Pathfinder: Carrion Crown
The Log of Galamir
Letter composed aboard ship on the way to Ill Marsh (written in Elvish)
My dear Glorimina,
I say plainly that I have grown weary of Ustalav. A depressing gloom pervades this haunted land, and my thoughts drift to returning home. Imagine the evil of the Tanglebriar, but dispersed throughout a country and its peoples, and though less concentrated, the sickness now underlies all and cannot be escaped. The games and jests of yesterday with the colorful townsfolk of Thrushmoor and of today with the sailing crew bring only scant moments of respite, mere distractions from the foreboding darkness of tomorrow.
My friend Veremo, an Ustalavian scout, tracker, and no-good bandit – at least in his better days – is now a disciple of Pharasma. Perhaps his guilt over his past deeds led him to that choice, but maybe there is something more about this land. Those who remain in Ustalav seem fated to take one of two paths: a search for enlightenment or a descent into madness. From my experiences in this dreary country, most are on the latter path. Truly, “suspicion, paranoia, and hostility” could be the national motto of Ustalav, and good cheer and good times border on being petty crimes here.
Why does this place weigh on me at all? You know it is not like me to ponder, especially about what the future holds, but I have a sense of impending doom that will not leave me. Perhaps the horrors that I have witnessed and felt here are simply too much for me to ignore this time. Despite the dice, cards, and drink, demonic wolves and unholy spirits whirl in a hellish dance of memories within my mind. I am sorely tempted – complications and all – to return home. Maybe I can restore peace within our family.
I am not alone in feeling the burden of the incessant darkness of Ustalav. My friend Sollen, though a hardy comrade and as good a dwarf as any, has succumbed to the strain. He swears that the local ghost story of a Watcher in the Bay, that this mythical creature is shadowing our ship as we sail for Ill Marsh. He rests little and keeps constant vigil at the ship’s rail, and though his endurance holds, his paranoia grows. Just this morning, he shouted that he could see the beast, beneath the waters, swimming quickly upon us. When we looked for ourselves, we saw naught but fish and birds. I pray we reach land soon and hear no more children’s tales of sea monsters.
More disturbing, however, is the increasingly strange behavior of my companion, Carumati the scholar. Yes, I find her occupation an irritating reminder, but of more concern is her … what best describes it … her intensity, yes, her burning desire to gain the information she seeks, no matter the cost. She appears willing to go to any lengths, and worse, as a human, lacks patience in her approach. Saying her interrogation tactics include premeditated torture may be strong, but the incident in Thrushmoor makes me wonder what else she is capable of doing. I worry that her intensity burns her life away faster than in most humans and that Ustalav and its malaise feeds her inner fire with dark aspirations. What will happen to those around her when the dark fire takes her? Has it already taken her?
As for myself and my other companions, we are elves, and I have little concern that we will retain our sanity in this desolate land. However, I do have grave concern for Ly, who gives the impression of being a wizard of some skill (either she exaggerates or she is not from our homeland, as I do not know of her). Like most wizards – and you know my feelings on the matter – she appears incapable of accomplishing anything of practical value, but rather ponders the importance of her magics while the rest of us get our hands dirty and do the actual work. We do not agree on this, so I will not continue further. To return to the point, my grave concern for Ly arises from her habit of careening from one crisis to another, particularly in her endeavors to obtain a romantic partner.
Alas, poor Ly! In Ascanor Lodge, she spent considerable time with a floppish minor nobleman, who apparently won her over with his delightful conversation, charming personality, and eloquent poetry. None of us understood her infatuation – and in truth, the man was an uncouth bore whose poetry was most wretched. Her new friend, however, encountered some difficulties within the lodge, and they were unable to continue the courtship.
Alas, poor Ly! With a broken heart and barely speaking as if her spirit were elsewhere, she journeyed with us through the Shudderwood and often made solitary excursions, no doubt to grieve over the lost romance. Not until we reached the cursed city of Feldgrau did her spark return. There, she met Karras, one of the Prince’s Wolves awaiting our aid to lift the blight from Feldgrau, and Ly quickly turned her wounded heart toward the werewolf. Unfortunately, the brief but intense affair could not be sustained. Karras needed to return west to the Shudderwood to report our success to his clan leader, and we needed to travel south to continue the quest.
