Asternia, Augor, and Oren

The Closing of One Chapter Often Marks the Beginning of Another
Tariel: Closing Thoughts, Existential Dread, and a Crisis of Faith

When I originally encountered Ezekiel, there was a fire in my heart. I knew that if I followed him, there would be adventure, just like the heroes of old, I read about all to often. In the last months, I've been through some truly incredible experiences. Some good, some bad, some have feelings associated that are far too complex for one word descriptors. Like any interesting tale, there was love, loss, hardship, triumph, blood, sweat, and tears. But tales are, in the end, just that. There is a difference between reading it in a book, and truly living it. So many scenarios where you think you understand. You're sure you know what it's like to be there in that character's shoes.  The simple truth is that you don't. There are very few that can claim otherwise.

I've been writing these journals now, as a brief recapitulation of our times together. They lack focus, but get to the point, I think. What has occurred, how it made me feel. I'm not the best writer, so I'm not sure anyone else would ever want to read them. I'm not even sure I want to read some of them. The material contained within is hard to stomach, because it happened. I could have left out all the struggle and the sadness, and written only the pleasant. But then, what kind of recounting am I actually writing. Why am I even writing?  Why am I still reflecting on what's happened, when it's been what feels like ages. I suppose it's because we've reached the end of what feels like a chapter. No, chapter isn't the right term, I guess it would be more of a volume.

We did what we set out to do, save the world, and protect our way of life. I realized over the course of our adventure that we really only did the latter. I spent all my life knowing, that I truly understood the difference between right and wrong. There was no way, I could mistake good and evil. My beliefs were those instilled to me by my makers, and it was up to me to interpret  and instill those beliefs to others. Simply reading that now, it was a foolish sentiment. The world is far more complex than that. There are rarely shades of black an white, there is an infinite spectrum of gray in between. I have no lost my faith, no, far from it. I think now, I cling to it more than ever, but I wonder why?

Mantra's actions hurt many, and they could plainly be described as evil, there's no two ways about it. She hurt countless people, and the echoes of her destruction reached far beyond those that perished because of her wrong-doings. The thing that nags me at the end of the day is that she too, like me, was interpreting the will of her makers, and instilling it upon others. The only difference is that she instilled her beliefs by force. But I was so sure, that I was in the right, what stopped me from using force, was it compassion, or weakness? If I were in her position, and lived the circumstances she lived, would I have done the same as she?

I was in fact given the opportunity, but I was bound by duty to protect the ways of old. What if I was not? She was right in a way, there's war, poverty, sickness, and evil in this world. I had the chance to solve all of it. I chose not to. It would disturb the whole of reality. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? The whole of reality?! The only reality I know is my own. Apparently there are a countless number out there. That thing in the pool was just searching for his. The same way we fought to defend our own. If I had been able to solve all the problems in our world, would I have brought the ruin we witnessed to others. Would I have cared if I truly solved all the problems in the world. Could my actions in that pool really have solved all the problems if I tried? There are too many damned questions, and too few answers!

I thought that reflecting and writing might bring clarity, but to be honest it has done quite the opposite. I'm more unsure then ever. Perhaps I should stop reflecting, and simply go back to the faithful recounting I've done so far. In a way I don't want to. The things that I've seen in the last few days are not meant to be seen. I dabbled in the realm of gods, wielded power which rivaled that of Morrigan herself. That shouldn't be possible, yet it was.

After we fought Mantra in the throne room of the castle, she made her escape. Turned to a golden gas and slipped through the door. I have long since grown tired of this petty trick, but I suppose we are the fools for not preparing for it. Eze'kiel was still stricken by a temporary, but volatile arcane madness. Screaming, and swinging his sword at imaginary foes, bashing himself in the face with the butt of his hilt. We let foul magic take it's course, and calmly collected ourselves for more trickery. Fighting Mantra never truly felt fair, and I suppose that's part of her design. The important thing was that we had the arrow, she would not be creating anymore horrors anytime soon. She slipped under a door, and it was clear to us that the arrow was the key.

We opened the door, and descended into the chambers below. It was a large, dark cavern. There was an interesting crystal that clad the walls. The further we descended, the darker it grew. The crystals became more and more mesmerising, as the refracted the soft glow, emanating from Ezekiel's blade. Eventually,  the light diminished entirely, swallowed up in the cavern. This was not by any physicality of the cavern. There is no way to describe it, we were ported elsewhere. A realm beyond Golarion. The very depths of space itself, in a scale so breath-taking, it simply can't be described. We saw here there, Mantra, holding a planet in her hands. The very spitting image of Morrigan herself.

I was incredulous. It simply was not possible, but we were in a realm where Mantra was the one, true god. This worries me more than anything, and it was in that moment, that my faith, for the first time, was challenged. What if the three are the same. Simply those, out of time, out of reality, manipulating forces they had no right to. Who could possibly give them the right? Is it that thing in the pool, is it another higher power we know nothing about? The thought was entirely too troubling, and for me deeply upsetting. A dirth of feelings and thoughts flooded in, but I forced myself to focus. The words in Mantra's bible resonated in my mind: "You must destroy to create." That was the law of this realm, destruction to bring forth creation. Ezekiel smashed the coin Valeros gave him, Appoline snapped her bow over her knee. I'm assuming Harold's years in prison left him with few worldly possessions. The only thing I had was Mantra's false bible, and it meant nothing to me. 

It quickly became apparent, that if we were to defeat mantra, we must obey the rules of the realm. We destroyed everything we could. After destroying our own belongings, we began destroying things around us. Small debris, rocks, asteroids, stars, planets, galaxies. The destruction grew in scale, as did we. Strangely enough, these powers of creation that were gifted by destruction, they could be moved, the same as Heart-fire. This thought also brings many questions, but I dare not dwell on it too long, for I will never arrive at the answer. After completing our wanton destruction, we began creating. Images in our mind, molded into a twisted reality, the power of gods. No man or woman, should ever be able to wield that power, and yet, we did. Is the true same for the three? How many other gods exist, that were not born into their godhood, like Cayden Caelian. What of obelisks, like the star-stone. At what point does any being truly earn divine right? In our case, it was Appolline who collected all the power, and destroyed Mantra. She did more than just destroy her, she obliterated her from the realm, ending her existence in all realities. It's frightening to consider. Appolline may not be the purest of heart, but she's by no means evil. She was granted power unimaginable, but thankfully used it for good. A black hole opened up and sucked us through, spitting us out into a purgatory beyond reality and time. Yes, another one. 

It was the strangest sensation. The physicality of it, was again, somewhat impossible. At first it was dark, and there was a pool of water at my feel. I could feel that much, but I could see nothing, hear nothing. I could only feel. Time passed, I can't tell you how much. It could have been second, minutes, hours, years, centuries, I have no way of knowing. After an unknown block of time, sound was restored, then sight. We were in a dark place. We could see each other, as if it were a well lit room, but something was  different.

The floor below us was water, but we were standing in it, and it felt…normal. The water showed reflections, as one would expect. The reflections themselves however, were false. Instead of a mirror image of oneself, you could see a point in time in your past. I can't speak for the others, but there was always something wrong with these reflections. I would see myself with a book I've never read. Talking to a nurse, I'd never met. Maybe laughing at a joke I don't remember finding all that funny. I don't remember all these moments perfectly, but I'm sure enough that they didn't happen as portrayed. It was then I realized what was happening. Where we were, this reflection pool, no mortal was meant to enter. What we were seeing is not what was, or what could be, but what was happening, and what did happen. This does not pertain to our lives, but the only conclusion I can draw from this is that there are many versions of us, and many different planes of reality. The concept is so absurd yet, I hear tales of great magic that could change the world all too often. I cannot fathom whether this hall was constructed, or if it was part of a higher design.

