Journey to the East
19th Session

On the 23rd of Reaping, as the Huntress was heading towards Sunder’s hideout, they came across a single longboat, containing a man named Orrie. He claimed to be a survivor of the cargo ship that was carrying Athuin, the Paladin of Mishra. It was attacked by a giant shark in the dead of night, and in the chaos and confusion only Orrie survived. The Party agreed to search for any survivors, yet Glinish was wary of the man.

As evening fell, the Huntress approached Karhe reef, and the Party took the longboat in search of the survivors. Heavy rain was making the effort difficult, but they knew they had to try. Orrie desired to come along… for an ultimately nefarious purpose. As they left the hearing range of the Huntress, Orrie gulped down a hidden potion and cracked open a magical stone that unleashed a torrent of water, sinking the ship and nearly drowning Althea.

But with teamwork and Carric’s magical abilities, the Party regrouped. Carric, using the magical ring found from Assarna’s wizard lair, swam back to the Huntress, pulling the rest of the party on a disc of arcane energy. Glinish climbed aboard, just in time to stop the saboteur of sinking the Huntress with another stone. They were safe again.

The Party interrogated the man and found out that he, too, was a member of the Followers of the Guardian, and he had volunteered to sink the reinforcements to Bowmeet. After the questioning, Dulkan took him to answer another question: Since the Party’s and Followers’ goals were quite similar, why had Mishra given her blessing to the Party’s cause? This perplexed the man and he could not find an answer.

This time taking the _Huntress_’ longboat, the Party left for the reef again, this time with results: They discovered the survivors of the sunken ship, who included the Paladin. After bringing them on board and discussing the situation, Althea showed him the flower given by the druids. Athuin was impressed and suggested them to find a priest of Mishra and ask for a divine seance. Soon enough the Huntress came across a passenger ship who took the Paladin to Bowmeet.

On the 24th of Reaping the Party finally arrived to a small sheep farm where Sunder was hiding. After a heartfelt meeting with Althea and the retelling of the Party’s story, Sunder could provide the information he was privy to: The burial place of Adalrik, an ancient diviner. According to his information, Adalrik was a powerful wizard whose power afforded him leeway even with the dragons. He finally fell in the battle of Urktik between Sfara and Czarr, taking his secrets with him. But his body was buried in the Living Tomb, which lay in the Misty Woods.

The journey to the Misty Woods would take several days, each one another turn of the hourglass for Edessa. But it was a necessary journey. Before they undertook the long crossing over the Eastern Passage, the Party gave Pivot and Kenkirk, the arcane artisans a huge stipend of much of their amassed wealth. This patronage allowed them to leave for the wizard lair in Assarna, where they could start infusing, engraving and imbuing new magical artifacts.

As time inexorably sailed onward, so did the party. On the 4th of Shedding they arrived in Karvak, a port in the nation of Kurrach. The nation was ruled by Murguax, a terrifying green dragon. This was clear by the festivities in the misty and cold city: The annual Murguax’s celebration week.

The Party, after sampling the famous local wines, received a tip from Glinish’s contact: The local border guards in the Misty Woods probably knew the location of the Living Tomb. After direct pleas for the map fell on indifferent ears, the Party sneaked into the border guards’ barracks and stole their treasured maps. With those, the Party could plot their path to the Living Tomb, and great magical secrets…

The Patron of Shadow
18th Session

The jailbreak went as well as it could have, considering the circumstances. Some wizards were blamed by other wizards to be the reason the university burned, and the situation escalated into a fistfight. Only after both Glinish and Dulkan came to break up the fight and start the charge into freedom did the wizards relent.

Using Glinish’ magical animals, the Party managed to create an opening. Ser Brack and the local priest attempted to stop the outburst of people, but the wizards’ magics thwarted their efforts. Dulkan managed to lead most of them to safety, aided by Glinish’ nigh-supernatural ability to blend into the streets… Par for a few. One of the aggressive wizards, brimming with fury, hurled a fireball to the Ashanti’s temple, causing death and destruction. Another one attempted to stop him from doing that, but he failed, only to be rewarded with capture. The terrorizing wizard fled into the mist, guided by arcane speed.

The Party collected the rest, mostly sages and students of non-magical matters. They questioned them for any knowledge on Adalrik or Ixthoth. One of them had studied the scraps and fragments of the latter and began compiling his knowledge into a written format. The Party then left, giving the sages as a gift to the Patron of Shadow, who had arrived to Bowmeet after nightfall. Glinish took the Party to finally meet the enigmatic criminal lord.

In the cave that the Party had cleaned of the horrid beasts, they witnessed the true identity of the Patron of Shadow: A green dragon who called herself Thivarax. Dulkan’s initial mistrust played right into Thivarax’s reason for being so secretive: She knew few would see past her being and hear her words. Carric, however, did not have the same reservations and engaged Thivarax in conversation. The Dragon first asked the Party to relegate their tale, and was especially interested in the details of Khariss’ death. Carric sensed that she was concerned that the Party would be the Dragonslayer.

Indeed, Thivarax explained that she had learned that someone, or something, had managed to kill a young dragon called Morathiss. This had happened several years ago (NOTE! I’m retconning this, realized some background stuff wouldn’t make sense in what I said in the game) while she was travelling the world, seeking a method to acquire power. Then, over a year ago, another one, Avarothul, was also slain. As both were quite close to her own age, she decided to look into it. What she discovered that these deaths were kept relatively obscure and no-one took responsibility. No-one but the Followers of the Guardian, whose devouts claimed that the Guardian was the one who had slain the dragons.

Now the Followers were spreading and Thivarax saw them as a threat to her own plans to end the hostility between the dragons and their subjects. The Followers would create more aggression and chaos, effectively ensuring that the dragons would quash them violently. Thivarax wanted to acquire power and prestige to ensure that her voice would be heard amongst the dragons themselves and hopefully, eventually, lead to a more respectful treatment of the other races. Or, at least, less indifferent.

Thivarax offered her help with the Party’s problems, opening her information network to their use in exchange for their assistance against the Dragonslayer. When she pressed them to swear that they would end the Dragonslayer when they finally found them, the Party avoided answering. They would want to know more before committing to an act of such finality. Thivarax made note of this, warning them that the lack of trust and commitment cut both ways, as they could use her help with finding Edessa and Ixthoth.

Before the Party left for Sunder’s hideout, led by Glinish, Carric exchanged a few words with the dragon about the nature of sorcerous souls. Thivarax expressed her view that the realm of the souls, from where Mishra draws new life and to where Sithrak deposits the departed, contains a lot more dragon souls than there are physical dragons in existence. Sometimes Mishra gives a dragon’s soul to a non-dragonic vessel, and that soul tries to burst through the weaker shell it inhabits. Those bursts of sorcerous power are the true nature of one’s soul attempting to escape. While this satisfied Carric, the dragon failed to give a satisfactory answer to her inquiries about the nature of Wild sorcerers, such as Edessa. Thivarax gave him a name of a dragon who apparently collected such magical information, called Zendikhar. She promised him a meeting, should he help her goals.

After the meeting was over, the Party returned to the ship. There, the wizards the Patron had rewarded them with had found out the true nature of the magical fan and the flying cloak the Party had discovered: They were parts of a gnomish techno-magical invention: A flying contraption! If the Party would discover the rest of the parts, or the blueprints for the whole device, they could perhaps rebuild the contraption. After this bit of exciting news, the Huntress undocked, heading north towards Sunder’s hideout…

Glinish's Arrival
17th Session

The Party regained themselves. Carric, after being healed by the healing melodies of Althea, realized the situation: The being was Ixthoth, a lich who was imprisoned in his lair by Carric’s friend’s ancestor. The doll was an effigy of Ixthoth, and the pins held in place the swords and spears that bound him to the place. After the terrible battle that brought the victory over the wizard, the lair was sealed and all records were purged, lest no-one try to release him. The doll was guarded by Carric’s friend, who passed away childless. That is why it was in Carric’s possession, where it was then used to release the lich.

Disappointed and now suspicious of the Patron of Shadow, the Party returned to the Huntress, aiming to rest and tackle the situation on the following day. Borel, regretful over releasing Ixthoth, asked Carric for what he could do. In anger and frustration, Carric spat that he should find the lich’s phylactery. That is what Borel left to do.

