Rise of the Runelords VA

Razan's Account, the Seventh
Apologies and Apathies

While in that town I mentioned, there was a giant attack. They came for slaves and food and brought with them a red dragon. I come to loathe the beasts – giants and dragons – more each passing day. Of course, we could not leave the kidnapped to their their fate, so we set off after. This went as well as things always do for us.

Feh! This place infects me with cynicism. Or perhaps it is these people.

We were unable to catch our quarry. Our horses could not make up for the longer legs of the enemy. (What I would not have given for a fine Qadiran steed!) Along the road we ran into another raiding party and here, perhaps, is where part of my foul outlook set in.

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Syphacia and Mallisun #8
Syphacia and Mallisun in a Barren Place

Syphacia focused her senses across the barren plateau, searching beneath the violet canvas of evening sky for some sign of life. She found what she was looking for in the sound of dirt being moved by tiny claws, beneath the roots of a lopsided scrub bush.

“There,” she said to Mallisun, crooking a finger outward, “Beyond the rocks. There’s a mole rabbit digging under that bush.”

Mallisun’s ears rotated to confirm the sound. He listened a moment, then turned his attention elsewhere. There was a kind of sardonic laziness in his thoughts as he pictured a perched owl on a rock outcrop a thousand yards out.

Nightbird, he thought across their link.

Syphacia frowned, “That’s a little obvious, don’t you think?”

His tail flicked in irritation, Your turn.

She took a breath and raised her chin, turning her attention again to the arid plain. As high as they were on the Storval Plateau, there was little to see, and less to comment on. She supposed the vistas between the mountains were nice, but there was little vegetation here, and hardly any life that could subsist on it. What little fauna they had come across thus far had seemed eager enough to kill them. She doubted it would get much better before it got much worse.

The elf spotted a shadow slithering between piles of wind-worn boulders, “There’s a Dustsnake—must be ten feet long. Probably good eating.”

She had added the last bit to invite Mallisun’s stomach into their game, but the cat was too irritated with her to take the bait. Knowing it was his turn, the firepelt raised his head a tad, let out a weary breath, and then laid it back down. He pictured the owl again, Nightbird.

Syphacia mussed the shaggy hair on the back of his neck, “You know you can’t use the same one twice.”

Mallisun grumbled discontent, then turned an ear behind him. He pictured Redgar scribbling in his journal, Dwarf.

Syphacia sighed. She couldn’t blame Mallisun really, the scratching sound of Redgar’s quill could have been a knife in her ear. At least he wasn’t speaking at the moment, which was more than she could say for Aramil and Jaden as they huddled together on the far side of the lean-to. She wondered sometimes if they knew how much of their conversations she overheard even when they spoke in whispers. Callistria’s devotees certainly had imagination on their side—some of their sweet nothings were enough to make even Syphacia blush.

She shook her head in resignation. It had been easier when her companions had slept through the night. Now—thanks to rings of sustenance from Piotr—they were almost always moving, talking, making distracting noises and spoiling the stillness of the night. With their constant stirrings at her back, watch duty had gone from a thankful respite to a loathsome chore.

Behind her she heard Piotr muttering spellwords to himself, Coram swallowing from a wineskin, and Razan measuring long breaths as she meditated. She got the feeling now and then that all five her companions would rather be screaming at each other. But they had found out the price for errant words two days ago when they had been ambushed by a Giant warband. The experience had not been a pleasant one.

Mallisun leaned into her, Tired.

Her expression softened for her companion, “I know baby.”

Hungry, he added. The ring Syphacia wore did not seem to extend its nourishing powers to Mallisun. Of their party, he was the only one who retained the need to eat and drink normally. Redgar had offered to make food and water for Mallisun, but thus far Syphaica had been able to convince the dwarf that it wasn’t necessary. Honestly, she just didn’t want another fight when Mallisun turned his nose up at the offering.

“I’ll find you something tomorrow morning,” she assured the cat. She thought for a moment, then searched her belt pouch for a piece of pork jerky she had purchased in Ravenmoor. Syphacia offered the morsel to her cat, “Until then you can have this.”

