My dear cousin,
While in Mott’s Post, Duncan told us that the artisans wanted to see all of us about an ‘ore’ that they had uncovered using the shard. We arrived at a line of makeshift tents filled with the stifling heat of kilns. One of the robed figures approached us, “You may call this one Io – I am the leader of the Alchemists. We have made much progress in very little time in uncovering the secrets of these ores. The Hand has smiled upon us, but I fear that we cannot make any more progress with the rudimentary surroundings here.”
Whispering Priest mentioned that the Antler Men’s stronghold had some of what they needed, and said that we could escort the entire Spearhead there to officially occupy it. They agreed, and while the Spearhead made preparations to leave, our group decided to head out first and secure the stronghold until the rest of the camp could follow us.
It was about a week’s travel before we saw the outcropping of the stronghold, and in the town around it we saw a lot of activity going on, with mercenaries moving in and out of the huts. Several of them stopped and stared when they saw us. After we forded the river, they met us with naked blades.
“Stay your blades, brothers.” Whispering Priest called out.
“Who are you?” one of the men asked.
“I am one of the Antler Men.”
“Bugger the Antler Men. The Antler Men have fallen. We serve no one. Jack has stepped forward to take the reins.”
“May we speak to Jack?”
A large man, about seven feet tall, emerged from a nearby hut, wielding a battleaxe. “Talk! Before I eat you!” he cried. I wish I could remember the rest of what he said, so I could truly describe him. His personality is as large as his proportions, and if we had not been pressed for time in our negotiations, I would have savored the conversation more. Below, I will try to record all I can remember:
Small Walker explained that we represented the Western Kingdom, and that they could join the Spearhead under our protection.
“And what do you have to offer the Ice Jacks?”
“There’s money to be made.”
“I like it! But I need to see some right now. We need two hundred gold a week for the men.”
When the Knight of Spades remarked that we needed some refining equipment, Jack replied, “There’s some in the stronghold. We don’t need them, you can have them.”
Small Walker, pressing the deal, said “This area is going to see a lot of traffic soon, not just from the Western Kingdom.” He implied that there would probably be some increased trade because of that.
“I might as well be on the winning side,” Jack said.
“That’s why we wanted to offer you first bite.”
“I like bites! I’m in! Listen up, men! There’s a new boss in town – it’s these guys! I hear they’re going to be killing everyone around here, so I don’t want it to be us. Anyone not behind that can leave, but you gotta go through me first. All right, then. Class dismissed! Now when do we get paid?”
Small Walker referred him to Duncan, who would be following behind us.
And so, just like that, we won the town.
Someone began to call our new town ‘Deliverance’, for reasons I have yet to figure out, and the name has stuck. There were a couple of empty huts nearby, but we decided to settle instead inside the keep for the night. With more time to search the keep, we learned that there was a great hall as well as a seven receiving rooms off to the side, a small hall, and a basement – I have already told you what we found down there. A small forge was outside near the base of the mountain.
Some of the others spoke with the mercenaries in the evenings, drinking and swapping stories. Most of them came from all over the lands from the south. When they first banded together, they said that the remaining Antler Men started sneaking away during the night, so they rallied behind Jack. They dreamed that they would conquer the Peaks, and maybe even the lands to the south.
We spent the days until the Spearhead arrived cleaning up the keep and the town, setting up a solid way across the river, and getting the lay of the surrounding land. The others, under Knight of Spade’s direction, managed to set up a rudimentary ferry system.
I mostly got in the way. I do not build things.
When the Spearhead arrived, Duncan and Martin rode forward to meet us. The columns of people looked like more than we had brought with us from the Western Kingdom.
“Pretty impressive,” Duncan shouted out. “May we cross?”
“Welcome to Deliverance!” Small Walker called back.
Meanwhile, Martin looked extremely upset. “Several of the townspeople – by several, I mean several hundred – decided that they wanted to come with us. Duncan, in his brilliance, knowing our lack of supplies, decided to let all of these walking mouths come with us.”
“Tell them that they can join the Spearhead for a fee, and then we can use that to pay the mercenaries,” Small Walker offered. “Otherwise, perhaps we can, with our craftsmen and the bounty of the north, give the mercenaries better weapons instead.”
To Duncan he said, “Since you got us into this mess, you can explain to Jack why his men will want weapons over gold.”
After much shouting, Duncan came back with a black eye and said, “They agreed…”
Small Walker also said that he knew of a mine that we could clear out, send people there to work and use mercenaries to protect them, and we could use that for funding. Our best bet then would be to send scouts out northwest of us, on the same side of the river, to find some suitable farmland for the new people to farm, and feed us. We could use our laborers to start cutting down trees and building boats, and using them to explore faster and find some farmland.
Our first task, however, is to organize people to build a smithy using the forge next to the keep.
The next morning, Martin came to us and informed us that we had to create some structure for this town of ours. “The first thing you need to do for your new city,” he said, “is assign some leaders. I will be in command while you are gone, but before you leave you all need to take some roles of higher responsibility.” He gave us a list of job descriptions that he wanted us to fill as best we can – names like General, Warden, Marshal, Grand Diplomat, Councilor, High Priest, Magister, Treasurer, Spymaster, and Royal Assassin. I am not sure how these roles are better for a town than any other roles, but we trust Martin to know his job. So, currently Pale Lord is our General, Knight of Spades is our Warden, good old Jack gets to be the Marshal, Young Archer is our ‘Grand’ Diplomat, Whispering Priest is of course the High Priest, Duncan is the Treasurer, and Pathfinder is the Magister – though why any place should require an expert in magic bothers me greatly. Since the Councilor represents the people, we have requested that they elect their own. Our assassin is, ironically, not the Royal Assassin. Since his training includes some basic training on gathering secrets, he gets to be the Spymaster.