Meanwhile, things were stirring. Glinish Furear, a servant of the Patron of Shadow, was collecting the wizards that the crime lord had collected to present to the Party when they would finish the task. Glinish organized a further meeting with his trusted joint, the Running Dwarf. On the following morning, the 21st of Reaping, the Party met at the dwarf brothel, from where Glinish took them to meet the wizards.

The Wizards were a pair of artificers, craftsmen of magical items. They knew relatively little of the kind of power the Party would require to find Edessa, the demon’s intended gate, or now, Ixthtoth. But they had heard from Sunder, Althea’s mentor when she was at Bowmeet, of a mage, Adalrik. The powerful diviner had lived in the Age of War and legend told that he had constructed wondrous, truth-seeing artifacts. While these artifacts were never found, Sunder had apparently learned of the place where Adalrik was buried in.

As luck would have it, Glinish had met Sunder. The elf had been moved to the northern coast and it would be a trivial task for him to arrange a meeting. But further assistance from the Patron of Shadow would necessitate another task, a show of trust: The indebtment of a shipping company that the Patron would then sweep under his wings.

This act of vandalism, while alluring in its directness, ran afoul of the Party’s moral cores. They instead presented their view: Thanks to the Patron’s request, there was now a lich free to terrorize the world, and it would be his benefit to speak with the Party directly. Glinish accepted this and arranged a meeting. The Patron would arrive to claim the now-empty smuggling cave for himself the following night. Meanwhile, Glinish decided to help out the Party, perhaps as a further bargaining chip with the Patron, perhaps because of his own motivations.

Meanwhile, the Party decided to free the wizards imprisoned by the Paladins for additional information. It would be a difficult task, but with luck, the Party wouldn’t even need the demanding and vague Patron of Shadow: Perhaps one of the imprisoned wizards would know more. They decided to infiltrate the Temple’s dungeon with magical invisibility and prepare for a diversion when the wizards would be free. The infiltration worked fine, but the amount of wizards and personnel was more than Glinish and Dulkan could feasibly handle. The Priests were alerted to something happening in the dungeon, the diversion panicked the ground floor, and the anger and confusion amongst the now-free wizards was getting to the boiling point…

Locked for a Reason
16th Session

The Party decided. Patron of Shadow’s offer was the quickest way towards progress. Even if his end of the bargain would take some time, clearing the caves would be a quick task. How hard could it be?

Entering the caves was straightforward. A quick boat ride and a climb, made easy by Carric’s magic, was all that was needed, in addition to the Patron’s info.

Inside the jutting cliffs was a huge cavern, converted with wooden scaffolding to a storage area. The Party would later learn that this area was allegedly used as a haven by smugglers and other outlaws in the past, but was now fallen out of use due to monsters and tunnel collapses. The Party found both. Huge, monstrous carrion eaters ambushed them, severely injuring Dulkan and wounding Carric. But as soon as it had begun, it was over and the creatures lay slain.

After clearing the beast’s lairs, Carric discovered a large wooden door that seemed to have been sealed with heavy chain, now curiously un-sealed. As they needed to know what the area was, the Party broke down the door and continued on the tunnel. They found evidence that someone had broken through the sealed doors, now re-sealing them behind them.

Below they found a dungeon, carved with Quirion’s and Sithrakh’s iconography. The dungeon’s doors had also been well-sealed with thick iron doors, now almost rusted shut. The dungeon was as curious as it was worrisome, with ancient coffins and weaponry brought in from somewhere else. Moisture and seawater was everywhere, and the ankle-deep layer of water constantly streamed ever downwards.

At the bottom of the dungeon they found an impressive chamber whose walls were covered in falling water. Inside a group of Sahuagin were working to open an ornate, sealed door. Apparently the Sahuagin knew the Party’s reputation, for the Sahuagin Baron was extremely nervous. The Party gleaned that the sea devils were searching for a treasure, knowledge specifically.

Before the Party could finish the negotiations, the Sahuagin managed to open the door and began rushing in. Althea, invisible and wearing the silencing boots, used her family longsword to jam the door open, allowing the Party to follow in pursuit. The Baron escaped inside, only to emerge back momentarily back, zeroing in on Carric. He struck the sorcerer unconscious and grasped a curious prize: Carric’s skewered doll. Desperate, the Baron removed the pins even as Borel cut him down with the Mountain Carver.

Borel grasped the doll and heard a voice inside his head, offering immortality in exchange for him removing the final pin. As Carric was unable to protest, Borel took the offer. In the chamber that the Sahuagin opened, something stirred. An undead wizard of great power was freed. He teleported through the door that the Party hastily shut to observe them, granting Borel his actual prize: His continued life. Then it teleported away, leaving the Party aghast in the dark.

Meet Bowmeet
15th Session

The Catalogue of Demons described Beligandir as a towering, horned being with gargantuan black wings, brandishing a flaming whip and a sword crackling with magic. One question remained: How would the Party even hope to defeat such a terrible foe?

Still, they needed to move, for Kolmhaag had exhausted its information. They would need some way to find out where Edessa had gone to. Carric, pondering on this, remembered that Bowmeet, a free trading city north of Dusk Coast , held much knowledge from many corners of the world. The University of Bowmeet was an unlikely jewel in the middle of the port that also saw adventurers, pirates and other unsavory travellers. After naming their ship the Huntress, after the fact that their immediate future would be hunting for information, the Party bid farewell to Kolmhaag and left.

After over a week on the sea, Bowmeet rose on the horizon. On the 20th of Reaping, the Huntress moored and the Party stepped out. At least for Dulkan, this would be the farthest he had ever traveled to. To the regular visitors of Duskport, the influx of new accents and things on sale were not as wondrous as one would have expected. But the posters were: The Cult of the Guardian, heretics and troublemakers, were wanted for acts of terror. Brushing these local concerns aside, the Party strode to the University. And they found blackened ruins.

The destruction of the University of Bowmeet came as a hard surprise to Carric and Althea, both appreciators of scholars. Inquiries to the reason of the destruction revealed that the Cult was to blame. During the last month, after Khariss’ death, they had intensified their efforts and had raided the library. Ashanti’s followers met their raid, and in the ensuing fight, the library burned.

Outraged, the Party headed to the Temple of Ashanti to speak to the current person in charge after the death of Dogi of Bowmeet at the hands of the Cult. Ser Brack, a Paladin of Ashanti, had taken order into his hands. He told the Party that the Cult had demanded for the disbanding of every Dragon Divine’s Temple on Bowmeet. Unsurprisingly, every cleric, priest and Paladin had declined, and the entire city had become the battleground in the cat-and-mouse game between the factions.

Ser Brack was sympathetic to the Party’s cause, as a demonic incursion was not to be taken lightly. But he was also hesitant to release any of the potentially heretical piece of information, nor the suspected wizards. As a symbol of mutual trust, he asked the Party to perform a task that he did not have the resources to currently attend: Find out what had happened to a ship that should have brought in reinforcements. The Party was disappointed to the answer, but promised to take a look.

Dulkan returned to the Huntress, while Althea and Carric asked for the local sea charts from a nearby tavern: The Mysterious Lamb. Dulkan discussed the situation with Celad, the Huntress’ captain. From the port, Celad had found out about a third faction: The Patron of Shadow. A criminal kingpin who had turned from thievery and corruption to aiding the war-torn Bowmeet. Intrigued and dissatisfied with the Paladins, Dulkan put out a message that he would like to meet the man. On The Mysterious Lamb, Althea and Carric found a message from the Patron of Shadow, stating “There are always options”. It seemed that the Party’s arrival had been noticed.

As Althea and Carric returned, Dulkan presented them with a message that had arrived to their ship: The Cult of the Guardian wanted to see them. Concerned with the Cult’s reputation, but not wanting to judge them without meeting them, the Party headed out to the meeting.

On the decrepit alehouse they found a mask-wearing human, who introduced himself as Sid, a devout Follower of the Guardian. The man explained their organization: The Guardian was a human, empowered with divine power who helped out free settlements in need and who slew dragons. The Followers had come from the far east, with a man called Master Oberon. Now that (according to their claims) the Guardian had killed Khariss, the Followers were rising up and resisting the dragonic oppression, one facet of which was the belief of the Dragon Divines. Sid explained that the Followers had great respect for the Party, who they saw as doing just work.