Mallisun took the jerky and chewed it with gusto. The smacking sounds of his feline lips would have been disgusting if they hadn’t been so cute.

Don’t like it here, Mallisun thought as he swallowed the meat.

“I know Mal,” Syphacia agreed with a tender caress.

Want to go home, the big cat added petulantly.

Syphacia let her ears turn well beyond the camp, off to distant cries and songs from guttural voices. Even at the distance of more than a mile, the rhythms of Giant drums and ogre chants were distinct on the night breeze. There were thousands of them to be counted—thousands of enemies to take arms and stand in their way.

“Soon”, she answered the cat, “We’ll go home soon.”

They both knew it was a lie.

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Aramil the whatever

Well, here we are into the belly of the enemy. Exposed to the elements, hiding from giant birds, it’s just damned unnerving. And I can’t even allow Jaden’s charms help distract me from the situation. I am just too upset about my father to enjoy the arms of another person.
My magic continues to grow. More spells, and my magic has more effect. Did you see that giant get sucked into the Plane of Shadow? That made the whole trip seem worth it.
Razan is still a pain in my arse. I wish she realized how much Jaden and I respect and admire her, even if we don’t agree with some of her philosophies. But she is so hostile. I wish she could have a relationship like Regdar and Jaden. They are both clerics, of gods of very different alignments. But they seem to get along fine. And what’s wrong with that?

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Coram's Thoughts (#15)
Probably NOT #15, but it's time to number them.

So much has happened recently that it's hard to keep straight. It is, actually, almost overwhelming to me. It makes me want to go bck and drink, almost anyway. But, despite what my companions think, much of my excessive drinking seems to be behind me.

 Upon returning to Magnamar, I found a mesage from my father. He wished to train me in some newer paths of merging fighting and magic. I agreed and have now learned the new techniques he wished to teach me. I find my spell-casting to be more limited than before, which in some ways worries me. However, I have been fortunate enough to learn some other new abilities, which I hope will help keep me alive. 

To whit: I returned to Sandpoint for the Swallowtail festival again. True to form, some other distaster erupted while we were there.  Has it really only been a year? It seems like so much longer.  It must be my companions.  Regardless, the town was beseiged by giants, bears, and a dragon. We managed to survive, but family members and town residents were captured. It was decided we would pursue the giants. After a few distractions along the way, including an almost fatal encounter at some stairs, we have ended up at their fortress.

I have a strange feling that I've seen this before. A fortress with giant type people occupying it.  Hopefully this time we will not find any of "Mamy"'s kin here. They were revolting. After much arguing over how to proceed, Redgar prayed to Torag and found a cave entrance below a cliff.  We will now endeavor to enter the cave and enter the fortress from below. One hopes this will go better than the last time we tried such a thing, but I'm doubtful. 

 As usual, our party bickers constantly. Surprisingly, even Redgar and Syphaccia do not seem to be getting along as well as usual. Part of me is amused by it, but part of me fears it will lead to our deaths.  Well, I've died twice before, so I don't really see the harm in doing so again. 

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From the Journal of Redgar Ironhand #20
Redgar Considers the Merits of Apology

The events of our recent days has made it difficult to keep a current journal, as we’ve spent as many hours as we can during the day on horseback and on our feet, moving as quickly as possible across the Varsian interior to the Storval plateau. It seems that even our best pace was not enough to catch the abductors of Aramil’s father. They have moved up the Storval Stairs and into the fortress of Jorgenfist, with our party trailing haplessly several days behind them.

Along the way we found Ogre barbarians on a mission of loot and plunder, and at the stairs themselves we found a trap waiting to be sprung. We fought our way through both of these challenges, as well as an ambush that came during the night. Our enemies’ power is great, but for the moment it seems we have the advantage. Our enemies still do not know that we have come for them. With Torag’s guidance, they will not know until it is too late.