The being that sat in the pools didn't offer much information. Before, I had only seein it painted on the walls of Mantra's room in the cave. Eze'kiel decided to open peaceful dialogue with the creature. It had no idea what it was, who it was, or how it got there. The only thing we knew for sure was that it, was the cause of all our problems. Its' mucking about in the pools was creating these rips in our own reality. We offered it help, figuring that removing it from this place would solve the problem. It struggled to it's feet and shuffled over to us. As it shuffled, it created ripples in the waters, it glanced down, and glimpsed our fight with Mantra. It became belligerent, demanding us to answer for what we did. There was not much to say, Mantra threatened our way of life, that made her a threat, and she was eliminated. The creature proclaimed that Mantra was helping it. I can't imagine how that was the case, but I can't even imagine what has already happened. The creature explained that it was trying to find the reality it belonged to. It seemed fairly unsuccessful, and it apparently Mantra was supposed to help shape a world it could live in. No one life is greater than that of the whole of reality. With that conviction, we declared our intent, and showed no regret for our actions. This is what set the stage for our final battle.

The creature vanished immediately and things began happening quickly. Three images rose up from the water, taking forms of different people in our lives. Harold began sinking down into the waters below. I recognized two of the images. One was of Eze'kiel's father, clad in his armor with a wicked smirk upon his face. The second image was that of my own brother, Porter. I did not recognize the third image immediately, but Appolline's disdain and vitrolic banter meant that it could only be her mother (or just a very controlling older sister.)

I know little of Mrs. Rivenon, but when it comes to Alduin and Porter, the  one thing these two had in common, is that people were afraid of them, as was I. I'd heard stories in the past of Eze'kiel's father, I'd heard from my father that he was once a great man, with nothing but the utmost respect for his people. That all changed with the coming of the storm. I didn't really have to think much about Porter, I knew this one was not my brother I'd grown up with, but it was still a strange sensation. It looked like him, sounded like him, tormented me in the same jovial manner. I don't even think he hurt me any worse than he used to, that or I've just grown tougher. That being said, I knew if I did nothing, this one might kill me. He clearly had no qualms hurting my friends either. Ms. Rivenon seemed content in only harrassing Appolline, Alduinn was clearly fixated on Eze'kiel, but Porter had to go after everyone.

A short skirmish ensued, and the battle was quick and violent. Ms. Rivenon is apparently a gifted magic user of some type, but it seems she never quite used any of it to the greatest affect. Certainly the magic she wielded was strong, but none of it was inherently destructive. We all but ignored her, while Appolline was forced to deal with her. The only reason I think that the fight wasn't over immediately is because Appolline had just snapped her bow over her knee.

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Closing the Wounds
Eze'kiel's Final Log

Apolline sent Mantra through space, destroyed, for good this time. And as that portal swallowed us whole: I felt nothing again. I was surrounded in black, a night without stars. I didn’t feel watched, I felt destroyed. But I felt it, as I struggled to find my sense of body again, I felt First Frost in hand, and saw the waters before me ripple.  I called out to nothing, desperate, because if I had survived, surely my company had. As I stood up, the waters rippled again, and something in them caught my eye: barely. A memory of my childhood. Walking through the halls of Augor Keep, the battlements, as a child. But I was wearing green, not my houses’s blue, and there were more people than I recalled. It was an inconsequential memory, hardly even worth being called a memory. Still, altered?

After a short time, Tariel came and found me again. As the journey began, so it ends, Tariel and I reunited miraculously first. We bumped into Harold and Apolline just after, and after a moment, we noticed something. The water being disrupted, just away from us in the distance, ripples coming from afar. So we followed them, memories floating by, of our journeys, of our lives, altered in possibility. Worlds were Eze’kiel never became a Knight, where Apolline was never unruly, Tariel never sick, and Harold never captured. Worlds I couldn’t imagine Eze’kiel, Apolline, Tariel, or Harold would ever be happy in. We pressed on.
Black, like oily-leather, it looked hard like unrefined coal and unsmelted ore, wading in the waters, flinging through memories, eyeless, heartless, and barely human. It seemed so infantile, like a babe, floating in the waters of life itself. Still, it splashed and scattered the pools, memories being tossed around, out of order, out of sink, and out of line. Ator called into our minds, weakly, straining in this place, and perhaps due to his great extraneous effort, It is the source.

I held First Frost low, in my hand, pointed downward. It did not want to hurt it. So I called out, “Hello?”

    It looked up, its gangly arms stopping, looking up. It had no mouth, but it spoke into me, as though my thoughts were its words. As hard as it is to describe the whole conversation, I understood the gist of it. This creature was something Gabriel rejected, never given life, standing in purgatory, looking for a reality in which it lived. It was Mantra’s father, or mother, it’s hard to know. It asked of us, to please, help it be.

    When I put my gloved hand out towards it, it reached out for mine, and as it did a memory flew by. Mantra, struck down, an arrow through her, shattered, fragmenting, and fading. And it froze. I could feel it’s fear. Then it sadness, the only thing it had ever made, the only proof it was ever maybe real, gone further. It was mixed with an anger so base, I couldn’t understand it myself.
    But that was when it disappeared. The shadows returned, like the storm’s nature, figures of other timelines rose. I wasn’t able to grasp what the others had seen. I was frozen with too many emotions as my own shadow arose. My father was before me, big as I remember him, bull-horned helmet that went down to his upper lip, thick beard hanging from under. He only wore it in battle. It accented his murderous eyes well. He always stood much bigger than I, and even Atrianna, who I’d sometimes mocked as a “giant”. And that big axe of his, he was ready to use it on me without hesitation. I had bought much in preparations for our final battle, and I thought Mantra was that final battle. I was woefully underprepared to face my father in this state, no preparations, beaten and battle worn.

    The silence and stares we exchanged said everything, the sounds of battle broke out between us, but neither of us were strangers to them, and I don’t think we were going to be disturbed. But the longer I stared at him, the quicker I realized that I wasn’t scaring him. I began to tremble at him, but I braced my sword in my hands at him, defensively. When he finally charged me, he swung with all his might and when I caught the blow, I felt my arms nearly snap under his strength. I hacked at his big, shadowy form in retaliation, cutting at his sides and legs as I do with bigger opponents, but it hardly slowed him. I dodged the next swing and parried another, before a third caught me hard in my guts. It nearly killed me right then. As I stumbled back, I was assailed by the unseen, and felt sharp claws rend my side. I felt it there, again, as though those talons never left though.

    I looked around for relief. Tariel was struggling with a shadow that I recognized as… “Porter?” Tariel was not having fun with his brother: perhaps the biggest asshole in the North, I’ve only ever known him to get along with Atrianna because they can both stomach punching each other in the mouth for hours. He was recognized by his characteristic throwing shield. Apolline was yelling at who I realized was her mother, shooting at her, while she protested, however I couldn’t relate to her situation, and did not know her well. Even in the midst of his bout with Porter, Tariel reached out and gave me refounded strength to press on. It was then I realized, however, Harold was missing. Gone. I began to panic, “UNCLE HAROLD, WHERE ARE YOU?!”

    When I turned, my Father was on the offensive again, muttering, “My kids were always too weak to take the throne. I see that now.” He swung wildly, and the next hit took me in the side, once again, as hard as the previous. I spit blood and felt dizzy, but when he pulled the blade out, my hand wrapped around my belt on my waist, gold, it reminded me of Gabriel, and triumph. I thought to myself, maybe I’m not of the Gildedfist line, but that means neither is my father. That just makes him a bigger dickhead than Porter. I felt anger fill my body, and I looked my father in his cold, fish-like eyes, and roared at him, “FUCK YOU.”

    I sprinted to Tariel’s aid, and when I did, my Father lodged his axe in my shoulder. It took some strength out of my body, but you can never truly slow a Highlander once they get going. I rushed right at Porter, who I recognized was laughing by his body motions, as he caught his shield. When I approached him, he swung his shield at me, and I brought my sword down at the blade with every ounce of my strength, fully intend to break that piece of shit. I watched that shadow crack in his hands, and his happy-go-lucky face went sour. 

    “You’re gonna regret that, Eze.”
    
    “YOU’RE A BIGGER PIECE OF SHIT THEN ATRIANNA.”

    He grimaced and went to walk right by me. 

    “WHERE ARE YOU GOING.” I screamed as he went to, swinging my sword at his leg. His fist came hard, hit me in the face, and knocked me out cold.