Despite Dulkan’s eagerness to help the Followers, Althea negotiated some time to think before any promises were made. For the Followers had a plan to release the prisoners and confiscated materials. Then they left the devout, pondering on this.

But on their way back, Dulkan’s message had bore fruit. A wine bottle, reminiscent of the one bought by the Patron of the Shadow in the tavern, was waiting for them, along with directions to a house. The Party followed the directions, resolved to go through every faction that seemed to want something from them. And at the house they found an unassuming halfling, stating that people called him the Patron of Shadow.

The Patron was revealed to be a rather sophisticated criminal, who now wanted for value and prosperity for the people of Bowmeet. He argued that while the Followers of Guardian wanted to bring security and the Temples of the Divines wanted to bring order, they did that via trust in some questionable higher being, or via draconic, dragonic attitudes and hierarchy. He thought that the best way was to bring liberty and mutual understanding to everyone. And that is why he had been garnering goodwill by spending his ill-gotten gains.

While the halfling seemed confident in his claims, the Party couldn’t be fully confident that the criminal kingpin wasn’t hiding something. What he needed from the Party was clear enough: He needed someone to clear one of Bowmeet’s southern rocky outcroppings for him to expand his operations.

With many options, the Party returned to weigh them to the Huntress.

14th Session

After the chaos in Kolmhaag had died down, the Party waited for Borel to arrive… and prepared. Carric dug deep into the daemonology books found from the secret chamber of the castle, Althea kept a close eye on Uratha’s mental being, unforgiving of his errors, and Dulkan wandered through his erstwhile home, soaking in the changes. He had finally cast off his family name, and was no longer a Kiln.

The hunt for more knowledge on Beligandir took the Party to Belelien, a resolute archivist. While she could name the book that the tomes were referring to, the Catalogue of Daemons, she did not know where it was stored, as forbidden lore was routinely collected from the bookkeepers and archivists. Her speculations were fruitful, however. They brought the Party’s attention to the Tomb of Salaris that lie in the Hallowed Halls, a holy resting place for Kolmhaag’s heroes. The occupant of this tomb did not exist, according to the archivist’s book.

As Dulkan had prepared the equipment for the journey at 12th of Reaping, Borel arrived… In the ship Lady Ashinka Drusia had promised them! Sleek and freshly painted, the ship was yet unnamed, waiting for the Party to give it a title. But this decision had to wait, for the Party left for the Hallowed Halls. All apart from Althea, who did not trust Uratha.

As the rest of the party hiked in the cliffs of the Weeping Mountains, soaking in the sights, they came across a grave threat: A troll that attempted to ambush them in the narrow path on the cliff! But thanks to Dulkan’s recollections of the legends surrounding the creatures, the Party knew of the dangerous brute’s weakness: Fire. Wielding his torch, Dulkan suppressed the creature’s regenerative abilities while Borel and Carric hacked and blasted at it. It was ultimately Carric’s staff that dazed the creature long enough for Borel to light it on fire and scattering its ashes in the wind.

Severely injured, the Party arrived to the solitary tower that hosted the Watchers, a group of old dragonborn who kept watch in the mountains for trouble. The only one left was Tiax, who allowed the Party to rest at his fireplace. On the next morning, the 13th of Reaping, the Party requested permission to enter the Halls to search for answers. They received it and left to find the Tomb of Salaris. Eventually they found a solitary tomb, sporting a massive stone door with ornamental keyholes. Thanks to Borel’s might, the Party entered the tomb, which was eventually revealed to be a vault. Evading the dangers within, the Party found several wondrous and worrisome objects. The lure of Ochrana was too great and the Party took everything: Magical boots, sporting skeletal motifs that completely silenced footsteps on all ground. A grand cloak that transformed into wings for the user that bore a suspicious resemblance to the great fan the Party had found earlier. The Mountain Carver, a legendary sword blessed by Ochrana. An obsidian statue of a demon. A bag of gold crowns bearing the image of old and now-forgotten dragons. And Catalogue of Demons, the book they were searching for.

With these windfalls the Party returned back to Kolmhaag on the 14th of Reaping to plan their next move…

Secrets of Kiln
13th Session

On the morning of 7th of Reaping, Dulkan and Althea were reunited with Carric, who had ridden with haste from Duskport. The sorcerer had spent a few more moments consulting with the sorceress Yagasha about her time in Kolmhaag. Carric learned much troubling knowledge, but for the sake of Dulkan’s mind, decided to not share his findings. Borel had left the previous night to report back to Duskport and bring a group of Dragon Knights to secure the road.

After a quick breakfast the Party departed for Kolmhaag, hoping to reach the city by noon. They travelled the northern road, intending to ask the goat farmers about the situation in the city. In the nearest farm they found curious refugees: Merchants and other people who were doing well. They told their tale: During the first week of Sunburst the merchant guild suddenly started talking about relocating their wealth and operations from Kolmhaag. This idea had been shot down by the military side of the Kiln house, and tensions had been steadily rising. As the situation began to be hostile and even the local temple of Ashanti was invaded, the refugees had decided to take initiative and leave.

Without fresher information, the Party continued. As they approached Goat Town, Kolmhaag’s poorest district, Dulkan disguised himself to avoid being seen. The feeling in the city was oppressive: Armed mercenaries were guarding the shopkeepers, while the town guards were nowhere in sight. The Party even came across a group of thugs assaulting a man, almost in full view into the street. Deciding to intervene, the Party intimidated the thugs off and discovered that the man was Hayk, a local petty burglar that Dulkan knew. Hayk relayed the grim tidings of Kolmhaag.

After the Party had visited Kolmhaag to secure a boat to Duskport, the different branches of the Kiln house had been frightened: If Khariss was dead, what did it mean for the curse of Kiln? Was the house, and the city, doomed now? The merchants, realizing this, vocalized that they should take their wealth far from Kolmhaag in order to avoid the fall. The Chamberlain wanted to avoid anyone leaving and thus completing the curse’s implications, and pressed everyone to keep together.

Then Uratha arrived and intense speculations began. The curse’s existence slipped through and mutated into cult activity. Common folk became upset with the nobility’s indecisiveness and dark rumours and they started protesting. Uratha, fearful of having rioting in the streets, clamped down and sent guards to disperse the crowds. As the rumours of curses and dark magics fortified, the clerics of Ashanti demanded an audience and investigations. These too were deflected with force, and the clerics of Ashanti were arrested from their temple.

Now the situation had grown unbearable. People were frightened and wanted to leave. The nobles with most wealth on the line took to their ships. The rest of the Kilns, fearful of the knowledge of their curse escaping, pressed Uratha to sink the ships with flaming ballistas. This sparked open rebellion. The miners retreated underground and shut the tunnel entrances, the craftsmen and merchants bought mercenaries to threaten Uratha and the army, and the town guard enacted martial law.

And now, the guards had retreated to the fortress and shut themselves in. The rest of the nobles besieged Uratha’s fortress. The question why had eluded Hayk, and now, the Party. Knowing that the answer lay in the fortress, they decided to sneak in. Using Carric’s spells, they climbed Medrion’s Mast and got in the fortress without trouble. Then, wanting to know the answers, Dulkan walked to the nearest guard and demanded to see Uratha.

The guards led the party near the Main Hall, where Uratha had gone to perform an important matter. While Dulkan’s presence was important, the fearful guards dared not disturb Uratha’s meeting. Dulkan was well aware that they could incapacitate the guards and barge in. Yet, remembering the times he had been headstrong and broken rules, Dulkan decided not to. He allowed himself and the Party to be detained nearby for a moment and wait for Uratha to finish his task.

This was a mistake. A costly mistake.

Uratha emerged with two sages in tow. The jovial dragonborn noble was grim, a man who had made the greatest mistake of his life. Uratha took the party to a private balcony, where they could see the city. And then he revealed the most closely guarded secret of the Kiln family: The source of the curse.

After the Age of War, Kolmhaag was in ruins and was threatening to disappear into obscurity. But the first Kilns had a plan. They had come to possession of piles of knowledge from their opponents in the war: Demons. The Kilns contacted Beligandir, a powerful demon with whom they made a pact: For the price of regularly sacrificing a Kiln child to the ruling Dragon, the demons would ensure the Kilns would flourish. A mark would appear to mark the sacrifice. Seeing this as a good trade, the Kilns agreed. The curse was born. Not wanting to sacrifice their own blood, the Kilns started adopting other races into the house. Kolmhaag flourished.