Now in the shadow of their fortress, I wish I could say that our party shares a unity of purpose on this mission, but sadly, we do not. Syphacia drifts further and further from us, while Piotr adds only pessimistic barbs. Aramil worries constantly, and Coram antagonizes wherever he can. And then there is Razan, the one I have come to count on most.

She is a worshiper of the sun goddess, which makes her brave and bold, often to a fault. I know why she acts the way she does, even if I do not agree with her, even if she seems to contradict herself from one moment to the next. I do not begrudge Razan her differences from me.

But I do not understand why she must be so willful, so contrary, even when she knows my intentions are good. So I say a harsh word to an unfriendly guard at a closed door, so what? What business is it of hers to lecture me on the proper decorum and the merits of selflessness? I have been nothing but selfless in my devotion to this quest and its goals. And now, just now, when I have something real to fight for, this is when she chooses to see my flaws. This is when she chooses to act impulsively, as if choosing her death to be my lesson.

I known I am not perfect. I know I can be gruff, ill-tempered, or even rude. These are faults I ask others to accept even as I work to correct them within myself. I ask only for the same understanding I extend to others. I ask only that they afford me the leniency I have them for their many faults and misgivings. Why is that so much to ask?

My mother told me once that the point of an apology is not to admit you’re wrong. That certainly can be part of it, but it is not all, for often you will find yourself apologizing for things that are not your fault or are not under your control. No, an apology is about showing that you care about the person you’re apologizing to. You offer them your respect and deference, and hopefully they find comfort in it.

An apology is not always an easy thing for a dwarf to find. But sometimes it is necessary…and sometimes it is right. I apologized to Razan for my rashness at Ravenmoor. I hope she can accept it. Of my companions, I feel she is closest to me in my understanding of right, wrong, and all that lies in between. It would be a terrible thing indeed for a few gruff words of an impertinent dwarf to drive her to an early death.

The journey up to the Storval plateau has not been an easy one, but we’ve made it. The fortress of Jorgenfist is now within sight, and Torag has given me a vision that will lead us to a secret entrance behind the fortresses’ defenses. Now all that remains is to find a way to defeat the one named Mokmurian. It will not be an easy task, that is sure, but it is one I know we can accomplish together. I ask Torag to give me the wisdom to bring us together and see it done.

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Aramil's journal II
Aramil's journal

I am standing in the darkened, now empty house that my father lived in. It is eerily quiet even in the morning hours after such a devastating raid. It feels like it should be night, with all the burning and pillaging that took place. I am exhausted, having cast almost all my magic and my contingency spells to get some advantage on the hordes that face us.

Father? Where are you? How could you let this happen to yourself? And am I strong enough to save you and Regdar’s father. I am exhausted and I have had no sleep. And mother, why aren’t you here? Why did you leave us alone. You had magical power in your bloodline and maybe who knows.

Callistria I doubt you will give me any comfort in such musings. But you do offer the greatest comfort right now: revenge.

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Syphacia and Mallisun #7
Syphacia after the Second Battle of Sandpoint

Syphacia stood perfectly still in front of the ruined building, purposely slowing her heart and calming her breaths. Her eyes closed, and for a moment the world was gone.
Then, sound by sound, an image of her surroundings returned. A smoldering fire crackled in the rubble on her right. Men shouted and heaved as they dragged buckets of water up from the docks. A horse whinnied as its owner coaxed it with a whip to pull away a felled beam from another ruin. Every sound cast a thousand echoes, and every echo built puzzle pieces into a sightless picture. Syphacia turned these extraneous noises away to interrogate the ruins before her. She focused her senses and…

A voice spoke from beside her, “Can you hear anything?”

She pursed her lips with frustration, “Not without silence.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“Quiet,” Syphacia growled. Beside her, Mallisun echoed her tone with his own deep voice.

Syphacia scolded the cat over their mental link, That goes for you too.

Mallisun swallowed the rumble in his throat.

Syphacia settled her breaths again, focused…

…and heard it—a whisper of a human voice. Her eyes snapped open. She strode confidently into the rubble.

