, as we were severely outnumbered. Some of them were knocked unconscious during the battle, including my lord Malek! My heart sank when I saw him fall, and I fought on with a furious zeal that I have never known in all my years. My warhammer struck true and crushed many goblin skulls that night. When the battle was nearing its end, I knelt beside my fallen lord and placed my hand on his heart. I knew this was not to be the end for him and focused my entire will on his quick recovery. To my amazement he opened his eyes! Malek was alive! I will protect you my lord, so long as I am able.
With everyone alive but battered, we make our way out of these dark caves…to the surface!
By Haiko (Dan DK), abingdoniian tortle story collector and poet:
North of Quills. Excerpts from Haiko The Poet’s secret journal and book of poems:
The trail we take is winding and dark, but this is a merry band. The big one and the skinny one are hard to understand, but they have been good. There is always a supply of drink, and I dip in, I do, but I am sure they do not notice. I have never been so far from water, but above me there is always the Great Shell, so I am not afraid.
We travel with a noble – I think that is the word – who is a human who is better than the other humans. I have written a poem for him, because he stopped some foot-guards who wished to play with my beautiful trinkets and baubels. I hope to win his favour, as he knows a lot of stories that I can take and use and make better.
Malek is a fine
Noble man with so much grace
We thank him greatly
There is an elf, and she does not like my poems. I wrote her a funny one, just to annoy her.
Myuki she hunts
She caught a plump pheasant
And shared the meat too
It’s funny because she caught such a small pheasant that the stew big one made was mostly just potato! I laughed, but kept it in my shell.
In the night we had a fire and talked of the past. There is an elf who hates his eyes. He wishes he could tear them out and be blind. I did not understand him. I told him of an old proverb from the Islands, that a rock can never be a tree, but the forest needs both. He did not understand. Maybe one day he will. I wrote for him too, because his story made me sad, even in my shell.
Sarril the Orphan
Wishes to forget his past
But he should be proud
We fell. I did not really notice at first. I was in my shell, and to me a fall so deep was just a bump in the night. It seems we have fallen beneath the shell of the land, and onto a shell below. I cannot see the Great Shell above, and that distresses me. Some others were hurt, but we care for each other. An arrow hit me, but it was okay, because I walked up to the creature that loosed it and then its skull broke. I wrote a poem about it.
The goblin skull
Was like a soft wooden box
It broke easily
Later, when more little soft-skulls attacked, the skinny one cast a spell the likes of which I had not ever seen, and it moved me to write.
Olya was aflame
She burned a horde of goblins
Saved us all that day
Tonight we rest among mushrooms. My shell feels heavy in these dank damp tunnels. I do not like that. I wish to be on the crust shell again, gazing at the Great Shell. I wish to see water. But it is worth it, I think, for my tales will be fine and long and… mostly true.
By Aleksander Karner (Justin), human guide:
A letter from Aleksander to his brother in Tellis:
I hope this letter finds you well. I’m on one of the strangest guide jobs I’ve ever taken. Svenn usually hires me for run-of-the-mill escort work: making sure no one gets lost, protection from bandits and bears and whatnot… but this trip has gone absolutely sideways.
We were supposed to be taking a load of lumber up to that Thunderknucklehead dwarf king, and things were odd right from the start. We’ve got some 7th son of a 7th son type royal with us, which isn’t super unusual, but he’s got these “siblings” with him who are delivering a chest of… trinkets? Apparently Thunderdunder wants them? One of them is a half elf, I think. She kept claiming to be a half-orc and I didn’t give enough shits to ask her why. Her “brother” actually is a half-orc, Horseman take him. He seems nice enough, but dumb as a rock. He’s a barber, I guess? I don’t know why anyone would ever let someone with monster blood take a blade to their throat, but like I said, Weird Job.
The rest of the traveling party is a hodge podge of confusion. It doesn’t seem like any of them know each other that well, and no two of them (outside of Half Blood Twins) seem to be headed to Thunderknuckle Keep for the same reason. There’s a half-elf who hates elves, I think. A high elf that looks like she’s constantly covered in a thin layer of oil… but like… in a good way? Clean oil? I can’t make that make sense. There’s another elf wearing a type of armor I’ve never seen. She’s got a fancy sword that she treats like a person, and didn’t want to take a job as a guard, even though she can definitely handle herself in a fight. Oh, and get this. We’re travelling with a Tortle. For real. I didn’t even think they were real. Right from the get go I’m a little on edge because most of the members of this circus have weapons on them. Nice ones. Should have known things were going to get dicey.