But the death of Khariss changed everything. The pact, no longer being able to be fulfilled, unraveled. The Kilns started pulling their extended house apart. Uratha, in a moment of desperation, decided to contact the demons again. This idea was not well received and the other branches attempted to stop Uratha by force. He cast the ritual and beseeched the demons to forge a new pact. This one was deviously simple… For the price of a portal somewhere far away, in a place that would not affect Kolmhaag, the demons would bring unity back to the city. Staring into the fiery eyes of Beligandir and knowing that the gates were being broken as they spoke, Uratha agreed. The demon had disappeared in a flash, and as the magical connection broke, so did the caster of the ritual: Edessa.

As the dragonborn noble spoke, magical fires began peppering Kolmhaag, causing chaos and panic. The Party was horrified of Uratha’s choice, blaming and threatening him. But the fact that raining demonfire was most likely killing his enemies and opponents stayed Althea’s and Dulkan’s hand. Instead, they armed themselves with the silver weapons from Kiln’s contingency room and knowledge from their demonology books, while Uratha sent his troops to secure the city and aid the citizens.

The fires stopped as suddenly as they had began, leaving dead townsfolk and burning houses behind. Later on the party would find out that the fires had indeed killed off most of the dissenting Kilns, leaving only one person in command: Lord Uratha. Seeing as they couldn’t help the sad situation of Kolmhaag, the Party turned their attention to the future: The portal Beligandir was clearly coveting would take time to build, and it would require a spellcaster to complete. Since Lord Uratha would need to provide it, that left the party with few options: Prevent the portal from being completed, but that might just require another one to be built. Of course, allowing the portal to be completed would finish the pact, but then they would probably face an entire demonic invasion force…

Another way would be to summon Beligandir and slay him to put an end to the pact. This, however, would not be easy, as Beligandir is a powerful and old demon. Another, more direct would be to kill Uratha to destroy the pact. But would the good nature of the heroes to allow this to happen?

Nontheless, they would need to find Edessa. Her disappearance could have been, as the party hoped, a mishap from her wild magical talents, or it could have been Beligandir taking his prize already. Nontheless, they would have to search for her. But as she could be anywhere in the realm, it seemed to be a hopeless task…

Home Sweet Kolmhaag
Slightly updated edition

Welcome to Kolmhaag! I can spot newcomers when I see them, oh yes. Such a fine carriage you have. And the lady’s scales shine so pretty today. I might be just a human but I know a beauty, dragonborn no matter.

Ah, but where have my manners gone? Allow me to introduce: My name’s Hayk. Yep. Hayk’s the name and business is my game. And the good sir and madam? Oh! Otteril, yes I know the Otteries, who wouldn’t? Such a respected and widely spread family, famous for the boots and silverware… Spice trade? Yes, that too! But we can discuss later, one businessman to another. And businesswoman, why not! Now you must be hungry, sir and madam Otter, and I know just the place. Over there, see? Keller’s Inn, very classy joint. I was just about to go in there myself. Please, I insist.

Nice, isn’t it? I recommend the wines, all excellent across the board, but not local, of course. Goat’s milk cheese goes well with them. And trout’s in season. Don’t know, maybe you have a finer taste. You’re coming from Duskport, right? Well, you’ll learn that here in Kolmhaag we do things a bit different. It’s very friendly around here, see. We don’t fuss much about who doffs his cap to who and all that. Except the soldiers, of course. The lord of this place is a jolly nice fellow, Uratha Kiln he’s called. Yep, we all know each other here. He’s always saying good mornings to me when I pass by, and I say good mornings back. A bit different from Duskport, right? But that’s how we like it.

So, what brings you to our neighbourhood? Are you staying for long? Because I know an excellent place to bunk. It’s the Dreaming Dragon up on Fifth Street. Simply luxurious, great view. Best in town. And tell Golbert that I recommended it. He’s the owner, a good friend of mine. Send Hayk’s regards to Golbert, will you?

Aah, that’s the stuff. Let me pour you another one. Now, sir Otter, do you know any peoples here? ’Cause in Kolmhaag we have all sorts. Got a rainbow of dragonborns, got humans, elfs, half-elfs, two-thirds-elfs, enough dwarfs to hollow out the whole Weeping Mountains. Got many many craftsmen, smiths, jewellers… Oh! That reminds me. The grief!

My dear aunt passed away just recently, so I inherit her belongings, me being her favourite nephew. I got me this lovely necklace, pure gold, look. Ah, but I am pulled two ways. It reminds me of her so much it hurts. But it’s better to let go of the past, right? To get over the sobs. You understand. So, to ease my soul, I would part with this exquisite piece for the nominal sum of six hundred wings. Make it five and a half. No? It’s fine Kolmhaag workmanship, would make a nice memento of your visit. What about this… oh crikey…

I thought I dropped something under the table. My mistake! By the way, if you good sir and madam spot a tall, hook-nosed man in a green cape and maybe a feathery cap, let me know. It’s best to avoid him. He’s not very nice mannered, you see. Going already? Well, it was a pleasure. Remember to put a good for Hayk at the Dreaming Dragon!

Are you the Otharils? You are welcome at my hearth. Dwimbor, at your service. I’ve been sent to look for you on Kathria’s request. I can take you to her office in the Guild Hall, but you would have to wait since she is quite busy at this hour. She suggested that I could show you around our city to pass the time, if you don’t mind a bit of walking. Is that acceptable? Good! Let us get going, then.

The city of Kolmhaag is built on a difficult slope. Space has not been wasted: most of the houses here are partly sunken into the mountainside, so they sit under the streets. As a matter fact, we really have only one main street, which winds up like a snake to the fortress, and it is broken into segments. This is the First Street, or more colloquially the First Climb. You can imagine what the rest are called. Actually, they used to be named after heroes of ancient times, but people these days find the old names too hard on their tongues. Hrmph! At least we still have statues of them on the squares where the main street turns. They were once outposts, the squares I mean, as you must have noticed on your way here. The walls still stand.

The road gets steeper here for a good fifty paces. You see why drivers don’t like these ways. We dwarves have made ourselves our own alleys that tunnel into the cliff at one level, turn slowly, and then come out a bit higher. They work excellently for carriages, being steady and smooth, but some find them too dark for their liking. Here is an entrance to one of them. They all have a strong portcullis like this, open for all during the day. On the other hand, if you happen to be in a hurry, and if you are sure of foot, you can find stairs connecting the numbered streets here and there between the houses.

Here we are at the First Square, and there’s old Achnasshthrima. Now, if you would please follow me, we could get a better view of the city from that tower at the corner. By Cruxis, it is a sound work of masonry, though it may appear to be in disrepair in your eyes. An ancestor of mine laid the stones of its stairwell, actually. I come from a long line of builders, and my son carries on the tradition. The daughter sculpts.

I hope the climb was not too hard on your legs, madam. Hold on to your scarf, sir. We get quite vicious winds here. What? You have to speak louder. It’s the Howling Wall that likes to join every conversation. But this is nothing. You should hear it in the winter! Heh heh.

That down there? Yes, you are correct. That is indeed the Ballast House. It has the foundations of a small castle, the rest is new. It is quite likely that large blocks were needed elsewhere, so the old fort was dismantled. After all, an islet in the middle of the river is hardly worth castellating when we have the Wall to protect us. The house you see now may look ostentatious on the outside, but in my expert opinion, it is quite ordinary in other aspects. You can find the same brickwork all around Duskport. No-one lives there now.

There’s the Guild Hall, and a mighty fine work of architecture it is. The south-facing arch of the main entrance is on the Second Climb, but the hull extends over the Third and Fourth as well, both of which go through the building like tunnels. That’s where the best wares are sold.

Next to the Guild Hall is the Miners’ Lodge, though you can’t quite see it from here. Pity I cannot show the mines to you. The most ingenious engineering solutions can be found there, underground. Great care has been taken to ensure the structural stability of the whole mountainside with all our tunnelworks under it.