The wreckage of the house beneath her had been felled by a boulder tossed through the upper floor. The stone had splintered the main support beneath the roof, and without it the structure had folded in on itself like a house of cards. The man beside her had told Syphacia that there were two children on the upper floor when the building fell. It could have been a child’s voice that she has heard.

Sypahcia knelt amidst the splintered pinewood framing and put one ear down to the ruin. She listened, she waited, until the voice returned. It was closer now. She turned to the gathered crowd.

“They’re here.”

The men and women of Sandpoint came forward eagerly to help, hoisting shovels and prybars to move the rubble aside. Syphacia directed them as they pulled the structure apart, lifting and pulling herself where it would help. Mallisun returned to her side to assist as best he could, sometimes slinking in beneath a fallen plank or door to lift it across his back. With all of their efforts together the ruins of the collapsed building quickly peeled back like an opening flower.

As a team of men lifted what remained of the attic trestle, Syphacia slipped underneath to where she had heard the child’s voice. She found a gray-faced boy there, his legs trapped beneath the weight of a crushed armoire.

The boy’s eyes remained unfocused as she said softly, “It’s okay now.”

There were tears at the boy’s eyes and blood at his mouth. He couldn’t seem to find words to reply to her.

The attic framing was thrown away with a final heave, and others joined her at the boy’s side. Syphacia directed them to lift the armoire away, adding, “Do it slowly, he’s pinned beneath it.”

Two men, a woman, and Mallisun moved together to lift the broken cabinet. As the pressure let up from the boy’s legs, he began to scream. Syphacia was quick to comfort him, saying, “It’s alright, it’s alright. I know it hurts. Drink this.”

Syphacia produced an elegant crystal flask from a pouch at her hip and poured it carefully between the boy’s lips. The ice blue liquid glittered as a trickle leaked from the corner of his mouth, cleaning the blood and grime away where it touched. The magic liquid had similar effects inside of him, and within moments the bones in his legs were repairing themselves before her eyes.

A woman with dirt and tears at her cheeks pushed Syphacia aside to embrace the boy, her breaths choking in her throat as she pulled him tight into her bosom. Syphacia stood back to let them embrace, her chin puckering slightly as she fought to control her expression. It had been a long day, and even Syphacia was beginning to feel the emotional burden of the battle’s toll.

A worry-eyed man came to face her, “What about the other boy, Jason? Where is he?”

Syphacia shook her head, “I didn’t hear him.”

“He was in the house,” the man insisted.

“I didn’t hear him,” Syphacia repeated somberly.

The woman was wailing now as she held her injured son. Her cries crescendoed and fell like notes of a piercing symphony.

The stricken man looked to the others around him, “Keep digging, he must be here. He was upstairs when the boulder hit. He was—”

Mallisun’s voice was a dull throb in the back of Syphacia’s mind, He’s here.

She turned, and saw Mallisun pawing at the side of a felled beam. Syphacia rushed to join him, and soon there were four others helping her to lift the obstruction away.

They found Jason’s tiny body crushed beneath it.

The boy’s father collapsed to weep. A second man fell to join him and a third moved up to stand by their sides. Syphcia stepped away as their despair manifested in seething marches of bitter tears.

She walked away with her eyes downcast, past a gaggle of villagers trying to right an overturned ox cart. The six of them together did not have the strength of the Giant that had overturned it. It was no wonder that the town’s defenses had folded so easily, and no surprise that so many had lost their lives in the chaos that followed. Syphacia had heard that the town’s sheriff was counted among the dead. She was sad for that—he had been one of the more sensible of them.

Ahead of her the roads came together, and what remained of Sandpoint’s temple stood charred and broken against the azure sky. The red dragon’s fire had burned away the building’s roof, leaving the stone walls to stand alone with nothing but cinders within.

In the yard before the temple were dozens of bodies covered with plain white sheets. Soon the child they had found would be among them, waiting for burial and internment behind the ruin. Syphacia wondered vacantly if there would be enough room in the town’s tiny cemetery—the same cemetery where her friend Emmalyn had been laid to rest. She wondered if Emmalyn’s spirit would be weeping this day.