Alas, poor Ly! Another sad parting, another lost romance. As you can see, my fear is that these tragedies could lead Ly to even more desperate measures. In fact, I grew quite alarmed by how she arranged to spend so much time bonding with Sollen in Thrushmoor, on the pretext of needing a bodyguard to scout the more dangerous parts of the city. That naive dwarf was so confused afterward. He would not say so, but his face betrayed the heavy strain burdening his mind – I often caught him concentrating upon Ly’s face with a fixed gaze and an occasional grunt escaping his lips. I do hope my friend avoids being ensnared within the drama that is Ly. Better that he be preoccupied with tales of sea monsters.
Well, my beloved sister, you have heard about all my companions, except for the last … the elvish witch Viska. She plays on my mind, and I worry we know each other somehow. She has not revealed anything, so it may be that I am mistaken – I admit I have no memory for names, faces, places, events, dates, or other such dusty trivia.
Perhaps you will know of her. She has a pet, a large spider, which she carries with her at all times and gives the name Igor. I am not overly fond of vermin, but this one seems tame, and there is a vital bond of some sort between Viska and her pet. (So the answer is, No, I did not stomp upon the creature.) The witch also has a habit of brewing various teas – she has tea on all occasions, another disconcerting habit, but I am becoming partial to her remedies, especially after a late night of carousing. I must say the concoctions are quite effective, and I am tempted to ask for the recipe.
Someone approaches! I hope my letter finds you well!
Letter delivered from Ascanor Lodge (written in Elvish)
My dear Glorimina,
As I warned you, my journey to the north has left me few opportunities to correspond. Have no concern! I write to you now from the comfort of a quaint hunting lodge – a veritable castle by the grim standards of Ustalav – and I am well and whole.
Upon reflection I regret my harsh words at our parting, and I apologize to you, with whom I am closest. You have always understood me best, even when I did not understand myself. More and more, I miss the simple times of ease with you. I look forward to our reunion! One day you shall unexpectedly feel that pinch on your ear – shall it be the left or the right this time? – and you will have to turn and chastise me yet again. Hah, just the memory of you red-faced and glaring frees me from this mawkish mood!
Before I alight too far from the subject, I do have serious news to report, and it being the main reason for my correspondence. I am gravely concerned that I have broken the oath that I swore at our parting. You shall be the judge, and I shall accept your verdict.
Reflecting my natural talent, I have chosen my adventuring comrades wisely, and they are stout and savvy companions to be sure. The stoutest is a dwarf warrior, Sollen of the Shield, and though he be an experienced and doughty solider, he has an astonishing innocence in how to enjoy the sweets that life offers. I have determined that I must help my friend. A dwarf’s life is a lengthy sentence in itself, without also being bereft of life’s rewards.
It would amuse you that my friend Sollen playfully named a horse of mine Galamera! As usual, the resemblance was not altogether unapparent, and I barely refrained from laughing. Please do not tell our long-faced and unfortunately named sister, but this particular beast had the whitest silk of blonde mane, a near perfect match for our sister’s mane. Tragically, I no longer have the horse – twas lost in a minor incident – so you will not be able to see for yourself.
But coming back to my dire issue of contention, you predicted that I would break my oath, and I say, no, I have not. Here is the crux of the situation: I read a book, actually two. BUT! Before you pass judgment, I state in my defense that I was FORCED to read them! I swore that I would never CHOOSE to read another book for the rest of my life (picture books being excepted, of course).
Here I had no choice in the matter, and I will outline my case. Among my companions is a most eccentric and intense scholar of alchemy, a human – how unsurprising – and Carumati (the scholar) in her bizarrely predictable fashion risked her life and limb, as well as that of others in our group (though not myself, as I had the situation well in hand). For what purpose to hazard so much? To acquire the aforementioned books.
Though I understand neither her reasoning nor her methods, I admire her passion. The importance of those books to her and the dire circumstances related to the information within those books gave me no choice. The safety of my companions lay with whatever secrets the books held. With no recourse, I was forced – yes, FORCED – to read them. Adding to my defense, I believe none other than myself could have succeeded in perusing those passages at the necessary moment, so the matter was fated. I say again that I did not break my oath.