So, we’re making our way up north, things are pretty normal, we make camp for the night, and then we get eaten by the damn ground. I still haven’t figured out exactly what happened, but no joke, a hole the size of our camp opened up underneath us and dropped us into a network of caves I didn’t even know existed. Lost some good men in the fall and Svenn got banged up real bad, but most of us managed to make the fall in our sleep without getting hurt. I haven’t had time to ponder that mystery until right now.
While we were trying to get our bearings, we got attacked by some sort of cave goblins that I have NEVER seen before. They were like normal goblins, if you ran over them with a thresher and then dipped them in an outhouse.
Here’s where stuff got real surprising. Literally every member of this party can hold their own in a fight. The royal is a wizard of some kind. The shiny elf is one of the best archers I’ve ever seen. The tortle can MOVE when he wants to, bounces arrows of his shell like it’s made of stone, and just smashes dudes like he’s hammering nails into a piece of wood. The Twins were quite the pair. Big Dumb and Ugly just punches things until they stop moving, but his sister LIT HERSELF ON FIRE and then started shooting fire beams all around.
So now I’m trying to keep a battalion of uncoordinated warriors alive, while also trying to figure out who set us up. Obviously SOMETHING’s off, and that something got a bunch of people killed. I throttled our Chuckleknuckle emissary to see if I could shake some truth out of him, but he didn’t know anything. Get this, as soon as I touch the guy, the elf with the sword-for-a-husband draws steel and points it at my face. I think maybe it was supposed to be a threat? I mean, I know she can fight, but I don’t know what she was going to do with a sword pointed at my face. Maybe it shoots fire or something? I don’t know.
My next guess was obviously the Half-Orc’s chest, but it literally was just filled with shiny garbage. The lock on it was cool though. The chest fell 150 feet without even a crack, but the Half-Elf-Orc sister opened the lock just by touching it.
Anyway, we start trying to make our way through the caves. The shit goblins are using a black fungus down here to brew some sort of healing potion. No one else seemed interested when one of the little guys drank some and it seemingly gave him super powers. I’ve been doing that thing where I’m not talking (I still don’t understand why so many people think they need to narrate everything they do) so now they all think I’m nuts because I tried some of the fungus off the wall. I didn’t eat enough to kill me, but I know now that whatever positive effects it has requires some sort of distilling.
We’re resting up in a cave full of glowing mushrooms (some as big as people, I apparently need to do more spelunking) after fighting with even MORE shit goblins. These caves are full of them, and apparently they come in different sizes and strengths. I saw one of the bigger ones take an arrow through the throat and keep fighting. On the upside, and I don’t know if this has anything to do with the Shitgoblin Shroomjuice I drank (I’ll think of a better name later), but I’ve finally gotten the hang of a couple of the spells I’ve been working on. I can’t wait to get back up to the surface and chat with Linkin.
It looks like everyone’s patched themselves up. They’re arguing about which cave we should be taking to leave, even though one of them goes North and the other one goes Not North, and we’re going North, so why is this even a conversation? I need to actually start learning their names, since it seems like they all deserve a bit more respect than my normal charges. I’ll be sending this letter to you once we finally make it to the Keep, so you’ll probably be getting more than one at a time, per usual. If I find any shitgoblin books, I’ll snatch a couple for you. They don’t seem to speak, though, so I doubt they’ve got a library down here.
Hug mom and dad for me, tell them I’m safe. Try not to papercut yourself to death. Don’t forget you’re a Karner, we’ll have our farm back some day.
By Miyuki (Kirstyn), Niponylthasian (high) elf samurai.
Stranger in strange lands
Your destiny lies ahead
Take a breath and leap
This trek has taken me many wheels with many more ahead but I draw closer than ever. I have traveled to the keep of Thunderknucklu-sama and hope to have words with this mighty lord. I pray my words strike keenly and we can ally our forces. I can admit to you only; I fear I may dishonor you with my failure. This land is strange, nothing like our home, and the customs of these people are so foreign. There is a thing here that looks like grandmother turtle… or grandfather, I cannot fully say which but it calls itself Haiko. This turtle walks like a man, and even writes Haiku. He’s like some character from a wet nurses suckling tale. With the Sea-kami are the oddest pair of siblings I’ve met. (At least on this side of the water, hai Ryu-chan?) One looks half of The Blood, and the other looks like it was fathered by an orc. Yet, to see them is to see siblings, bickering and bossing and adoring each other. Strange as they may be, they are kind and we shared gohan to cha.
I have met a noble, Malek, who states he was present at Shokushu Akuma no Tatakai but could give me no clue to what occurred that day. He seems diplomatic, which comes with it’s own pitfalls, but kind to his people, none of whom averted their eyes or groveled in his presence. But Ryu-chan, my real news… I have met a sword of Thunderknucklu-sama, Travok; they are not kin but it he swears fealty to him as his daimyo. He held father’s mask and showed great reverence. I can only hope he is crafted of the same stone as his daimyo and as worthy an ally. Step by step I draw closer to you and will not stop until we reunite. It will be treacherous I’m sure and I could use Sentō no Keiteishimai.