She turned from this miserable thought, and found herself facing something even more abhorrent to her. They were the bodies of two dire bears and a great wolf, warbeasts brought by the Giants to aid in their attack. All three had been charred by magical fire, and then had been crushed and maimed by the combined attacks of her allies. All had arrows standing out from their battered hides— her arrows. Syphacia made herself go closer to retrieve them.

She drew out the arrows with a practiced hand, grasping close to the wound to keep the arrowheads from slipping off in the flesh. As she pulled the arrow points free, the beasts’ blood stained her hands an ominous crimson, and tainted her clothes with the smell of death. Usually she had no need to be so close. Not this day.

“They died for nothing,” Syphacia said aloud, her tone brittle and sharp.

They died for their masters, Mallisun countered.

This brought a scowl to Syphacia’s lips, “Only a fiend would send an animal to die in their place.”

But I would die for you.

Syphacia looked down at the cat. The firepelt’s golden eyes were wide with concern. His tail swished to and fro with fast, nervous jerks.

Her expression softened, “You know I would never ask that of you.”

You won’t have to.

Syphacia knelt down to Mallisun and touched his chin with one slender hand. Her voice became firm, “Mallisun, if I ever fall in battle, you are to run. You are to escape. You will not die for me. Do you understand?”

The firepelt’s thought tingled with defiance, I will die as I like.

“You will do as I say Mallisun,” Syphacia ordered sternly.

No.

Syphacia pursed her lips. She wanted to be furious with the cat, but she couldn’t find her anger. Through their link she could feel his fear for her, his concern, his desire to protect—all the stubborn emotions that came from deep love. In this, Mallisun’s thoughts were perfect mirrors for her own feelings. She knew then that neither of them would ever give in.

Syphacia cursed softly as she reached out to scratch at his neck. She shook her head in surrender, “Cats…”

He bumped against her with the crown of his furry head, Elves

Syphacia stood, and again surveyed the death and destruction that had come to Sandpoint. She said resolutely, “Mal, I swear we’ll punish the ones who did this.”

Yes we will, Mallisun agreed.

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From the Journal of Redgar Ironhand #19
Redgar reflects after the Second Battle of Sandpoint

I anticipated that my return to Sandpoint would be a welcome respite from my worries for my father and the implications of his capture. I had hoped for a few days of peace and a renewing of friendships before returning the matter at hand. Our enemy had other intentions.

Syphacia, Piotr, and I found our way back to Sandpoint without difficulty, though we had to hurry from Althea’s birthday celebration to make it in time for the Swallowtail festival. We arrived on the eve of the festival, and were glad to be reacquainted with Coram, Aramil, and Razan. It seemed that they had been busy in our months apart, as Aramil returned with new robes and a new hanger on, and Razan in shining new armor. Aramil’s new friend seemed pleasant enough, if strangely clingy…but he’s cleric of Calistria, I suppose that’s natural in their temples. For her part, Razan seemed genuinely happy to see us, but perhaps that was because Magnimar had suited her so poorly. I certainly can sympathize there. Coram perhaps was the only one who seemed more or less his old self, minus his voice. They say a frog in your throat can be the gods’ punishment for a loose tongue. I wonder then how Coram has avoided laryngitis as long as he has.

I said some words to Emmalyn when it became dark, and then went to bed with the knowledge I would face Norah in the morning. I woke up in good spirits, and headed down to the hagfish to take the fish’s challenge. I thought for sure I would have it this time, but the slime Norah had passed for me that night was even fouler than usual. I fear my poor showing may have cost several in the audience the gold they had bet on my success.

That was when the enemy arrived. We heard crashing, and we ran to help. We found a thing of nightmares.

Until this day, I had not seen a stone giant myself. I had heard stories—stories of great, slow-moving dullards with moss growing across their backs. They are not well spoken of in the halls of Janderhoff, but neither are they cursed as are their cousins in the hills or the frost giants in the northern mountains. It was then with some surprise that I found myself summoning the aid of Torag to drive their warriors back. Between the giants and the dire pets, it was not an easy fight.