P.S. Before you render judgment and lest you think otherwise, I WILL NOT return to my studies, regardless of your decision. You did not say so – for which I am grateful – but I know you think that will happen. The flex of steel and the test of mettle are more suited to my sensibilities.
P.P.S. How are Gramenthal and Glorinthal? Still racing to be first in most serious and most arrogant members of the family? I beg you to hold my communication in confidence from them and the others, but especially them.
Session 1 (continued) and 2: The Harrow of the Past
“Ohhh, hey,” grumbled Galamir, “Would you turn that light off?”
Veremo uttered similar complaints, in reference to the magical light conjured by Algrym the sorceror. The two friends were recovering from a hard bout of ale drinking to pass the time during the carriage ride to Ravengro, and neither appreciated the sudden brightness pressing on their eyelids. Worse, the physical discomfort served as a reminder that they had drained the last of their ale yet still had many miles to travel.
The illumination, however, revealed more clearly the black-cloaked individuals who had joined the ride. Despite the lank and greasy black hair and unhealthy pale skin, the tall man seated in the center had a formidable presence. In contrast, his companions, faces shrouded by the hoods of their cloaks, sat motionless and unresponsive, like inanimate toys taken on a long trip for amusement.
“Entertain me,” the man calmly declared as he coldly surveyed the party.
“Galamir! You said we were out of ale!” howled Veremo, as he watched the golden-haired elf take a swig from an ale flask.
Galamir grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “Here, this is the last of it.” With his good arm, the battered elf passed the flask to his friend seated on the other side of the carriage. Veremo, also sporting fresh bruises and cuts, accepted the refreshment with his good arm. Fittingly, in the fight with the tall man, the two suffered identical injuries: Galamir’s left arm was paralyzed by the necrotic touch of the undead creature, as was Veremo’s right arm.
As the friends drank the last of their ale, they mockingly cheered, “A toast to our patron!”
Carumati stared at them in fascination and disgust, as though she were observing a new species of insect, and looked askance at Viska for clarification. The elf witch rolled her eyes briefly and shook her head in the negative. The learned scholars, Viska, a student of the occult, and Carumati, a student of chemical formulae, found the behavior baffling, and theoretical explanations involving alcohol, possession, and mental deficiency swirled in their minds. Beneath the intellectual surface, though, lurked the notion of big, dumb males.
With a sigh, Viska returned to caring for Bella Sydronus, the young woman the party rescued from the tall man who was revealed to be an undead creature. Two of the man’s traveling companions also turned out to be undead, flesh-eating ghouls, while the third was actually Bella, kidnapped to be his slave. During the party’s attempts to entertain the man earlier in the evening, some in the party heard Bella’s quiet groans of pain and raised enough concern that Algrym, with a deft use of mage hand, lifted the hood away from her face. The gag preventing her from crying out and her disheveled appearance clearly marked her as a prisoner, not a willing companion, of the tall man.
Exposing that secret quickly precipitated the man to grab Bella and flee the carriage with his ghoul minions. The party rescued her and slew the two ghouls, which prompted the man to depart in a rage. Galamir playfully called out, “O mighty patron, what about our fee for the night’s entertainment?” and received a scorching blast that luckily seared only some of his hair, instead of burning him entirely to ash.
Now, back in the carriage, the party was recovering from the fight as they continued their journey to Ravengro. Bella, steadied by her rescue and Viska’s care, drew forth a worn pouch and pulled from it a deck of cards.
“This is the Harrowing Deck,” she explained to Viska. “I will reveal its message to you, and you, in turn, shall reveal its message to each of your companions.”
Bella laid out the cards, face down on the seating between her and Viska, and intoned, “Think of something you love.” She then collected some of the cards and arranged the remaining ones in a new pattern. “Think of something you desire.” Again, Bella collected some cards, and she nodded for Viska to pick up the lone remaining card.
“This deck belonged to my mother and to her mother before her. Now, it is yours.” Gesturing toward the rest of the party, Bella continued, “Reveal their messages as I have done for you.”
With some initial hesitation, Viska repeated the ritual for each member of the party, but as she undertook the task, her skill and confidence grew quickly, as though she and the deck shared a latent connection that suddenly awoke and flourished. By the end, the deck belonged utterly to Viska, the completeness giving the feeling that it had always belonged to her, had always been a part of her.