That leaves me with the unenviable job of Royal Assassin. There is as sour a taste in my mouth as I imagine would be in yours, my dear cousin – you and I are two of the three people who might appreciate all of the dark puns there are in that title alone. I worry about what might one day be required of me…and I just hope that looking ferocious is all I will need to do.
While everyone else seemed to have their hands full with tasks I was unqualified for, I decided to spend some time scouting the land around the town. I was hardly the best choice for this task – the wilds of the Eastern Strand seem so much different – but I was craving some sort of activity. I stayed close to the river while I looked around. The land was pretty barren, hilly with permafrost and evergreen forests, and I spotted one hill that looked different. A nearby hill had a small ruined tower protruding. I went closer – it was similar to the woods witch’s tower. When climbing down the tower, I found a crude wooden hatch at the base. The hatch was locked – old wood, but solid. The tower was undecorated, compared to the last one with the Goldenhawks’ insignias. I made a few unsuccessful attempts to open the hatch, then went back to share this puzzle with the others.
We asked around town about the tower and the hatch, since we had no success opening the door ourselves. Whispering Priest overhead a conversation, a rumor that the hatch was once part of the fortress of the Stormcrow Company, somewhat famous adventurers that came through several years ago. Led by Luigi Stormbreaker the Emerald Warlock and Agria of the Shadowface. They made their base in tunnels beneath the tower, so wandering monsters could not attack them by surprise.
Credited for killing goblins and the ancient undead lich who lived in the tower, they also took out various contracts, and were not well liked for those jobs. Ten years have passed since any sighting of the Company; even the sight of Luigi sailing away on a ship was likely only a rumor. Most mercenaries believe that they took on a greater foe than they could face, and perished in the battle.
Only the great magics of the Emerald Warlock, it is said, is powerful enough to pierce their defenses.
During this time, one morning we awoke to the screams of villagers. We rushed down to the town ‘square’ and found a number of people huddled over a maimed and bloody corpse. Knight of Spades recognized wounds like this from his farming days – he remembered seeing them on his animals before – claws and teeth from a very large wolf. “It was a wolf as big as a man that killed my Stephen!” a woman cried. “I’ve heard that there are beasts that take the shape of wolves by night and men by day.”
She said that the wolf went south, so we headed out after it. The tracks were headed in a very familiar direction, towards the village of the elves.
More than a few of us, I think, were casting sidelong glances toward Whispering Priest as we traveled closer to the elves, hoping this journey would not lead to more trouble. Thankfully, before we got there, the tracks stopped abruptly at the mouth of a cave. Small Walker went in first, where he saw a huddled figure behind two well-worn statues. He threw a pebble back to get our attention, so we followed in after. I managed to move in as quietly as he had, but the others failed spectacularly. The figure moved at the sound of our entrance, then leaped to its feet, a vicious-looking wolf head poking out through the cowl. It looked about to pounce, and Small Walker caught it in a garrote from behind. We engaged, and then there was a large roar coming from deeper into the cave. Our man-wolf looked as shocked as we were as a large bear appeared and charged. Closer, we could see patterns of runes burned into the bear’s fur.
When we killed the bear, it seemed to deflate like a balloon, shifting and deforming. Revealed was a decrepit man in a loincloth, covered in runes, “Peace,” he gasped as he died, with a sense of release. Young Archer recognized some of the markings as being similar to those inscribed on the armor of the Antler Men – this man was of the Old Gods. The body of the Man-Wolf remained in its animal form after he was killed.
The statues in the cave were of Antler Men, with the horns broken off through the ages. There was a tunnel that continued further into the cave; at the end was a small opening with two smaller Antler Men statues with the horns intact, and the area inside had been turned into a crude living quarters.
In amongst the bedding we found a small, leather bound journal. It turned out to be a depressing history of a man being possessed by the demons in his own mind. He was a follower of the Sovereign Elk. Long ago, the temple was defiled by a clan of ancient beasts who fed upon the Elk – and when the Elk did not protect them, his people escaped north, pursued by claws and fangs. The writings became more deranged and nonsensical as it went on as the man slowly lost his mind. Knight of Spades cut off the Man-Wolf’s head as proof of death, and we burned the rest of the bodies.
On the way back we decided to try the hatch another time. As Young Archer approached the door, he said that he heard a strange humming in his ears. He started to pluck his bow to match the pitches, and we suddenly heard a click as the hatch moved slightly ajar. It opened onto an ancient stone circular staircase that descended down into the earth. At the bottom we saw a twenty-foot wide hall of smooth stone, with dirt and black feathers strewn across the floor. For a split second, we saw two twisted heads with beaks appear as they peeked over the barricade and ducked back again behind a barricade of tumbled stone that looked broken and sagging. Past the barricade were more bird creatures – they were all armed with javelins, except for one armed with a chain whip. Hidden away in an alcove off to the right was a disgusting, blackish colored ooze that kept trying to envelop – eat? – us. Knight of Spades ended up getting trapped inside for most of the battle, and attempted to fight it from the inside while it simultaneously tried to digest him – it was a close call on which of them would die first. It exploded when we destroyed it, chunks flying everywhere just like the bird-creatures burst into clouds of feathers when we killed them.
After the feathers finished flying, we made a quick search of this room – it seemed to already be looted. The remains of a shrine stood against one wall, now covered in the excrement of the bird-creatures.
A large barred door lay before us. A musty smell filled the dark hallway before us. Another stairway descended further, covered in an uneven layer of slightly phosphorescent fungus, glowing faintly. We walked down, stepping past fungal blooms along the wall, descending further into the darkness below…