    I woke up a second later, on the ground, sword barely in hand. I looked around again, trying to readjust. “Harold, please!” Apolline seemed to have summoned… a pack of shadowy-dogs? I was unaware the shades could be helpful. Tariel was in a noogie. I think he was kicked in the gnards too. He was grabbing Porter’s face, siphoning his strength back into me. I felt shadowed, even in the darkness, as I looked up and saw my father standing over me.
    
    “You wouldn’t deny your only son a fair fight, eh?”

    “You’ve already lost.”

    I felt cold sweat and saw glistening steel coming from overhead. I planted my hands and rolled away onto my back, pulling First Frost with me, and rising to my feet shakily. My wound from earlier pulsed still, unseen blows that have already came once, like time itself replayed over that wound. It was an awful feeling, and hard to manage as I struggled to face our foes. It wasn’t long after that I saw Harold’s head pop out of the ground. I sighed in relief, my body aching from the fight, and when I came back to, my father was swinging at me again. I caught the blade and motioned it away from my body, still cutting open my side, leaving me disabled. I stumbled back and tried to fight against my own labored breath, fighting for consciousness, as my friends did their best to carry me through it. In truth, I thought I was going to die, looking at my father, watching him walk towards me with fatal intent. I withdrew a piece of paper and scribbled on it, wrapping it around my sword, to hold onto. An apology, if I were to fail here. As I rose to face my destiny, a blast resounded behind me, catching my father between the eyes. He frowned, disappointed gaze at me, as he faded. Apolline was getting pretty good at killing my family.

I looked around, and saw Porter having the life drained from him further, as he kicked Tariel in the balls, brains, face, and whatever else he could, and Apolline’s mother being torn apart by dogs. Harald was assailed by the same leather assailant we’d all seen wading in the pools, so I went off to him to assist.

As I approached, unseen claws raked my side again, and that familiar, fresh but far-gone pain of old wounds shot through me additionally, causing me to struggle. One of the shadow dogs raced up and began to bark between Harald and I, and we exchanged a knowing look. We began to assail the assumed location of our assailant, but I tensed my hand, and my ring glew with arcane knowing, letting me predict where our foul foe was. Harald landed some dull hits against our foe, and my blade struck true against it’s stony structure. Not a moment later, it flickered back into life.

Now visible, it was much easier to evade and dodge. In truth, seeing it made it harder to kill though. I couldn’t help but feel pity as we destroyed something that never truly lived, and only wanted to. But the way it went about it, so base: this thing is why Jon Norsem has no heirs. Why my sister lies in a twilight. Why my family, my home, and my people are scattered to the winds, like they never mattered to begin with. The dogs harried the creature, our friends rushed to assist us, and Harald kept pace with me as it darted around and we pursued it. Ultimately, I paused, tensed my grip, and rammed my blade through it with all my might. I lifted that abortion of time off the ground, and rested it against the crossguard of my blade, as the last bit of inexistence seeped from it, and tossed it aside with a hard swing of my blade, letting it rest finally in the pools it waded in and distorted for so long.

We all stared at each other, alone again, and I took a knee with First Frost in my hands. The pain it had caused us through its slashes kept ringing true, but, Tariel was able to mitigate its effects long enough that we were able to forget we were ever harmed to begin with. Now what?

The water began to rise, seemingly in response. None of us lifted, none of us floated up. But it felt like my compatriots disappeared, and I was alone in the waters. Ator’s voice rang out to me, weak, and faded, having struggled for so long. Time is distorted. You must rebuild it. You will be tempted to change events, but the world will be more unstable as a result. It will be hard, but you must retell your life, as you knew it, as closely as possible.
It was a literal world on my shoulders, and I imagine that my party had the same dilemma. But, it didn’t take long. You go your whole life and you know what you would change, hindsight is 20-20 after all. But you think of that, and believe there’s no consequences. 

I’ve seen worlds where what I know is not true, where Eze’kiel’s aren’t me, and where my family never had the chances they had. I cannot afford to alter my reality, my knowing, so much that I become like them. After all, I’m me because of everything that’s happened, good and bad… but I know what small changes I can make with the knowledge I have.

My story is the same, but in the author’s notes, I cried when I left Sungaarde. When I had to face Atriana, I understood how I must’ve looked like an apathetic monster: leaving in our time of need, no explanation. I never thought I would have appeared such a way, I always felt it was my duty, though this was my only option. It hurt me so deeply to see how angry Atriana felt, to know that everyone I left behind must’ve felt so low of me, when I regarded them so highly, and did everything I did for them. 

That said, two of the people I regard highest fates were in peril, an unknown. Vaeleroes and Atriana’s state of being was a mystery to me, from where I was. I would not go back to change the outcomes, to play the fates, but I would set up insurance. I thought of what my soul was worth, to my people, when I was talking to Tressa about making a deal for it. But I know what the value of my soul is, weighed against my pride. When I ultimately left Fort Ash, I spoke more authoritatively to Tressa, telling her the North was the best place for both her and I, for the Hellknights to meet their goals and rebuild, and to assist us. It was perhaps, the only means of survival.

And if I know Atriana and, or, Vaeleroes were lost, I could use the Black Alibi to sell my soul, and never know how Atriana or Vaeleroes came back to me. I would keep my pride. I would keep my friends.

And we all raced up to the top of the waters, in a cave, behind Augor. We all exchanged looks, exasperated, dumbfounded. Victorious.
 

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Augor
Harald

Fuck sake, where do I start? Ezekiel's lost his godsdamned mind, wailing and fuming about the ghost of his very alive sister and Rioni fuckin Jane followed us into a brain-melting storm for the sake of profession pride. Let it be said that none of these fuckin loonies are of Oreni birth. We're supposed to be the crazy ones, what worshipping a God-Emperor and all that nonsense. Speakin of fuckin nonsense, nobody else sees that Tariel has been interfering with our mission. I can't pin down why he's doing it, maybe the elf ensorcelled him or something but he has been intentionally stopping us from getting things done. Maybe he wants the throne for himself, who knows with these sketchy political systems.

Anywho we trekked through some fucked-up re-imagining of the northlands hand crafted by Mantra. Get it? <u>Hand </u>crafted? HA! I'm a fuckin riot! Anyway Ezekiel immediately disregarded my Master's instruction and talked to the locals who then freaked out and surprisingly didn't try and fuckin murder us like everything else on this quest. We made it in to Augor proper, or what now stands in its place, some big fuckin castle in the mountains with some big arse tower in the middle that would really help ease some royal prick's concerns about the size of his royal prick. We work our way in and get ambushed by some "chosen". They packed quite the fuckin wallop but we came through. We moved from one problem to the next as a couple of hands jumped off a mural and tried to slap us around. You really can't make this shite up! Just after that we entered some kind of throne room. It was pretty standard but once you've seen one throne room you've seen 'em all eh? Ezekiel said the poor sod who was on the throne and half made of gold was Alex Norsom. John's boy. The reunion was brief because the lad explodeed as Mantra showed up.

If I can be honest, I'm surprised we beat her. From the description of the group's last encounter with her I'm shocked we made it out with minimal injury. After the serious pounding we gave her, she turned to mist and fled, do doubt through her magic gold door. Master Ator said that the source of her reality-altering magic lay further north. It looks like the final battle is approaching. I just hope we can make it through.

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The Gang Leaves the Garden and Gets Into 'The Lottery'
Apolline, Log 26

Well, it's been an interesting time in the storm. Eze'kiel sees his possibly-trapped-in-another-dimension sister, Lucius is going to sacrifice himself for the greater good of Falcon's Peak, we have been chased through the storm by none other than Rione Jane, and to top things off we have ended up in a world that seems like some kind of dystopian fiction.

We decided to leave Rione Jane, with all her insanity, in the garden. Just as we were packing our things (and hers) to go, someone new wrote in the notebook. They claimed to be an "advisor;" however, that was soon proved false, and Tariel and Eze'kiel seem to have an idea of who it may be. This person said that they could save Lucius if I gave them the location of Ator's den. I did so, although I left out the part of how to get in. Hopefully Ator and the caravan will be safe, and we can solve the mystery of the storm in time to save Lucius from this person's revenge.