That tower there looking west on that tall crag we call Medrion’s Mast, if we ever have cause to talk about it. Medrion was an elvish architect, a genius some say, whose talent, or quirk rather, was designing structures in the most inconvenient of places. His offering to Kolmhaag is competent, as demonstrations of skill go, and he has emulated our style of masonry quite admirably, but for some silly artistic reason, the connecting arch bridge lacks railings. How fortunate that we have no use for it! Some brave fool keeps going there, though.

Looking over there, you can barely spy the top of the east-facing watchtower on the other side of the Howling Wall, and it is much more practical in nature than its western counterpart, as you might guess. In Zathare’s time it was repurposed as a lavatory tower for those living in the fortress. It’s not a palace, the abode of the Kilns.

Now that the smoke from Skalkon’s furnaces is blown off, we may actually observe some parts of the fortress itself. It is enclosed by three nested curtain walls. The outmost one is the newest, built at the very end of the Age of War, and you can see that it is more advanced in style with the engaged shafts and the turrets with their sharp spires. The houses beyond it are residential, and the gate is invariably open. The city was allowed to expand inside the walls about three centuries ago.

The two other walls are closer in character to the fortress. The blocks are good and thick, though cut a tad carelessly in places, and they relied too much on mortar, as you can deduce for yourselves from the repairs there and there. But those were tumultuous times. Not enough Dwimbors for every job. Beyond the barbican rises the Lord’s Keep, which exemplifies an intermediate style between those of the inner walls and the outer wall; make note of the dimensions of the quoins. But! Let the relatively late date of the building not surprise you, since there is also the Old Keep, the most ancient and dare I say the best building in the whole of Kolmhaag. It cannot be viewed from here, but I can tell you it is much simpler than the Lord’s, and all the more sturdy for it. Huge ashlar pieces of granite in a precise rectangular plan. That’s where the Kiln coat of arms gets its charge, and a mighty fine symbol it is. I have been to the Old Keep five times, actually!

That place? Madam has sharp eyes. That little hut is Ilse’s home. She made it herself. I admire her strength, but her building skills are, well… I suppose the construction protects her from the elements sufficiently. Up there she must face the coldest of winds.

Now, we could go down and continue to examine the architectural niceties from up close, if you so wish.

Greetings at last! I apologize for the long wait, but these past days it has been all “Kathria, do this! Kathria, do that!” We are in the middle of preparing a substantial shipment to Duskport and beyond, and a proportional contingent of soldiers has been dispatched to sail with it. Someone apparently thought that I have the expertise to organize it all. Where’s that Order of the what-was-it-again when we need it? Ha ha ha!

So, my friend Dwimbor showed you around. I hope you found it interesting. I told him not to get carried away, which is what he tends to do when he gets the chance to talk about stones. To be frank, I personally find some of those old buildings oppressively grim. But at least our Guild Hall has this sumptuous parlour.

Have you eaten? Or found a lodging? No, don’t go to the Dreaming Dragon. Ah, I see! You must have met Hayk. I should have warned you about people like him. Humans do indeed have a good standing in our community, but don’t drop your guard. I would recommend that you stay at Keller’s Inn. Oh, but if that’s where Hayk peddles his aunt’s items these days, then we’ll find something else. Leave it to me.

He is a sorry case, Hayk. He used to be a member of the locksmiths’ guild until about two years ago, and he was very talented at his work, I can tell you. But he lost the trust of his masters and was expelled for life. Now he tries to make a profit any way he can. He owes money and favours to all sorts of people, mostly the wrong ones. I’d say it’s only a matter of time before he gets in trouble with the law.

But we do have decent citizens here as well. You should pay a visit to captain Faugenar, an elderly greenscale from the southern isles. His wife’s family is from here, and they live in the big house on the Second Square. Faugenar used to have his own trading vessel, but as far as I know, he hasn’t been to the seas for decades. I’m sure he would appreciate your company and your seafaring stories. A word of warning, though: he can get cranky. Don’t even mention the Baron or his policies or he’ll switch to sailor’s cant, if you take my meaning. In other respects he can be a very charming man, in his own way. I could write a letter of introduction on your behalf.

Oh, I almost forgot. The family tree you sent me, I gave it to an acquaintance of mine for evaluation, but I have not received a word from her yet. But if it is true that you are descended from… whomever it was that you suspected you were, then I’m sure you could get an audience with the Lord. He is quite approachable, believe me, and has even adopted two humans as his own children. You might see Edessa on the streets, she’s about twenty, and Dulkan is a year younger. You’ll know them by their signet rings, but without them, they could be mistaken for youths of our own class. So keep your eyes open.

And another point to keep in mind: ownership of the Ballast House has been fought over for years by the Brasks and the Charxes. Both families have entreated the Lord with desperately contorted arguments to support their claims to it. He has not auctioned off the place for fear of causing bad blood and possibly even driving one of the families out of Kolmhaag. So if you were to win the property, you would certainly feel the acid and fire of those two clans on you. That’s the risk you have to consider. But if you’re not daunted by them or their schemes, then go for it. Let the Wall howl, as we say. The Kilns respect many old traditions, and they might very well warm to your appeal, assuming you are right about your lineage.

Maybe you should pay a visit to Belelien yourselves. She’s the one who has been researching your family history. On our guild records, she is a bookbinder, but we do not get enough calls for her to maintain a workspace here in the Hall. Besides, she’s quite shy and sensitive, maybe because of her half-elf blood. She prefers the company of her precious books, and her cats. I hear that the Lord is paying her a comfortable wage for copying the most worn-out tomes of his library. I tell you she’s quite the lorekeeper, but being so demure, she tends to keep her lore to herself, except when she meets someone who shares the same antiquarian passions. Belelien if anyone can help you with your case.

Do you know Garnet Street? It connects to the Sixth Square. Her house is there. It is the yellow one that droops forward slightly, with the withered flowers on the sills. There’s a plaque on the door saying “Go away, please”, but knock anyway. And if she pretends not to be home, try again after dark when she has to light candles and can’t hide.

Who are you? Otharils, yes, I remember! Come in, quick. Oh, blast. There goes Inkypaws. Well, Inky knows his ways around the town.

Come through here. Don’t touch that pile, it’s unstable. Apologies for the mess. Ahem. Don’t bother jumping over the papers, they’re nothing important.

Now, sit you there. Shoo, Crampy! I’ve done some mining on that family tree of yours. Where did I put it? Where, where, where… Oh, what’s this? Looks like bilberry pie. Do you want a slice? Madam? More for me, then. But maybe later.

Otharil, Otharil… Rhymes with Magantharil. That’s it! I put it in Magantharil’s High Dragonic Grammar as a bookmark on page 893. One moment.

Oomph! Here it is. Look at the spine of this beast. They don’t make them like this anymore, with all those little curvy ornaments. Go ahead, touch it! Magnificent. Anyway, to the matter at hand.

Hold this letter, sir. Now then, let us take a look at the genealogy. What, the letter, you mean? I think it’s just a standing invitation for you both to meet the Lord at any time in his castle. But your lineage here, very interesting indeed.

This one, Sir Audran Otharil, your ancestor. If I remember correctly, and naturally I do, the same name appears in the list of retainers of Lord Nesh, who founded the Order of the Dragon’s Eye at the Great Conclave for the purpose of protecting the transportation of riches from the reopened mines. Lord Nesh was a great appreciator and patron of the literary arts. Not many know this, but it is him we must thank for the preservation of the classics of the thirteen great Kolmhaag bards: Zorilish, Zorasshper, Murn of Tarn Vale, Nebdimea the Feytongue, Hestil…

Hmm? The Ballast House? Yes, yes, there is indeed a connection. The Dragon’s Eye was headquartered where the Ballast House now stands. Well, it was called by that name back then too, the little fort in the Haag. To be precise, one of the treaties written at the Great Conclave grants ownership of the house to the grand master of the Order. But the ancient texts like to play games with us. You see, the Order disappears mysteriously from the records by the time of the Second Conclave. Infuriating, isn’t it? But also quite titillating, hmm hmm hmm… You can find a copy of the treaty in the Kiln archives.

This is also on loan from there. Get a whiff of these pages! Mmmh! I can’t get enough of the smell. Those rusty fungal blooms, just intoxicating. Oh, hello. Does Lacuna want a sniff too?