Another who may prove a useful ally is of The Blood, but unlike any of our kind I’ve seen, with skin that seems crafted of moonstone. She calls herself Zenvara, and I think she may be of the kind of clan Rō Fujin Wa Ha Ga Nai used to tell us about in our blossoming years. I don’t know if this one has a mean streak like the ones in her tales. Time will tell if she will be friend or foe. There are others here I trust less. There is one who despises his own blood. I do not understand this logic for it is The Blood that gives him so many gifts beyond that of man. Perhaps this is something in this culture that I don’t understand, some great shame to be half-blooded, but then why doesn’t the Gaijinyl commit seppuku? And the caravan master, Aleksander, the man who asked for my sword for money, a shame I can only stomach as it brings me ever closer to you. He is hotheaded and brought shame to himself after the battle by disrespecting his Sentō no Keiteishimai, the Dwarf. I was ready to intervene but the Travok stayed my hand. I am glad it did not come to blood because later I saw Aleksander pick cave scum off the wall and eat it; I believe he may be touched.
Last night they made me speak, in front of strangers, asking for my tale. Would I have told the assembled crowd would have wailed and cried themselves dry until the world was swallowed in their sea of misery. My tale is not for the ears of strangers but to be told to those who have become my battle family. Perhaps one day I will tell them of you and I and the great tragedy that befell our houses. I will tell them the story that still haunts my dreams nightly, if they prove honorable.
By Olya Tchotchke (Rebekah), half-elf Komes islander merchant:
Spring, before finding the caravan- We have come so far! It is like in tales that we hear as children. Jurek always told best stories. Anyway, we are at this little town called Quills. Or is it Quill? Something like that. I have liked the travel, and the sights, but there has been no money in this yet! Just the first fifty goats that the dwarf man give us to get to mainland. Tchek! Need more than that to eat! Need more than that to cloth selfs! Is frustrating to not be moving towards destination where profit lie. Bah. Anyway, I did take some coin and buy some wool yarn. I will make Jurek a nice, thick scarf. The northern mainlands are so cold and he does not have enough clothes. He brought me gift today. A little hoop for my ear. He is best brother.
32nd of Varpulis’s Month in the year 739: Well, here we are! Moving and walking and riding. I have Pudge and all goods are in cart. Haiko shares little poems with me as we ride and I love to hear. They help pass lot of time. There are many strangers with us now! One is noble man, blueblood, like some of the others at the school. He walks straight, with head up, like nothing to fear. All blueblood walk this way. He seems… kind though. He does not look down nose at me or Jurek. I think his name Lord Malek? Seems right. He has guard that is… scary. Big man, half-elf, though I can tell he has suspicion of me. He looks at my ears and will get this slight crease to his face, a frown. Still, he looks at the other two elves with greater frown. His name Sarril. I should tell him I am more orc than elf someday. The real elves are so… beautiful. There is no way else to describe! One is called Miyuki. She carries self like blueblood, but I can see it is not because of lineage but because of confidence. She is great warrior. She mentioned once to Malek that she seeks mother? Is sad. I hope she finds mother. She caught pheasant and I made stew! I hope she will warm to Jurek and I. She seem… lonely. The other elf is so aloof! She look around like whole world is wonder. Like beautiful painting she has never seen! She moves like leaves in autumn. Graceful. Zenvara is name. I want to talk with her more. I know so little of her. She spends so long just… drifting. Dwarf is dwarf. Travok is warm, speaks well, and is proud. He speaks for dwarf lord who summon us and rides in fancy carriage with blueblood and knight. I like him. Finally, there is Aleksander. He is… rough. He guides caravan. Thinks he can get his way and boss those beneath him. I am not beneath him and he will learn this or he won’t and he will have very bad time. He look at Jurek like he is bug. I hate when people look at Jurek like he is bug. I am half-orc as much as him! Feh.
Anyway, everyone at end of day tell little stories. I like this. My story is not so interesting though. Maybe I will tell another time. Sarril’s is… saddest. Mother abandoned him to church. Such barbarous thing! My mother would never do such thing and yet people say that because she is orc that she is barbarous! Everyone has capability to be bad. Orc, elf, human, it does not matter. Everyone chooses good or bad. I chose good.