We walked over the land, where there was no snow in sight. While I was happy at the change of scenery, Tariel and Eze'kiel seemed discomforted, and even I have to admit that it was strange. After a while we came across a town, and a man chopping lumber outside of it. He seemed pleasant enough at first, but his form shifted ever so slightly, as if he was not meant to be there. Eze'kiel chatted with him, and after a few questions the man became distressed at his apparently memory loss. He freaked out for a minute and then, suddenly, seemed to go backward in time until he was chopping wood and saying hello again.

We moved on, now wary of talking to the strangers that were walking around in the streets. Everyone looked strange. They looked real, but not completely. A crowd gathered around a platform, and jovially placed small scraps of paper with their names on them into a pouch being handed around. When it got to us, Eze'kiel tore up some paper and told us to write the name of the sorceress, Mantra, on them. The bag finished passing through the crowd and went back up to the woman overseeing the affair. After dividing the papers into two teams and spectators, and not calling out Mantra's name, the crowd set upon each other, slaughtering their neighbors as easily as if they were playing a game.

As we left the scene, the overseer followed. She didn't seem to know why, but when we stopped at a smithy she stopped as well, and black tendrils boiled and burst from her body. The fight ensued. A tendril pierced a man walking down the street, who seemed not to see our battle at all until he was caught in it, and the woman claimed that they were "chosen." We struck down our enemies, and must continue moving ever forward, to Augor, the seat of power in this hellish place.

I only hope that we aren't too late to undo the damage that's been done.

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Songs about Hope, How to find the Green in the White

   It was the aftermath of a harsh fight, again. Before me stood five, shadowy, Atrianas. Each seemed so different in their actions, in their personalities. It tore my heart to pieces to see my sister shattered like this: I would do anything to make her whole. I'm tired of my friend's struggling, Vaeleroes burning his body away to keep alive our friends and family, Atriana in literal pieces. I could hear my mother's heart thumping like a dedicated lumberjack with a dying pyre as we left on this suicide mission. I nearly cut Atriana in half during our duel and she nearly brained me. This storm does truly wicked things.

   None of us had much to say after everything. Personally, I was engrossed in the state of my home. I represent Sungaarde. It is where I was knighted. I can't help but think I abandoned my post. These things grate at my mind, but, there is one thing that will ease that burden. I know I am a reckless man, an honorable man, and a fool. This journey might be my end. I would sleep easier and fight harder knowing that should I fail, all is not lost. I returned to my room, with the  accompaniment of Tariel, to write my will (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1t-BYjLFruPSaM0nS-kBh4n77Jmg_k6pDEHgHabSmt4M/edit) (without his knowledge). On my way up, however, I noticed many more people in the halls: it was an odd feeling, but I ushered them on with a reassuring hand on their shoulders and simple words of passing as Tariel and I made our way to my room.

   Tariel acted very funny when I tried to hand the letter to him, and unfortunately, I was unable to seal it but I brought my house's signet press with me: a lovely momento I figure, as well as more pen and paper. We reconvened and hoped out the back window in the war room. Not a snowball's chance in Oren we'd try to cross back through the shadowy-halls. We rappelled down the slope with relative ease. From there? Snow banks. Snow for as long as you could see. In your eyes. In your mouth. In your ears. It was relentless, ceaseless, and exhausting. I did my best to keep spirits high.

   I turned to Apolline, "Say, do you have siblings?"

   "I do, two brothers."

   "Hah, that must not be too fun."

   Gee, thanks.

   I turned my head and saw Atriana, standing imposing, arms crossed, fresh as a fiddle in the storm. I chuckled,

   "Well, I wasn't talking about you."

   I got full well what you meant.

   "You show back up in the flesh again and you're already sour? What happened?"

   I looked around, and everyone was staring at me like I had grown four extra-heads. I looked at them and gestured to Atriana: who was not there. I had little excuses for myself, I definitely looked a loon. I sighed and drew my great sword. In hindsight, not the most relaxing thing for the group, but for me? There's two things that are true in this world it seems. Myself and my sword, First Frost. I'll suss out the fact from the fiction with her. At their insistence, I moved myself to the front of the party.

   As we moved, for what felt like perhaps hours, maybe even days, I turned to Tariel. "Know any songs?"

   "A few hymns, yes."

   "Nothing like "this world is bleak and we're all surely doomed", right?"

   "A few less hymns then."

   "How about you Apolline, know any songs?"

   "I'm afraid not."

   "Harald? Maybe know any bar songs?"

   Harald shook his head, "I ain't heard many songs in prison!"

   I sighed in resignation, but, we did have one other companion. Of course, they were a minstrel. I asked Lucius for song lyrics, to carry our spirits and bring us forward. He confided he had been working on something for a bit, and he would give it to us. I waited, and in the blowing wind, I sang. I may not have the greatest voice, but they all know it. I hope they find some comfort in knowing that I'm here for them, as they are for me, and we're all in this together. And when the songs dried up, the time passed somewhat quicker

   We neared the Path of Wounds, a pass that had seen much of the fighting between Oren and Augor. It was the entrance and exit to and from the North, many skirmishes were fought here, many fights, and the open fields and tree line made it a death trap. As we broke the tree line, I caught it. Figures darting around behind us: and one floating. I urged us forward, and with Tariel's magic, we were running on the snow as though it were true earth beneath our feet. We took off, and suddenly we all saw them. It was Rione Jane. About a dozen of her. They were running in a very disorganized, chaotic fashion, issuing orders at nothing, and shooting wildly. They were hunting, but hunting what? Either way, I had a flash back to when I was shot in the face by that awful crystalline goop, and took off screaming.

   Not too long after, something more substantial, the real Rione Jane, crested the hill with her animals with her. While they seemed fine, she looked nearly more shadow than person. "OH THERE YOU ARE! GET BACK HERE, YOU'RE MINE!".

She appeared to be stark-raving mad, storm or not.

   We all ran as quick as we could, being peppered by incoming shots, and I interposed myself between Apolline and their bullets as we ran. All of a sudden, Harald turned and sprinted at Rione and latched onto her, grabbing her, and glowing. I cannot imagine what he was doing, but these shadows were becoming an issue. The shadow that was on "horseback" (I say "horseback" because there was no horse but she seemed saddled to something?) rode over, and shot Apolline. Apolline took off for a hill and disappeared behind it. Tariel seemed to be following suit.

   As for me? I tired of running. We were split, the shadows would not relent, and Apolline had been shot. I looked at First Frost, and in my hands, I felt an extension of me. I couldn't feel the snow beneath my feet, the kiss of the Northern cold on my lips. I didn't feel fear of these terrible shadows, I didn't feel my companions at my side. I couldn't feel anything but me. It was me and First Frost. Nothing else mattered.

   I started screaming and I hacked the horseless headsman to ribbons, wounding her grievously, and Rione blasted her before I could finish her. I turned with rage in my blood and screamed as I sprinted headlong after my companions last location. As my master taught me, I put all my efforts into running and let my blade do the talking, First Frost sang a song of death to the immaterial Riones. I spun and carved one's back out and quickly moved, beheading the next. Rione rode to the hill top to support, Apolline and Tariel from the bottom, where we were able to pinch and crush the former line of rifles and pistols. We had won.

   Rione, mad in her pursuits, would not relent. She had followed us into hell itself for Apolline, and wouldn't negotiate without her coming along being part of the deal. I approached and began to negotiate, but Harald had his own (much better) idea. He thumped her across the dome, and she immediately passed out. In truth, it was for the best. We approached, grouped, and moved forward. Ator had been telling us of a "sanctuary", not too much unlike his own, and we were moving for it still. Rione's animals were very disciplined, and much kinder than they were when we had encountered them originally. I got to pet the dog, and he seemed content by it.

   As we approached, we saw it: a clear circle, a line drawn in the storm, where light-snow, and greenery remained. It was nothing natural, and when we approached and passed through, it was immediately disorienting.

   We entered the circle, the sanctuary, and saw a large, stone wall. Following it around for some time, we eventually came to a wood gate, which opened before us. Inside was heaven, at least, I believe it was. I turned to Tariel, equally struck with awe.

   “Is this Gronn’s Garden?”

   “Do you think he’s here?”