Anyway. See this entry? I think we can deduce a tenuous but thrilling link here between Sir Audran and the Order. Of course, to prove that you are the descendants of the grand master would require more than… What’s that? Oh, is it… Well, rumble my roof! The medallion, you say. Wait, I think I have a description of the grand master’s medallion somewhere. Ah! It’s in the Lesser Chronicle of the Domains, the one with the blue covers, 452 pages of fine vellum, five maps and an appendix by Yend the Elder. I just finished copying and binding it. Ask the Lord, he knows.

Wait, I didn’t mean that you should leave just yet. There’s more to this family tree of yours. Firstly, it appears that you are distantly related to the natural philosopher Voonix. Have you heard of him? He wrote and illustrated an incisive tractate on the effects of coastal proximity on various… Blast, I know that knock. One moment, excuse me.

You again, eh? Yes, yes, just hand over the book and I’ll fix it when I have the time. Goodbye. No, one more thing. Would you like to show these two guests to the castle? They have an invitation from the Lord.

Or maybe we could continue our analysis of the family tree? Very well, as you wish. This young man can show you the way.

Good evening. So you have a meeting with the Lord? Hmm… I see. Sounds like family matters. We are expecting him to return by sundown.

Is something wrong with my hand? Just a little scratch on the knuckles. Oh, the ring! Yes, I am Dulkan. Lord Uratha is my father. I always forget to introduce myself, I am so accustomed to being known to all here in my hometown. Pleasure to meet you both. Are you two siblings? I thought so.

A happy coincidence that I came to Belelien while you were there. She, on the other hand, is not at all happy to see me, I would hazard to guess. This past year I have been studying certain books and scrolls from our archives, but they have the troublesome tendency of disintegrating at my touch. Belelien is putting them back together for me as I break them. She even copies some. Think of the drudgery!

Have you been to Kolmhaag before? Well, do you know anyone in here, in addition to Beli? Kathria… She is one of the administrators of the Guild Hall, the goldscale, is she not? You have a valuable contact. She knows absolutely everyone around here.

Would you like to take this shortcut? No, nevermind. The lady’s garment… We’ll take the long way by the main streets. We could borrow horses from the barracks if you prefer.

Where was I? Oh, yes. I too am acquainted with a whole panoply of persons here in our city, and not merely the usual sycophants that orbit around us nobles. Indeed, I sometimes wonder what exactly makes me a noble. Is it this ring? Strange.

Did you say you’re merchants? Well, I suppose I somehow intuited it, then. Spice trade, ooh. So do you have your own fleet of ships? How exciting! I myself am at all times besieged by mountains. I think I quite like this rough terrain, though. I sense a promise of adventure in these surroundings as I watch the far horizons from a high place. But the seas must have that same quality as well. Isn’t it so? When one embarks on a long voyage to some distant land… Actually, I was born at the southern coast, and though I remember very little of my first years, the image of a sapphire blue sea and bright sails in the offing is something I treasure. I think I would make an able sailor.

We do have one sea captain here in Kolmhaag, but he is retired. A spirited gentleman who walks with crutches made of oars. I would like to hear his stories, but I’ve never had the courage to ask. And then there’s Ilse Windsbride, an old mercenary from the far north, a human who lives alone high up in the mountain and rarely comes down to the city. I was told that she has settled here because Kolmhaag somehow reminds her of her home. She would have quite a tale to tell also, I’m sure, though it might not be one to warm the heart. I have never heard her utter anything other than “food” and “firewood”.

How’s it digging, Kroll? Could you give us horses? We’re not in the mood for hiking. Thanks. Remember we can have our sparring tomorrow. No, actually make that the day after. I have a special class with ol’ Skalky. We’re banging out some bucklers. Easy as the maelstrom defence, heh heh… See you then.

That was Krollus, a close colleague. He’s going to become a soldier in a year. And a commander or an adjutant before long by my prediction. He’s obsessed about the army, even knows the oath by heart already. Also, you might be interested to know that Krollus comes from the esteemed Brask family of jewel merchants. Very considerate of them to let their son pursue his own path, wouldn’t you agree? Not everyone is suited for the trades, and some of us feel a calling for the red and white.

You can see the ineradicable traces of our warlike past all around you. Ours is a bloody history…

The slumber of the dust in tombs of men
is undisturb’d by Time, the worldly rush.
Yet songs that chime as steel can bring again
to life the lords who caus’d the Haag to blush.

So penned one of our bards. The Lords of Kolmhaag have held the title of high commander of the armed forces, even in our time. I am an initiate of the combat arts as well, which you must have gathered already. This rapier is not a showpiece. However, the Lord is of the opinion that the primary purpose of my training is the development of virtuous character as opposed to practical prowess. Hmm… who knows.

No, you’re right. We do not see much actual fighting. It is the miners, the craftsmen and the merchants who are busiest here, which is certainly a welcome state of affairs. But life can be dull for us military types. Even our fighting sports can get tiresome when the opponent is always the same. A while ago I learned a few amusing card games. A funny fellow called Hayk instructed me, but somehow I kept losing my money. Uratha wasn’t happy when he found out.

But enough of that. Tell me, apart from Kathria and Belelien, have you been introduced to anyone else? Dwimbor, you mean the builder? Yes, I know him, though not personally. That little garden over there is his creation, along with the walkway that leads to it. There’s even a channel there bringing water from a streamlet higher up in the mountain. Very clever. Rainpearl used to plant her flowers and herbs in all kinds of odd locations until Uratha decided to give her that place as a gift, so as to put her activities to use. She’s some kind of an idiot savant when it comes to plants and their cultivation. If there is a way to make a seed sprout and take root in this climate, Rainpearl can find it.

She also has a singular insight into the divines, I think. She once told me that the sun is Mishra. I then politely reminded her that, though we may use the sun-eye as Mishra’s symbol, this does not mean that the sun actually is the same thing as the divinity herself. But Rainpearl had another point of view. She answered that, for the little green plants, Mishra is anything that makes them grow. Now that is something to contemplate!

Evening, Junt and Jass. These guests are with me.

Now, I am all ears, what is your impression of the city of Kolmhaag?

Dark Omens
12th Session

On the 5th of Reaping, the Party once again reconvened. They laid plans and prepared, with Dulkan and Borel bonding. Dulkan had faced his own judgement and was still shaken by the experience. Carric had important matters to attend and was unavailable for the journey.

The next day the Party left, taking fast horses and travelling east. After half a day’s of riding, they stopped at Riverbank. There they brought more accurate information to dispel the rumors and speculation surrounding the change of power in Duskport. They paid for their visit in gold crowns, spreading the message that the gleaming gold coins were now mere currency, not trophies for Khariss. Despite Dulkan’s eagerness to return to his erstwhile home, they remained the night, at Althea’s insistence.

The 7th of Reaping the Party rode to the Golden Caravan. As they approached, they saw horses and heard laughter coming from the inn. Eager to rest, the Party dismounted, but a nagging feeling about the inn, along with a character who ran in after seeing them, stayed their hand. Dulkan peered in the window and saw a group of tough-looking ruffians. Seeing this, handful of them came outside and accosted the heroes to come in. Althea, wary of the situation, decided to remain outside as Borel and Dulkan went fearlessly in.

The nature of the group quickly became apparent, as the inn was in a dire shape and two fearful girls were acting as servants. Borel used his size and fame to rescue one of them outside while Dulkan sat surrounded. Outside, the thugs demanding Althea’s luggage bit more than they could chew as the bard’s patience wore thin. Magical songs tore through the air, tossing the thugs aside and mesmerizing them where they stood. Borel, after securing the prisoner, rushed back in and took his ax to the bandits. Dulkan made short work of the remaining ones. Only one tried to escape but was foiled by Borel’s relentless speed. The entire scene was over in scant moments.

After a short interrogation which was cut short by the freed girl’s dagger point to her captor’s throat, the Party had learned that all law had ceased in Kolmhaag, with the nobles and guilds grabbing power and the town guard pulling back to the fortress. The unfortunate women had tried to escape from the city before it fell prey to bandits and outlaws.

Knowing this, the Party was even more resolved to find out what had happened. Still, it was still a long way to Kolmhaag, so they decided to rest overnight and travel on the morrow of the following day.

The Ordeal

The shadows of the city were about to sharpen, and the last fishing vessel was weighing anchor in the distance when a grey-cowled figure emerged from the fog of the expired night. The acolyte halted at the gate of Palace Drusia. A yawning watchman, summoned by the bell, gave a perfunctory inspection of the visitor and the document he presented, one of many that he held at his side. Entrance was granted without a word.