33rd of Varpulis’s Month in the year 739: I am scared. I woke to loud noise and falling. The ground gave way and down and down we fell. Jurek didn’t even wake up! I run to him and he is bruised but he is not battered. I was so relieved. Only some of caravan fall in. Pudge is still on surface. I am so thankful I unhook him from cart before sleep. Pudge is good boy. He will be okay. Down in hole, I loose half my trade goods. So much money spilled onto smelly cavern floor. Ugh. I gather what was left. All around, some are crushed, battered, but most of companions are well. We begin to gather ourselves, trying to dust off and get lay of land when these… these monstrous little demons attack! They hurt our friends! So, I burned them.
Then we had to move quickly. Try to find way out since we cannot climb up. We get to cavern filled with mushrooms that glow! So pretty and strange! More of the little demons came though and when they slashed Jurek and he fell? My. Anger. Burned. Hot. I let them have it! Jurek was okay. We are very tired though. Jurek has been carrying tchotchke chest so far and there is a lot of wounds. We need to get out of cave and get to destination. I hope we do.
By Jurek Tchotchke (Jeremy), half-orc Komes islander, amateur barber, and dentist:
28th of Varpulis’s Month in the year 739:
We finally found caravan take us to dwarf lord keep. Olya always angry. I think she worried because we did not find caravan quickly. It is all that dwarf’s fault from the Poles. One hundred schilds to not sell tchotchke’s and bring them to some dwarf lord, then get paid for the tchotchkes and his castle. Sound like such a good deal, then we have to spend all of them just to make it over to mainland. Dwarf lord better pay up.
Anyway, caravan led by Caravan Master Sven. He is waiting for some blue blood that we will travel with to see dwarf lord. Caravan also taking up huge shipment of lumber. Three wagons of lumber! They pay me to help them load it up. I earned a goat for the work, what was I going to do, say no! I buy Olya new ear loop, made of copper, very nice and shiny. It make her smile, first time since we come to mainland.
32nd of Varpulis’s Month in the year 739:
We spend long day on road. Some boarder watchmen come and stop us. They ask Olya about the tchochtke chest. She get angry and yell at them. Then they want to take some coffee without pay. I try to tell her this is okay. Sometimes you have to bribe watchmen and they leave you alone, but no! Sister get very angry. Am worried she might burst into flames on spot, but then blue blood steps out of coach and offers to buy watchmen some coffee. Olya calm down, thank gods.
In camp, Haiko start talking to all the caravan folk and tell big story. Then we all start telling story! Even the blue blood tell story! His bodyguard was left at church by mother. What kind of mother would do that! Is preposterous! One of the elves share story. She is like some sort of great warrior. She has dead eyes. I am glad she is working for us. You don’t want to fight people with dead eyes, very dangerous.
33rd of Varpulis’s Month in the year 739:
I don’t even know what to write. Everything is keeled. Caravan camp just off of road. It is third night on trek, and we make good time. Forgot to whisper thanks to spirits. Stupid Jurek. I wake up, entire body ache like I spend ten hours at the oar, and world is spinning. Olya ask me if I am okay but my head hurt. Is very dark and then I see moon overhead! We are sunk into cavern forty paces down. Lumber wagon is smashed to hell and I see man stuck beneath. I run over and try to lift the timber off of him but is so heavy. Olya and dwarf chaplain, Travok rush over to help. You can always rely on a dwarf to act quick. Trapped man is Caravan Master, Sven. Caravan Master must have jasper charms or is friend to cat or something. He have broken arm and mangled leg, but he was not crushed. Aleksander, our guide help me set Sven’s leg and offer to help him along. I kiss my luck that these mainlanders are helpful like Komesers.
The two elven veteran’s act like falling into cave is nothing. They scare me. The blue blood, and his body guard do headcount. Little Ott and his father are still on the surface with the Sven’s cart, some horses and Pudge! Our cart fell in too. We lose most of our sugar and tobacco but we still have some coffee. We still have tchochtke’s though. Oliver, Valter, Juta and the quiet man who look after blue blood’s horse didn’t make it. I don’t even know his name. The lumber is fine, but is so heavy, can’t do much for it. We are stuck too.
Then, little ugly mutants attack us. They have arrows and knives, but the soldiers drive them off. Aleksander say we can’t wait here. We start walking down weird tunnel. I carry tchochtke chest. Is very heavy and make arms hurt. Still tired, but have to keep walking. Everyone is tense, so I try to be quiet. We get to large cavern. Can breathe now, but there are these big mushrooms. Never see anything like them on trader ship before, and some of them glow like they are on fire! So strange! Then the mutants attack us again, but lots more this time. Aleksander and the elves chase them back. Sarril say he worked as guard, but I think he must be knight of some kind. Blue bloods only keep knights with them. Nyrain said so. Knights are fearless and Sarril walk right up to those things all by himself. We have to rest after the fight. Only Olya and one of the elves didn’t get hurt.