   I looked around. I had always wanted to meet my maker. But regardless of whether or not he was here or not, this told us we were on the right track, and the Gods above wanted to see us take our task through. Much to the dismay of the party, I disrobed, and entered the hot spring, soaking in the perfect, crystal clear waters, joining the serene fish who made it their home, as I steamed. Everyone went to do their respective business: Apolline cleaned her clothes, Tariel to pray, and Harald to meditate. A pious man myself, I too went to pray. To thank Thronn and Gronn for this. Morrigaen and I have a strained relationship currently… but I like to think I’m acting out her will as well. I could hear her though.

   You’d better pray for luck.

   I cannot tell if it is Atrianna, or not. Perhaps the spirit I bested haunts me. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of my own self-doubt. Regardless, Atrianna knew how to piss me off.

   I eventually found Apolline, who seemed flustered at first: probably because I was just wearing my kilt. Ladies past the North have too much humility. I took a seat not far from her though.

   “You never got to tell me what you’d do for your siblings. You know. Before I had a psychotic break.”

   She laughed,

   “Oh, yeah.”

   Apolline has two brothers… one is an ass. The other is a fine brother. She’d do a lot for the one, and not the other, accordingly. I’m not sure it’s what I expected… but our families differ and are the same. I find it hard she can’t understand why I need to sort these things out with my family, just as she must. Her family is going to come for her, and I’ll kill every one of their soldiers, knights, break their catapults, and storm their walls for her, but when the time comes, she’s got to look her folks in the eyes and do… well, whatever they do. Personally, my father became some sort of corrupted monstrosity, so I need to kill him. I’m sure the circumstances are different for her. But that’s on me.

   Harald arrived, broken from his meditation.

   “Yer’ book is scribbling. It’s fer’ Apolline.”

   He handed us off the book and headed off not too long after. I let her talk with Lucius, I wasn’t trying to pry too hard. My own head was swimming with the future battles to come, the struggles, the losses we’ll take and triumphs we’ll make. I hope they write a song. All good Knights are sung of, after all.

   The book ended up in my hands after a moment, and Apolline seemed flustered, forcing it to me. “You talk to him, convince him he’s making a mistake.”

   I was a bit confused, and alarmed, but I skimmed through the book. Lucius intended to go into the storm, and use his magics to save his people, possibly putting himself in… another timeline? Is that how these shadows work? They’re possible endings? I was stunned momentarily, at the thought my Atrianna was… gone. Sent away. My heart froze for a moment, and I thought of myself too. Where had my story ended and carried me elsewhere? But I dismissed these thoughts. Bridges to cross. But even more occurred to me. Lucius was going to another timeline to find an Apolline who wanted to be with him. Lucius had a liking to Apolline? I was stunned. Everything made sense suddenly.

   He seemed startled to see my familiar handwriting, and explained his situation to me, much as he did to Apolline. It was the only way. I didn’t need long to digest. I can be thoughtful… but the circumstances are dire. “I understand what you’re doing, I wouldn’t do any less for my people. I know I’m not the person you want to hear this from, but take care, and I hope you return safely.”

   When I returned the book to Apolline, she seemed even more flustered. I’m not sure what she was expecting. Handing me the book was a lot like asking oil to put out a fire.

   I rose and walked away, to let her conclude her business. It truly wasn’t for me to be there. I went and explained the gravity of the letter I wrote to Tariel. I told him, if Atrianna was gone, he was my heir. I love my cousin, he sees not his own potential. I left him in good hands, with good people. Of my blood, I trust none more. He was startled, and panic stricken, but it would pass. At the very least, it was good motivation to keep me alive (not that he has ever let me down in that respect).

   To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how, but Atrianna was in my head again. Calling to me. I looked for her and saw nothing. She said something along the lines of…

   Catch me outside.

   I ran to the gate and saw her, standing, hammer ready about eight feet from the gate. My eyes widened. Whatever she said, stirred my fire. I ran to my armor and began donning it. Harald ran to me,

   “Hold on hold on, Ator said ye’ can’t go out there ye fool!”

   “ATRIANA IS OUT THERE AND I’M GOING TO KICK HER ASS.” I screamed.

   “Ye daft loon, yer’ crazy. There ain’t no one there!”

   “SHE’S RIGHT THERE.” I gestured to her pacing form, outside, with my sword.

   He remained unconvinced, and replied with his stare, his mouth opened,

   “No she ain’t. Yer’ loosin’ it.”

   “JUST LET ME GO TO HER, RIGHT THERE. AND IF IT GOES BAD, JUST PULL ME OUT.”

   “NO, EZEKIEL.” His voice raised at me, much like a parent.

   I whined in protest and threw my sword, kicking the air. I ran to my pack and grabbed a javelin, throwing it through the gate. It flew true, but still just short. The bloody wind caught it.

   “I’LL FUCK YOU UP, YOU BITCH.”

   She laughed and I threw my breastplate down, angrily, and resigned.

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Atriana, and the Stubornness of the Taurus
Tariel: Log 24

The scene in the church was our first true taste of the storm. People hunched over, speaking only apprehensively, in hushed whispers. Many did not even believe we were truly there, voices from a far off land, beguiling them with false claims. They shut their eyes and ears, trying to drown us out as a whispering madness. There were a few who recognized, or believed us to be real. It's hard to say, but information was in short supply. Valeros has been keeping the entire church under his protection, which is incredibly dangerous. I wanted to help him, and I went to do so, but Ator warned me I may do more harm then good. I realized then that if I truly wanted to help him, we need to stop the storm. Even if I did manage to join with him, I can't very well stay in the church and act as a battery for the coming weeks.

We set out into the snow. The storm proved mostly safe with Ator's protection. The only true resistance we met within the storm itself were some shadowy guards that Ezekiel foolishly hailed. They moved their mouths, but no words came out. Feelings of hatred, and anger were very prevalent. While the forms and weapons were made of shadow, the blades could certainly be felt, but in a different kind of way. When the shadowy steel melt flesh, instead of a sharp pain, there was a debilitating cold, followed by a stab of mental pain. The storm seems to have an affect on people's sanity, and the weapons wielded by the shadows seem to have a similar affect.

After our fight with the shadows, we made it to the keep easy enough, but our arrival was one of strange circumstance. We started to get our first understandings of how the storm/shadow realm interacts with our own. It seems that there is a loose connection between the two. We were able to talk to the shadows somewhat. They seem to be able to hear us, but we have great trouble hearing them. Making out what they are saying was difficult, but possible. We managed to talk our way into the fort…but not truly. While the shadows did begin to open the gate for us, we heard gate opening noises, but the physical gate before us did not budge. This meant we unfortunately had to climb our way in over the gate. The shadows did not seem to pay any mind to us scaling the gate, so I Imagine in their eyes, we merely passed through.

The whole fort was abuzz with activity from the shadows, it was hard to say whether the shadows paid any mind to us. For the most part, they went about their business and shot us an occasional glance, but I think it's more because we were newcomers to the fort as opposed to not being shadows. Activity in the fort was the busiest in the main hall. We surmised from past experience that contact with the shadows was a bad idea, so perhaps Eze'kiel's previous reckless greeting was not entirely unwarranted. Actually, now that I think about it, it was entirely unwarranted, but we did learn something from it I suppose. That aside we figured that walking through the main hall could be potentially dangerous, not all of the shadows seemed to even notice us, and contact with them had been proven a poor option.

We set about getting around the only way we could, leaping through the rafter like fools. With the exception of Harald, who has continually proven himself a nimble ally. I do wonder how he managed to keep in shape all those years, his cell must have been large if he was able to practice maneuvers like that. Perhaps he always possessed that speed and agility, and just never lost his edge, but I'm getting off-topic. Harald deftly dodged the shadows, while the rest of us leaped from beam to beam up in the rafters. Growing up in the mountains kind of forced me to get over my fear of heights, but the fear of falling to my death is a little bit more concerning when you are jumping between narrow beams of wood 15 feet off the ground. Even though 15 feet doesn't sound that high, you'd be surprised of the difference to the ground when you are up there leaping like a fool. I suppose I'm really the only one who was concerned, Eze'kiel has always been a spry fellow, and Appolline made it look like it was no different than climbing stairs.