The courtyard lay silent and empty, and the acolyte took his position near the middle, standing there like a statue to proclaim his arrival. His presence was eventually brought to the attention of another of the same order, who then descended down from the guest quarters and made her exit to the court. They unhooded themselves as a kind of greeting, revealing young and gaunt dragonborn faces.

“He is awake. The fees have been settled. Nothing else to report,” said the woman who had come from inside.

“Good,” the other stated and pondered for a moment whether there was anything else to discuss. There was not, so they parted ways, he towards the door that was held ajar by a servant, she to the gate.

A comment about the misty weather or some such morning topic would have broken the uncomfortable silence, but the servant maid at the door dared not open her mouth. She must have already become accustomed to the reticent demeanour that the grey robe entailed. They ascended a wide staircase and came into a corridor illuminated by candles in simple golden fixtures.

“There, sir,” she said, pointing to one of the doors. It was marked by an amulet hanging from the handle.

A slight inclination of the man’s head sent the maid away. At the door he pocketed the heavy chain bearing the torch-with-hilt pendant, and thinking that the rattle so caused was as good as a knock, he entered.

The person inside rose from his writing desk but was gestured to sit down.

“I am acolyte Prax. I have been appointed your water bearer.”

“Dulkan,” responded the tenant of the room. He appeared slightly nervous and pale.

“Yes, I know.” The acolyte dropped his papers on the table and selected a particular scroll, which he began to cite. “Dulkan Kiln. Son of Uratha Kiln, Lord of Kolmhaag. Identity verified with documents of adoption, no signet ring. Confesses the murder of a guard on the tenth of Sunburst in the Kiln residence in Duskport. No accusations raised by the master of the household. Subject requests, first, formal court procedure in accordance with temple law and, second, the right to the Ordeal of Iron and Fire. Signed two days ago, on the third of Reaping.”

The speaker did not wait for an interjection. “I have done the necessary investigations regarding the case, though it is not usually within my purview. The victim’s name was Grev, son of Greshk. You requested this information also, I was told.”

Dulkan turned to the text he had been writing and completed a blank space with the name.

Prax took note of it. “A written account is not binding without your seal. A judicator shall take an oral confession.”

“Oh, I understand that,” Dulkan said. “This is merely something personal. I do not expect any favours.”

“Good. You shall receive none as the Pandects cannot be amended.” Prax studied his client with a long look. “You have fasted for a day and a night?”

“I have, on water, excepting the draught prepared by the other one, Zella. That was yesterday.”

The acolyte then picked up a black book from the table. “You have studied the catechism? The language is not too abstruse for you?”

“I have perused the relevant pages, yes, and memorized the formula. The style is quite clear, actually.”

“Indeed. Ashanti’s word requires no exegesis. And you understand the principle of virtuous endurance? And the conditions of honourable and dishonourable termination of the ordeal?”

“Yes, I think so. And I do not suffer from any physical ailments that would affect the matter. I am ready.”

Prax paused to evaluate the answer and the tone of its utterance. “Very well. In that case I can recommend that you should be put to the ordeal. All arrangements for the proceedings have been made, and another party has offered to cover the fees, which — apart from wergild — amount to one thousand silver wings.”

Dulkan could not suppress a cough-like exclamation. “I have powerful friends, it seems,” he muttered to himself.

The acolyte put the book down, letting its metal clasps make their noise. “Cast aside any pride you might feel over your associates and their material influence. Know that the ordeal is one of our most fundamental sacraments, and when you undertake it, you bow before the Divine Dominator alone. So turn your thoughts inward and humble yourself, if you wish to pass.”

Dulkan ruminated on the words with a furrowed brow. “And if I pass, I will go in peace?”

“Subject, this is what you must understand,” Prax began. “The incandescent power of Ashanti can reveal the truth of what you are. Ask no more. If you seek absolution, you must turn to the Lord of Kolmhaag. If you seek validation for your act, search your own conscience.”

The city was already welling with people when Dulkan and his escort joined the throng on foot. The mist had cleared, but the streets were now pulsing with unusually knotty veins of traffic, so the dust raised in their wake made the scene almost as clouded as it had been at dawn. Something momentous had taken place. Everyone could feel it.

As they came to Destrier’s Walk, Dulkan felt grateful there had been no chains, and that no armed guards had been ordered to hold him by the elbows. Thus he was spared the suspicious looks and pointing fingers. Face after face ignored him since he was dressed quite plainly and carried no weapons. None had an inkling that here walked the very man who had sunken his steel in the Baron’s heart only a few days before. And yet he was now being taken to the temple of Ashanti over the death of someone whose renown, or notoriety, was even smaller than his own. The irony might have been worth a grin, but not for Dulkan himself, and not on that day.

Turning to the sunlit Long Shadow Street they were suddenly showered with flower petals: two elf girls were singing and dancing and throwing around their floral confetti from wicker baskets. Dulkan brushed off a few from his hair, while Prax somehow managed to avoid the indignifying adornments entirely. Further on they came across a clique of human children who were kicking a ball along and chanting something of their own devising. It was a rather morbid couplet: “Red dragon dead, Baron got no head.” They repeated the rhyme expressionless and innocent. Dulkan watched intently as they skipped by, but he could not decide what to think of the little ones and their game.

Borel, the decapitator, had ran off to spill ale in the seaside taverns, his old haunts, or so Dulkan guessed. The barbarian would turn up eventually. Carric had approached Lady Yagasha, attempting to gain admittance to the Marram libraries; Dulkan had not seen the sorcerer since the third of Reaping. Althaea was naturally preoccupied with negotiations, but she was aware of the penitent’s plans and had taken the time to write a compassionate and encouraging letter despite all her entanglements. Dulkan’s thoughts then turned to all the other Duskport acquaintances. He desperately wanted to avoid any encounters.

Fortunately, Scales Avenue was clogged by the colourful coaches of wealthy families. The two pedestrians could slip through without attracting anyone’s attention. Dulkan overheard talk, both excited and anxious, of new mercantile ventures, speculative opportunities, fears of looting and unrest, and of how “everything was about to collapse”. In front of a grand portico, spanning the width of the street, rows of wagons were being loaded with crates, cloth-enveloped chandeliers and gilded furniture. And at the crossing of Trade Street were two guard officers arguing, apparently trying to determine who exactly was in charge and whose mandate had been rescinded. Nearby a haggard, drunken bard was contributing to the cacophony, with the belly of a passed out dwarf as his footstool. Both wore the servant attire of house Marram.

At last they came to Sundial Square, where the monumental edifice of Ashanti’s temple covered the northern side. Everything appeared to be in order, and a cavalry company in shimmering plate mail paraded the new flag of Dusk Coast. The event elicited unending cheers from the windows of the surrounding residences.

“We are expected,” Prax pointed out to Dulkan, who lingered at the steps of the temple, unwilling to miss the last glimpse of the parade before it turned out of sight.

“Lead on.”

The acolyte guided his client through the narthex where a great thurible was swung. They dragged faint swirls of incense in their train as they passed to the nave, a cavernous space flanked with cyclopean colonnades under a dim clerestory. Behind the columns were recesses along the aisles, and Dulkan followed the other towards one of them. He softened his stepping as he became mindful of the irreverent clack of his boots against the massive stone tiles. The sounds, his own and those from unseen origins, reverberated through the vastness of the temple, leaving the air darkly susurrous.

Passing a travel-worn paladin and his squire, they stopped at a wooden balustrade that separated the aisle from the semicircular alcove on the other side. A case was in process: at the foot of a tall bench squirmed a burly human on his knees, his mouth gagged, hands tied, and a pair of guards holding him in place. Silver mirrors and lamps high above reflected light on the shoulders of the accused.

A gruff voice from the shadows was passing sentence: “Five hundred silver wings as compensation to the offended party and six hundred silver wings to the temple for contempt of court, both sums to be paid by the end of Shedding on pain of four days in the stocks. Does the subject have anything else to say?”

“He does not,” responded an acolyte on her clients behalf. The judicator’s mallet struck with sparks, and Dulkan caught a glimpse of the deep-sunken eyes of a dusky brass dragonborn.