Galamir frowned at his card. “Queen Mother?!” he thought with mild panic. “This cannot be! Is this an omen? A reminder? A rebuke? What does this mean?”
Galamir looked back and forth between Viska and Bella and finally at Bella, a hopeful expression on his face. “Perhaps there has been a mistake. Perhaps Viska, as fine a companion as there ever was, is not yet sufficiently skilled in the use of this deck, no slight intended. Could we redo the ritual, with you instead? You have greater experience, and I wish for another card, the correct one. This one must be a mistake.”
Bella gently refused the agitated elf. “There is no mistake. She has the skill, and you have the correct card. It was meant to be.”
Galamir brooded momentarily and then reached for his ale flask to rid thoughts of the card from his head. He frowned again. “Meddlesome magic and no ale. The sooner this trip is over, the better.”
Gingerly protecting his damaged hair, the rogue laid down again at the front of the carriage to take another nap.
To be continued …
Session 1: On the Road to Ravengro
“Who knew?” mused Galamir, as his thoughts drifted back to his first and only meeting with Professor Lorrimor.
“Truly unsurprising for the dregs that now occupy Telvurin. The entire lot of those inhabiting the so-called River Kingdoms are simply unfit to survive in more civilized nations. If only Kyonin had the strength to reclaim our ancestral lands … it would be a service to the entire Inner Sea.”
“Hah! Lorrimor was fortunate, as was I, but not so the bandits! The fools,” thought Galamir, as his eyes brightened with merriment.
Despite Lorrimor’s reputation as a scholar, explorer, and teacher, the bandits that captured him were woefully ignorant they had kidnapped a renowned academic, not a wealthy merchant, traveling through the chaotic River Kingdoms.
The bandits were none too smart and could not figure out why no one in the area appeared to miss the scholar. Sensing an opportunity, Galamir began negotiating with the bandits on behalf of a fake party seeking Lorrimor’s return. After diverting a bandit here, waylaying another there, when each attempted to convey ransom demands, Galamir engaged the others in drinking and gambling at their camp, before stealthily freeing the scholar. Lorrimor’s gratitude was effusive, but Galamir felt rewarded more than enough by the adventure, as well as the gold lifted from the bandits. Still, Lorrimor promised that he would never forget Galamir, and apparently he named Galamir in his will.
As he travels to Ravengro for the funeral, Galamir is convinced that he will inherit something valuable as thanks for saving Lorrimor from an untimely demise.
“Bless the man! It’s so uncommon to find a proper gentleman among the lesser peoples. I shall toast to his honor whilst I spend his wealth!”
Speaking aloud, Galamir barked over the din of the carriage, “Veremo, my friend! Where is the ale? Have you any left?”
As Veremo good-naturedly searched for a flask to share, Galamir glanced at his traveling companions. All were called to Lorrimor’s funeral and now shared the carriage on the road to Ravengro. The two humans, Carumati and Algrym, were like many of their kind in Galamir’s estimation … serious and studious, perhaps overly so and driven by ambition or insecurity or both, a natural consequence of a short life. “Humans,” internally sighed Galamir, “do not know who they are until too late.”
As Galamir lounged at the head of the carriage, his eyes strayed toward the elf woman, Viska. She had a familiar look, as if he should know her, but Galamir brushed away the thought. “She is a right attractive elven maiden, and I am far from my homeland. The heart plays tricks on the mind.”
“Galamir!” shouted Veremo. “We have no ale, we drank it all!”
“Then we must resupply ourselves at the soonest opportunity,” cheerfully replied Galamir. “Traveling goes faster with a belly full of drink! Or with a long nap!”
The elf stretched out across the front of the carriage to lie down, and he flipped his long, platinum blonde hair away from his shoulders, as he placed his head upon his cloak. Seemingly moments later, the carriage hit a hole in the road, and awakened by the jolt, Galamir realized he was no longer at the head of the carriage. He was now leaning against one side of the carriage and sitting next to Viska.
Four new individuals occupied the front seating, although one on the end was actually sitting next to Galamir on his side of the carriage. They all wore black cloaks, with hoods drawn over their faces, except for the tall man at the center of the new group. His pale, angular face could be clearly seen, and upon the breast of his cloak was a stylized letter A.
To be continued …