We dropped down on the other side of the main hall, and made our way to the servant halls. Eze'kiel figured there'd be little traffic there. He was correct, the halls were a bit cramped, but not suffocating. They existed for a purpose, and that purpose was utilized. We ran into one or two servants, one of whom we attempted interaction with. I'm still a bit confused how we appear to them, this one didn't even see us, he simply looked around confused when we spoke. It seem that there are multiple layers of how deep one can be in the shadows. To make things even worse, it seems that there is some sort of strange relation between the shadows, and time, as well as planes of existence.

This was more or less confirmed when we found the massacre. This is where I'm uncertain of the timeline, and events in the fort. We found just one shadowy body, murdered in what looked like an even combat. He was aware he was being attacked, and his weapon was drawn. The kill looked like a clean stab to the abdomen, which is not an uncommon fatality on the battlefield if the bleeding is not stopped. As we progressed deeper in the fort, closer to Atrianna's false throne, we saw more shadowy bodies strewn about in a violent massacre. Finally, moving through the carnage, we came upon Atrianna. Well, multiple Atrianna's. This is what finally solidified my theory on the relation to shadows and time.

There seemed to be multiple versions of her, with slight differences in appearance and attitude. All affected by different events in different phases of her life over the past few months. The one that we were able to physically interact with was the one sitting upon the throne. I had never seen the affects of the storm before now, I had only heard the stories Eze'kiel told of his Father, but seeing it first hand was truly disturbing. It had warped her into an icon of anger and sin. She was unable to think clearly, as she was blinded by a thick veil of madness. We tried to reason with her, but she was disillusioned. Perhaps not, we still don't fully understand the shadows, perhaps, to her, everything around her is real, and we are disillusioned. We won't know for sure until we can all leave the storm.

Eze'kiel tried reason with her, but she was having none of it. I'm used to having somewhat of an sociopath for a sibling, but never, would I fear for my life in Porter's presence. Certainly, my general well-being, but I trust him to know when he's gone too far…sort of. That aside, the same could not be said for Atrianna. She was making outlandish claims, that could only be arrived to by someone mentally sick, angry, and desperate. We pointed out the massacre that laid before her, and she seemed not to know of it. It's hard to say what timeline the massacre occurred on, and if she even knew of it. The only death she seemed to truly acknowledge, was the one committed by her hand. Sitting in the corner of the room was the body of Rorim Elendil, it was left in a rather gruesome state, that could only be the work of Atrianna. She did not hesitate to claim credit for the horrid display. I know not of the politics she spewed in reference, but I suspect the storm was more responsible than anything.

We continually tried to reason with her, the false queen of an empty fort, driven to insanity by the storm. Eze'kiel said the only thing he thought would get through to her, an offering of the throne. Clearly among other things, the storm had given her an immeasurable thirst for power. This offer somewhat assuaged her rage. I had no idea this effect was even remotely possible, I wouldn't have thought it a viable option but it worked. There was one thing, that got in the way of a peaceful resolution, the pride and stubbornness of the Taurus. Atrianna demanded Eze'kiel bow before her and relinquish the throne. He would never do that, and she knew it. The one thing I think she nor I predicted, was Eze'kiel's challenge to a duel.

Rite of combat is something integral to our culture. We are no strangers to fighting, or war. We are taught combat at a young age, and in turbulent times past, battle was a way to settle differences. It honestly still is, seeing as we are currently engaged in war, but war is different. There's less rules, and it's more about winning than honor. There are two types of fights, those for your life, and those for your pride. In my experience, it's the latter that is truly terrifying. I felt every ounce of that terror as, Eze'kiel and Atrianna went to battle.

The battle was swift, but largely indecisive. In the beginning, Atrianna was the clear candidate for splendor, but Eze'kiel unwilling to be put to shame, dealt a near lethal blow, that truly changed the tide and momentum of the fight. At first, we were unwilling to interfere. If Atrianna, had merely charged Eze'kiel with murderous intent, I would have immediately acted, and given him an edge. However, the rite of battle is near sacred to us, and since Eze'kiel issued the challenge, I thought it would be foolish to intervene. We tried to stop it using any outside influence possible. In a panic, I decided to contact Ator, to see if I could perhaps interact with the various shadow forms of Atrianna. I was hoping what we did with them would somehow reflect upon the version that stood before us. I requested Ator drop the barrier, and so he did.

Immediately, I felt the cold embrace of the shadows. I saw them swarming around me, a seemingly impossible number for the space we occupied, and as it turned out, this was my first true, unfiltered glimpse of the storm, or rather, what lies in it. The wracking cold, weighed heavy upon my mind, and I felt my sanity slipping. Normally, I think my approach to most situations, are honest, and genuine. For some reason through the veil of the storm, I was not able to connect with the sad shadow of Atrianna. I tried to speak with her, and she could hear me somewhat, but she didn't truly believe me to be there. She thought that my voice was some sort of trick. I chose my dialogue, rather poorly, and was unable to have any sort of positive influence on the copy of Atrianna. By the time I was willing to give up, the burden upon my mind had become to great for me to willingly stay any longer. With this, Ator re-erected the barrier. I saw Harald trying a similar method, based on the physical appearance of his body, I could barely make out what he was saying, but he seemed to be having better results.

After pulling my mind out of the shadows, I re-formed the collective, and immediately felt what Eze'kiel was going through. This was only part a fight for pride, the other parts being desperation, and love for his sister. He was willing to have her smash his head open, if it brought her back to her senses, AND HE WAS A DAMNED FOOL FOR THINKING IT! With that knowledge, I did not hesitate to enter the fray, I immediately set to work mending his wounds. In my hesitation to act, he was but one solid blow from death. At this point, Appolline also made her presence known. I could clearly feel Eze'kiel did not want her sister to be in any true mortal danger, but the rest of us did not share his sentiment. The true irony of the situation was that Eze'kiel brought her closer to mortal peril than any of us, but I suspect that was more of the  initial desperation than anything. The whole situation was a damned mess.

Appolline's arrow failed to fell Atrianna, as she got one last swing into Eze'kiel, who took the blow in stride. I truly believe, the bit of mending I did truly mattered, so thank the three for that. The blow did knock him to the ground, but he was able to recover. He stood up, loudly declared that they were different, and the difference was that he had friends. He then proceeded to sprint around the room like a mad animal before closing in for an attack, and then he sprung. He charged her with speed never before seen from him, and smashed her across the head with the flat of his blade. I was sure with the amount of force and speed behind the hit, she had to be dead, but he must have landed that hit carefully, because her skull was not cracked open, and she was still breathing. She was however, very unconscious, and still bleeding from the blow he had dealt near the start of the battle. I mended her wounds as best as I could, and I felt Eze'kiel withdraw from the collective. This of course meant, that he too would try his hand with the shadows. Like all other things, what he said and did was mostly veiled to me, but I think whatever he did was good. When he re-entered the collective, I felt something so powerful, that it even brought a single tear of joy to my eye. It's rare that feelings of positiviy to have such a profound affect. Whatever, he said or did, to feel this way, I can only hope Atrianna feels the same when she wakes up.

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Glendale: Why I Don't Really Miss Home
Harald

Glendale reminds me so much of what I missed about living among the people of my homeland, well being out of prison in general I guess. The people are good and honest, not afraid to do what they have to. Glendale also reminds me why I don't miss it at all. After meeting with John Norsom, Eze'kiel and I went to the local general shop to get equipment to barricade John's house while he was away (possibly permanently). The shopkeep seemed rightly nervous about the storm and was also rightly doubting in the emperor's mystic hullabaloo, but his wife was full in the grip of Oreni brainwashing. Poor lass was so convinced of the Bastard-of-Bastard's power that she considered staying home in the face of that gods-awful storm. Fuckin hells I hate what the emperor has done to my people. Until the emperor can be replaced, my part is to save as many people as I can from this damned storm and the emperor's corruption. Under the Master's teachings I will find strength within my body and mind so that I may share it with all those I meet. Only together can we overcome the storm.

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The Gang Meets a Dragon and Eze'kiel's Mom
Apolline, Log 22

Well, I can now officially say that I've met Harald's master, Ator, from whom we received a "blessing" that will help us survive the storm encroaching in the north.