The guards dragged the struggling convict out, leaving the clergy to write the necessary records. Before long Dulkan was called. He walked into the shaft of light and kneeled. From his position, the figure crouching above was obscured by the front of his bench, so Dulkan was forced to stare at a parament and the emblem of Ashanti embroidered on it. Prax exchanged scrolls with another acolyte and then came to stand behind Dulkan.

Someone spoke a monotonous litany: “Confessional examination of subject Dulkan Kiln is commenced. Illustrious hierarch Taleon presides as judicator.”

Parchments rustled, and then the gruff voice began its questioning. “Is the subject verily Dulkan Kiln, son of Lord Uratha Kiln?”

“He is,” Prax answered.

“And does the subject acknowledge that, in the absence of any civil litigation against him by the offended party, temple law shall be enforced?”

“He does.”

Dulkan followed the dialogue with some confusion.

The harsh barking continued. “Do you submit yourself to the authority of the Sacred and Most Ancient Law of Ashanti and accept it as absolute and infallible?”

Prax tapped Dulkan on his shoulder. “I do,” the latter answered with a dry throat.

More rustling of parchments. “Now,” began the judicator, “on the tenth of Sunburst of the current year, you committed the murder of one Grev, son of Greshk, who was serving as a guard in a house owned by Lord Uratha Kiln. Secondarily, you eluded arrest and withheld information of your direct involvement in the aforementioned event from temple authorities until the third of Reaping. Do you confess these acts?”

“I do.”

“Was the primary act necessitated by self-defence?”

Dulkan gave some thought to the question, although he knew the answer. “It was not.”

“Was the primary act committed to defend another, or were the circumstances of an extenuating nature in any regard?”

Dulkan hesitated and turned to Prax, who bent down to hear the whispered question. “I thought that my liberty was at risk and that the guard’s intent to take me captive was unjustified, in a moral sense. Do such considerations have any weight?”

Prax shook his head. “Not under temple law.”

Dulkan then replied sullenly: “There were no… extenuating circumstances.”

“And is the subject of sound mind and therefore fully cognizant of the criminality of his act, to wit, the deliberate violation of sections 35, 291 and 292 of the Pandects?”

“He is,” Prax said.

Then a masked cleric dressed in black habiliments came to the kneeling examinee and presented two objects, viced in long tongs as one would handle animal carcasses. Dulkan knew the items well.

“Do you recognize the exhibited articles as the mortiferous implement and its accompanying scabbard?” the judicator asked.

“I do.”

“Do you hold these articles to be unclean and abhorrent in your sight, and therefore do you willingly relinquish possession of them and offer them to be cleansed in flames?”

Again Dulkan felt the tap of Prax’s claw. “I do,” he responded at last. The rapier and scabbard were promptly taken away.

The judicator then rushed on. “The law finds the subject guilty on all accounts. Does the subject demand the right to the Ordeal of Iron and Fire?”

“He does.”

Rustling and creaking. Dulkan could feel the deep-set eyes of his judge peering down at him over the bench, but he could not look to make sure. This lasted for a dozen heartbeats. Or a dozen rapid lashes, as Dulkan imagined them.

“Does the water bearer deem the subject fit for the ordeal?” Taleon’s bark had lost some of its grimness.

“I do,” Prax said, laying his hand on Dulkan’s head.

“It is granted.” Taleon struck his mallet.

I have come.

Dulkan now stood in the hypogeal sanctum where the ritual was to be performed. It was a round room below the temple, coarsely hewn in the rock by unknown hands, a memory of an era lost to written history. At its centre, upon an irregular dais, rested a brazier of bronze spewing white fire and light at the dome. An oculus drained the odourless smoke.

There were two portals into the vault. A trail of wet footprints came from the antechamber where Dulkan had washed himself. Through the opposite entrance arrived six others, all stoic dragonborn. First, three senior hierarchs assumed their watchful positions around the room. Then came Prax, holding in his arms a bowl of water, and once more he took his place behind Dulkan. The fifth was a sacristan bearing the ceremonial brand: a blackened iron rod with a crossguard and a pommel at one end. He approached the fire.

Last came an aged female, short of frame and walking with a stick. Here was the truthseer, as Dulkan knew she was called. He could detect some of that same forbidding quality in her mien as in the others, but there was more to her. Not charm or sympathy, but perhaps a vague note of wisdom beyond the ordinary.

She gave the signal. Dulkan began the rite. “I have come.”

“Where have you come?” the truthseer asked.

“To the presence of the Divine Dominator.”

“What is your name?”


“What do you seek?”

“The truth.”

“Where is the truth?”

“In His fire.”

“How are you to take it?”

“With iron.”

“Then come.”

They walked to the dais. Dulkan stretched out his right arm, palm upwards. The sacristan placed the hilt of the iron rod there and the other end down to the bottom of the brazier. The truthseer clutched Dulkan’s wrist in a firm grip and gazed up into him. The ordeal had begun.

Behold the loyal subject. That is what I am to you, am I not? And you can sense my thoughts, my inner words. So be it. I reveal myself, and seeing you I have a looking glass before me, a mirror of my mind.

Slowly the warmth of the fire was beginning to rise up the iron hilt. It was quite bearable. The truthseer betrayed no emotion.

I have borne pains and faced perils before. You shall see the extent of my commitment. And my courage. Yes. Our age needs champions who have the strength to make sacrifices, and in time our work shall bear fruit to all. Are you not impressed? Outside this temple, this very morning, a new flag was waved. And I was there fighting for it, fighting against the autocratic Baron. Do you see fear in me? You shall not find it.

The truthseer’s expression was passive, waiting. The warmth was intensifying.

Any pain on my hand is merely a sensation of the body. And though a soldier’s body is strong, his will must be stronger. I shall endure and so prove my mettle. Let it come! The heat is a higher judge than any judicator up on his bench, his eyes on the books of dead authors. Do you not agree?

Dulkan took a deep breath.

See? I have the fortitude. Physical suffering, hah! I had to end the life of a guard. One of my own family. A necessary evil. And now I am here. Had I not done so, I would have been taken away. Then I could not have fought the Baron. And yet I feel guilt. Can you see it? Can you see the regret? It burns more painfully than this iron.

The truthseer’s grip tightened.

More? My hand is yours. This sword hand. You wish it burnt? To mark a murderer? No. It has its use. I need it. The future of our domain…

For a moment Dulkan’s could not think clearly. The truthseeker shook his arm, and the hilt shifted its place. Now a reddened band could be seen across the palm where the iron had been. Dulkan pursed his lips.

I could wrench my hand free. You know it. And yet I choose not to. What more do you wish to see? I bow before Ashanti. Is this not it? Then why have I come here? What is the purpose?

The truthseer was now inspecting Dulkan’s face with great keenness and anticipation. She seemed to be conveying something with the intensity of her focus, as if urging Dulkan on.

The truth?

Dulkan let his thoughts melt into a torrent of fragmentary, wordless conceptions. The night of the tenth, climbing up the wall to the roof. The guard’s threatening stance. Both move their mouths. Must meet Vulkan. Idiot servant. Idiotic orders. Pride. Heart pounding. The sword is drawn. Desperation. Blood drips from the wound. Head feels light. Panic and shame. Vulkan would avert his eyes. Why did it happen?

The ideas grew even more abstract, distilled by the pain into form-defying essences. Uratha. Kolmhaag. Lectures on the Kiln virtues. Polite smiles of the people. Playing children. Acting out scenes from heroic sagas: “Die, traitor!” Must go inside at once. His lordship’s command. Musty tomes in High Dragonic? Rather tales by the fireside. And sparring with Vulkan, wise old friend. Oh, to ride out one day. With Edessa.

Freedom, the Age of Splendour — boy’s daydreams. The fight, the escape — grotesque games. That was all there was to it.

“You have the truth.” She released her grip.

The iron clanked against the brazier edge as it was dropped. Dulkan turned and splashed his tortured, blistered hand into his companion’s receptacle, gasping and groaning, not caring if the ceremonial atmosphere was to be maintained or not. For him it was over, at last.

He turned his palm in the cool water, while Prax eyed him over in silence. Once the searing agony relented sufficiently, Dulkan could open his eyes and observe the acolyte: still stern as ever, and showing no especial concern, and nonetheless something had changed. But was it a change in Prax, or…

Now I know.


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