We killed seven of their number before we were set upon by a new evil, a red dragon descended from above. We faced the beast to protect the town and landed several telling blows, but the dragon was not foolish enough to let us pin him down. Before he was badly injured, the dragon took back to wing, and fled away with his Giant allies. We saved many innocents from death, but several were killed, the town was set afire, and dozens were kidnapped. Among them was Aramil’s father.

I interrogated one of the Giants after the attack, and for a promise of protection from further harm, he revealed to me the name of their villainous leader—Mokmurian. The Giant said that Mokmurian was building an army in Jorgenfist, and that my father was one among their slaves. It is good to know he lives still, even if it is in toil. I will see him again.

Tomorrow we will begin after them. With luck and perseverance, we may be able to intercept the Giant warband before they make it back to Jorgenfist. Whether we do or not, our path is one that will take us to the enemy and force a confrontation between us. These Giants think they know me and my bloodline. Ha. I think they will be surprised at what I can do.

The enemies of my father have come to us, and we have driven them back. Sandpoint has paid the price as our battlefield, and I have done what I can for those who have lost. I must admit that I feel some nagging guilt, a voice that says that somehow I led this evil to Sandpoint’s gates. This poor town has seen so much tragedy already. I pray that with our enemy’s defeat they will see no more.

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Razan's Account, the Sixth
First Winter

I wish I could scold you, brother, for not warning me of Kateb’s coming to look for me. But since the caravan also brought me your letters, I can hardly blame you for the surprise, can I? Especially as you also are receiving this with all the letters I have written before, and months after I got to read yours.

It was wonderful to hear your tales of home and family. Things go on there as they always have, neh? Through your familiar script, I felt the warmth of the sands again. Warmth, it must be added, that was more welcome than you could know. I do not recommend this western winter, brother. And snow! By my Lady’s light, it is a wretched thing. Avoid the experience if you can. No fire was warm enough.

Kateb found me as I approached the caravan to purchase the delivery of my letters. He is still a scoundrel, as I’m sure you know. But I can’t say that his taste fails him. He brought me a lovely gift. It almost made me feel badly for my brusqueness when his appearance surprised me. I was not, I admit, very gracious to him in those first few moments. I tried to make up for it in the days following and he in return gave fair prices for the things we took from the fallen ogres.

My companions… they vex me. I am uncertain what to do. I traveled with the elf and his half-blood cousin to Magnimar after we finally escaped the frozen Turtleback Ferry. They worship their whore goddess still. And worse, Aramil is recruiting from her cursed church. I fail to understand how I can face a wretched stone giant king and be thwarted by interpersonal relationships. I have yet to figure out a solution, but I will continue to work on the problem.

I must go now. I have been volunteering my time at the church here and have a few things to do before we leave for a small town called Sandpoint in a few days time. Until my next letter…

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Aramil's musings

Well, things have certainly worked out well. We had a miserable winter in Fort Rannick. Nothing to do, no hotties to hit on, it just sucked.

I was so excited when the snows melted and we were able to get to Magmnimar. Magnimar, fabled city of lost monuments. I LOVE it there. I mean, what’s not to love? A wizard’s guild, a temple to Callistria, amazing inns, deluxe rooms to sleep in with beds (double beds, mind you), privy’s, sometimes even a desk!

And to top it all off, I found love. True love. At one of Callistria’s gatherings, sandwhiched between that foppish boy, the elven bard, and the half-elf bellydancer. Love at first sight and a whirlwind romance. Of course, I want this to be an open relationship, just as Callistria would want it. I hope he understands this by now.

And I know I say this a lot, but I have power, real power now. The spells I learned at the Guild are just incredible. It sobers me when I think of the power and the grave responsibility which comes with it, as my master said. Only Piotr (blast him anyhow) and Regdar understand this. I am now a Wizard of the Arcane Order and I have responsibilities now.

And to top it off I arrived at Sandpoint early and got to spend a few days with my dad. I got to stay in Ameiko’s inn too, which is always a pleasure.

Here’s to the festival.

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