I can also officially say that I've met a gold fucking dragon.

Holy shit.

We asked him about the strange drawings and spell circle that we'd found in the sorceress' room, but he did not have many ideas and said he would have to look more into it.

I was forced to take the book that we've been using to communicate with Lucius from Eze'kiel for a bit. I'm not sure whether he's losing his mind, but he almost told Lucius that we were with a dragon. When I protested, he decided to say instead that they were all in a brothel or seedy tavern or something and that I was sleeping somewhere else. I decided to take matters into my own hands and speak to Lucius myself. It was awkward, but I quickly diffused the situation and gave the book back to Eze'kiel. The four of us, having bartered for whatever we wished from the dragon, fell asleep looking at the stars and discussing things like religion, astrology, and philosophy.

When we awoke in the morning, Lucius was not quick to answer, and when he did it seemed hurried and not like him at all. This concerned all of us, so Tariel checked on the book in intervals. He finally replied, but Eze'kiel said little about Lucius' state of mind, and I didn't pry. Perhaps he had been up late worrying for the people of Falcon's Peak, who would soon be facing the storm.

We left Ator's den at the Mountains With No Peaks to head back to the caravan, where we learned that Nihyel has finished all of the work we've given him to do. Since Eze'kiel's hand is no longer golden, we decided to have him study the drawing Tariel took of the sorceress's summoning circle. Tariel spoke with Celothel (about what I can only imagine; his last parting from her seemed interesting, to say the least), and we set her to work alongside Nihyel to see if they can discover anything new about the summoning circle together.

With that task complete, we headed toward Glendale. The weather is cold here, as were the guards at the front gate who made us pay 100 gold per head, except for Harald, the lucky bastard. We did so, and entered the town to find Eze'kiel's family, who seemed relieved to see that he and Tariel were alive and well. His uncle, boisterous but lovable, reminded me of the kind of family I would have liked to have growing up while his mother was the definition of royalty with an exquisite yet powerful grace. Eze'kiel and his mother had a very touching exchange, and I was glad to meet her.

Presently, we have convinced them both as well as a few other refugees to accompany us back to the caravan and into Ator's protection so that our party may head into the storm for answers.

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Ator, a Whore, and the Soul
Eze'kiel's Log, 21.

We’d exited the tunnel and it was some ungodly hour. I’m not too sure when. My mind was disturbingly quiet. Whatever amalgamation of flesh and demon we left in those caves, I pray to the Three it would be its final tomb. I’m not an expert in this field, but I’ve fought enough grins to assume. That she-devil probably loaded some poor soul full of all sorts of demons and just let him be torn apart, left mindless, to consume anything it could… once we arrived. We saved as many as we could, but still, I can’t help but fear that’s not enough. That man pushing me to safety, resigned to his fate, still haunts me.

            Tariel and I split off to look for our horses and we chatted to ourselves, lightly, tiredly, about the horrors we’d faced. It was just to fill the air, I felt. After all, sooner than later, we’d have our horses, and be resting semi-peacefully. Except for the part where they were missing. I was defeated at that point when not a moment later someone who’d fled the monster, into the booby-trapped cavern, emerged. They looked awful, tired, and exhausted. They were pleading for help: their companion fell through one of the traps that we’d managed to avoid thanks to Pump, despite warning them. More specifically, the first pit fall Tariel almost fell in.

Tariel and I helped her out, crushed her arm by the looks of it, but we think she’ll live. My first thought was to cut it off: guess that’s just what I would’ve done. Glad I asked, Tariel says that would’ve killed her. I’m much better in the company of my cousin and party, don’t know what I’d be doing without them after all.

By the time we’d sorted out that businesses and just began to head back, we heard something. Two pops. The first one I shrugged off, but a second one, it developed a rhythm in my head, and it’d only be a matter of time until it’d be a third, and that got my heart racing. I suspected “Calamity Jane” had taken our horses. Now I felt I was right. Tariel said they came from the campsite, and I took off as fast as my legs would carry me.

I came across the campsite, signs of a scuffle, Harold on the ground unconscious with some funky, green-salty stuff stuck to him. I looked around and one of the rescued pointed out to me that messenger bird that came with the bounty hunter’s “warning”. Hurled a javelin at it, and it dropped a few bottles, apparently, she left them for Harold. The Hunter obviously has some standards: not killing Harold, giving him care. Hardly seems like a bad person. But no one steals our Apples.

We patched up Harold and he was ready to get on the hunt again quickly. I uh, saddle’d him and we rode off after their tracks. Much too literally. I found riding horses easy enough. I can sufficiently say, I did not enjoy my first time riding a man, and hopefully I never must again.

Once we’d retrieved our horses, Harold and I set off after Apolline. We rode hard and fast, and I think she was taking her time (albeit, making good time) so we could catch up to her. It’s worth mentioning, Harold is keeping up the entire time, and is frighteningly fast. His legs look like blurs, and he has the stride of a fifteen-foot man but stands maybe a foot shorter then I. It’s incredibly impressive what this man can do.

Apolline looked strapped into the saddle, so I did my best to ride up and help free her. I warned the Hunter to call off her animals: if they’d torn out my eyes or gnawed at my legs, I couldn’t be held responsible for replying in force after all. She didn’t seem to like that very much, however, and replied with that green salt crap again. It hurt, stung, and felt a bit like Sulphur or Phosphorous: like when you inhale it, but instead on your skin. It’s not much more pleasant. A bird kept harrying me, but it never touched me, and the dog seemed more interested in Harold than I. I managed to dash up in a burst of speed and cut Apolline free (mostly), narrowly missed cutting down that woman too. Would’ve slain her horse but she was riding Apolline’s. Not long after that, I tried to swipe her gun away, and when I missed, I faded to black. Guess she shot me better then I realized.

I woke up with Apolline free, Harold sweaty and covered in forestry, and the hunter escaped. Hopefully it’ll be the last we see of her on such terms, but I doubt it. I passed out in my tent, a crumpled man in ruins: it’s rare I lose like this, and I’m not one for letting my friends down. I slept awful. Knew it was a nightmare when I came to, and I sighed. I felt that horse trample my bones. I felt that woman load powder and ball into my wreck. I woke up sweating, with a yell. I hope I know peace, sooner than later.

I woke up that morning, unrested, but with resolve. I did my usual: bathed, clothed, stretched, armored. I stepped into a field though and turned to my old friend, my own shadow. As far as the Three go, Thronn never left my side, that’s why I put him above the rest. He’s given me a lot of peace too. I decided Thronn was my patron when I went South, and I saw not all men here were not monsters. If Thronn is humanity, I’d like to be the most human, and when I finally look at him, know that divinity is mortal. I mused with myself and my shadow in the field, head to the dark, connecting the dots in my head. What matters most right now is my family: and I’ll go as far as I can. I’ll save my Mother, I’ll pull Atriana from the storm, and if Father is too far gone, I will set him to peace. My bones ached, my mind was sore, but I felt cold steel in the fibers of my soul.

In the morning, we set off, took a day or two. Tariel protected my mind: he’s a strong man, and a blessing for all of us. I slept peacefully. I hope this ends soon though. We’d gotten back to the camp and I spoke to my mentor, who taught me to wear woad. He’s a good man, it felt nice to speak to him about his children, his life. All the Seven Stars started somewhere, the Highlander order: it felt nice to hear the stories of my childhood again. As you grow up you burn that fuel, it was replenishing. Celothel was freed, the gold undone, thanks to Nihyel. She spoke to me after, expressing her gratitude. She told me if we could break the golden arrow, she’d assist us. In truth, I almost broke it when it was in front of me, and I can’t speak for if I will or won’t when it’s trying to assail me and my friends. But I can’t sleep easy thinking I’d be pushing all our problems onto another civilization, even if it’s not a death sentence.

I realized she was closer to me than I liked, and she gave me a wink, before we departed. She scares me. I’d rather a homely warrior-woman myself than some prissy eco-terrorist with loose legs. I want to have a few kids to fill the castle halls I grew up in around the time I take her back. I didn’t get to meet my Grandmother, but she met me I’ve been told. I’d like it if my children got to meet Mom and Dad.

When we spoke at night, not far from Glendale, Harold mentioned to us that he’d spoken to his Master, who was proud of all of us and our efforts in the tunnels, and wished to meet us to help us traverse the storm. His master has been elusive, but if he can award us means to traverse the deadly Storm, so be it. He can be the Emperor, a Dryder, even a bloody dragon, that’s enough for me. As a bonus, he promised he could protect the caravan! No more lugging around the helpless and leaving a big trail for our enemies to pursue us across. We don’t have to worry about anyone getting caught or killed. In truth, sounded too good to be true. But I’ve trusted Harold, he’s proven a good boost to morale, a talented fighter, and a pure soul. I’ll follow anything he sees in his head, just the same as I’ll pray to my shadow I suppose.

We departed the Caravan at some point, as per his request, and made our way to the Mountains That Were. I’d visited them before in my travels around Oren, having to avoid the Flayfort. I pondered their history: what could tear the tops off mountains? The way they were done no less, it always looked so precise. You’d think after so long, their wounds would heal, but maybe not. We wandered for a while and Harold looked confused, then that look of realization came across his face: “the shadows”. He was being guided to the shadows of the mountain’s peaks, where they once were. He meditated briefly, acknowledged this, and entered.

We traversed from where we were, to somewhere else. Through the shadow came another world of sorts, verdant and lush, gold and glittering, mountains that were whole, a filter of life across my eyes. Not long after, slender and scaly, equally glorious and dazzling, rose a long, snake-ish, piercing-eyed, dragon. My first instinct was to draw my sword, but I knew better, and tossed it aside. For my betterment: the dragon could devour me, slay me, roast me, but I felt at peace here. The surprise was just… instincts are instincts.

The Dragon’s name is Ator, who thinks he can help us stop the storm. Harold gets his power from Ator, and acts as an agent for Ator, but he could give us something as well. A means to reach Ator and communicate as Harold does, but also protect us from the effects of the storm. In the meantime, he will provide surveillance and research it, to discover a source, and hopefully, a means to stem the tide. The means to apply this were a short ritual: we closed our eyes, and meditated, not too different to when I meditate to Thronn. He said some words, about life, binding us, the ebb and flow of the cosmos. My mind was silent, until I felt the touch of a claw on my spine. I felt it hesitate, and mark elsewhere, just lower. It felt nice for Ator to mind my tattoo: Thronn’s eye, nape of my neck.

When we had come to, I recall looking up at him and tilting my head, “Are you Thronn?”

Ator was puzzled and seemingly amused, “No, I think not”.

I’ll come face to face with my shadow one day, I suppose.

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Escape from the Smiles Cavern
Tariel: Log 20

I was unfortunate enough to witness perhaps the most twisted of all the sorceress' horrors. Like most others, he looked normal on the surface, but something felt off about him. I began to notice him in my periphery, but I was too slow to react. Were it not for the efforts of my friends, I wouldn't be here right now. The transformation was fast and gruesome, tendrils burst from the man's skin and latched on to those in the area, myself included. He began sprouting ghastly appendages and absorbing any soul unfortunate enough to get grabbed. I myself would have become victim if not for the fast action of Eze'kiel and Harold. The mass continued to grow, and it became increasingly apparent that our weapons had no effect upon the creature.

We managed to make a narrow escape. However, we went into these caves on a mission, and couldn't leave until it was complete. We had to investigate the domain fo the sorceress. Ancis was "kind" enough to provide us with some controlled explosives. We were able to open up a hole in the floor of her lodgings with a directive blast. I'm not entirely sure what I expected out of a mad woman's home. It was oddly, plain, the most stark features being some odd drawings upon the wall. Their design was curious, but they were rather well-drawn. Before we had a chance to examine them, the one began to animate before us. It was of an odd design, with a glowing molten core, and a large great sword entirely too large to be wielded in one hand, grafted to its arm. The battle was difficult, but short fought. The creature itself was made of gold. We weren't able to get all of it, since it was a lot of gold, but we collected as much as we could. After the scuffle concluded, I got a chance to look at the room better. There was a very large mural depicting Morrigan, it was outlined with a magic that seemed to turn the cave walls to gold. There was also a strange depiction of a shriveled hunched figure on the opposite wall. The ensemble was completed by a ritual circle scribed onto the floor. I could tell from the chalk marks that it was recently in use. In retrospect, it was likely used to create that horror that chased us throughout the cavern. I decided to sketch a copy of both the circle and the shriveled figure for later examination.

We made our way back down out of our makeshift entrance. We reunited with the refugees, but our respite was short as the various horrid noises echoing throughout the cavern heralded the return of the horror. We quickly made our escape with it close behind. We thought we might be able to flee through a small crawl-space. It was tight, be we all managed to fit through. Much to our surprise so was the horror. It squashed down and pushed into the cavern like meat through a grinder. Eze'kiel stayed behind a bit to get more attacks in on it, sadly these had about as much impact as all previous attempts. We were immediately met by a 10 foot tall ledge. For many young, spry adventurers, this would be a small issue. However, when you have a group of refugees in tow, things become a bit more complicated. The problem was compounded by my own lack of physical strength. It's times like this I regret my sickly nature as a child. Even something as simple as climbing a rope can be a difficult task for me. One of the survivors managed to help me up. I wanted to be back with the rest of my party, but I knew that I would need as much of a lead as I could be afforded.

We traveled a rather short distance before arriving upon yet another daunting obstacle in our path. Ancis quickly demanded a crossbow, thankfully I had mine on me, even if it's been of little use. The next obstacle took the form of a 30 foot gap, which could only be crossed via rope bridge. The crux of it all is that the rope bridge had to be fire simultaneously by two marksmen into posts on the other side of the ravine. The practicality of this solution is astronomically low, so I can only assume this path is often avoided. Thankfully we had Appoline as our second capable marksmen. Appoline and Ancis both hit their marks on the opposite side of the chasm. Many of the survivors rushed across, but once they were about halfway, the instability of the rope bridge became apparent. Many had to slow down, and take care not to entangle themselves within the gaps of the netting. It was slow going but most of us managed to make it across. With only a few survivors and the last of my party left to cross, a hasty decision was made. The creature was right on our rears, so Harold severd the rope and made a flying leap onto the bridge as it swung to the other side with a few people still clinging on. It was a very risky gamble, but it paid off. Everyone was able to climb the remains of the bridge, and the horror was left no option than to fall down into the chasm, and climb back up.

We made it a good bit further past the chasm, and were met with a further complications. A very narrow ledge that spanned a 15 foot distance. Once again, this was a place where my poor physical shape was problematic. It was an issue for me, and several others. Many of us fell down into the pit, survivors and party alike. Thankfully the fall was not all that great, so we were all able to survive the impact. However, a few of the survivors had fractured arms and legs. A rope was tossed down to us, and we climbed it to safety while it was pulled. At this time, someone in our party most have thrown more of the dynamite at the beast. I was unable to see how, but a loud bang and disgusting, splurching sounds left little to question. Unfortunately, not all of the survivors made it. By the sound of the screaming, one or two were unable to make it across the ridge. We had no time to turn back and save them, it weighs heavily on me now, but at the time I was concerned only with my own survival, and that of my friends .

We followed Ancis through the winding paths until we reached our final obstacle, a rock scramble. The sediment was very loose, and it made climbing the pile quite troublesome. Once again, I was forcibly reminded of my inability to perform physically oriented tasks. This obstacle suprisingly proved the most challenging. Had we more time, there is no doubt we would have been alright, but Ancis put us on a hard timer. The horror shuffled ever closer, the closest it had been. As soon as Ancis made it to the top of the pile, he lit a fuse of a set of explosives, designed to collapse the caverns. I was surely done for, until Harold was able to throw me to safety. Eze'kiel was also threatened by the blast, but one of the survivors with a great shove, pushed him to the top of the pile. There were a few who were unable to make it to the top before the whole thing went up. It's very unfortunate that it happened, but I don't hate Ancis for making the decision. That thing was an utter monstrosity, and we could not afford to let it out into the world. We need to find the Sorceress fast, if she is still able to create horrors like that, we have our work set out for us.

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