I have begun to consider the possibility that those we follow don’t know us very well. Or perhaps it is just that we do not know ourselves very well.
I would write that the trip to Norsoon was uneventful, but it would be a great oak of a lie. We left Alaspar and had no trouble on the road till I walked into the inn at Haurndel and was preceded by the tip of a sword. It felt like my heart had been broken again, and it was – then the real pain came, quick and unexpected as a good joke. I knew blackness before the pain drove me mad, and was happy for it.
[This short paragraph has been alternately scratched out and blotted with ink and is unreadable.]
And yet I awoke. There were soon familiar faces around me. Rose had a happy smile, one I hope I will remember. There had been trouble, of course – the whole town was after us. I’ve yet to get a full account, but it seems Rasgo was more upset than I would have expected; he put on some sort of show of his talents. I’d never seen an angry mob before, not a real one – it seems to be a human thing, this unity of purpose and anger. Elves would never stoop so low save in dire need, or war.
They had torches and many men, and so we fled onward. I can only hope they did not destroy their own town looking for us.
Outriders were sent, no doubt the remnants of the towns militia joined by eager townsfolk. I thought we could trick them into thinking we were hunting down the same prey as they were – us. Alas, they were canny enough to see beyond our disguise – but not Baulder’s fist, large as it is. In fear, we maimed or killed them – perhaps we are lucky and they were merely unconscious. It was a bad time, and I do not wish to think on it overlong. We took their horses to ensure they would not pursue. We stepped lightly after that.
Isto seems to have become more comfortable with us, and it is something of a blessing: he slept without mask, and the group saw the face only I had seen before. I find it easier to not shudder at his visage. He has a hard face and malevolent eyes. I still wonder at how he obtained such terrible scaring. But I dare not ask.
Zephyrus was called back. I have no doubt it had something to do with his penchant for enslaving souls inside his mind. I always knew the dwarves were a cruel and uncaring race: even their gods must be terrible to allow such a thing, to accept such a one. It would not surprise me to learn that the dwarf took the direct route back and was strung up by the residents of Haurndel. I must remember to question those we follow; if he was taken by the townspeople, he may have put us all at risk.
Baulder has been quieter than usual of late. This troubles me more than I know how to say. He does seem to be getting along with Isto since the fist-incident; a mixed blessing, I think. If the Elves would let him in, I would bring him to our oldest forests to be at peace and come to terms with all that has happened. As things stand, perhaps I can find a small, pleasant grove somewhere.
Rasgo’s powers grow. Still I know little of his abilities save that they do not come from shaping the magics that flow around us. He brings all manner of things into being, but where does it all come from? I’ve seen him walk away empty-handed only to return bearing a large nest’s worth of vials and potions. He molds vicious winged creatures from nothing. I once saw him float into the air cross-legged, apparently willing himself there through some sort of meditation.
I do not trust these powers of his. And yet Mia, one of my own kind, appears to work power in the same manner. I fear the next great war will be fought with nothing but the mind. I fear the people who will wield such power. I fear the power itself: nature has not purified it; we have not crafted it; even Isto claims to have control of such power. Which surely means that the mask controls it, too.
Rose was taken from us. We’d spent our time in pleasant dalliance after the camp was prepared. I awoke and she was gone. [Several lines are scratched out and blotted at this point, but the paragraph later continues:] We found only a smattering of clues. She was carried away by some flying beast, one from another plane if my guess is right. To go from being the crazed Khanshefal’s sacrifice for power to being devoured or worse by some nameless monstrosity outside our understanding… I grieve for her fate and pray it is not so grim as I fear. And to see Isto wearing her armour beneath his clothes, so soon after…
I have digressed long in speaking on what happened Norsoon. Reading it, I am certain you (whoever you may be) will understand. And so, without delay:
We scouted the town perfunctorily. Our horses were left behind – though I dislike tying the poor beasts to a tree and leaving them; they are curious creatures, and given to boredom, and would likely have wandered far, but our need of them was great. Elmara is gentle, intelligent, and patient; she would not mind a wait so much. The horse I was given in Alaspar has not yet made his name clear, and being raised by humans has no doubt left him mistrustful. Though I do not know him as long as I have known Elmara, he accepts me as a rider. But the two of them alone? Not to mention, all the other horses. I must be careful next time such a situation presents, lest I find myself with more horses than I can care for.
Heaving learned little enough from scouting, we decided to head into town. It was, perhaps, a mistake. From the ground came claws and hands and the stench of death, and we were surrounded. Horrible creatures – terrible mockeries of life – pressed against us with hunger in their eyes. It was much like the caves, goblins everywhere and more coming. But these cursed men did more than keep coming; they would not leave. Though Baulder hewed them down with his heavy blade, whatever magics controlled them soon brought them back up again to grab their own limbs from their bodies and hurl the diseased, blackened, blood-soaked appendages at us.
Amben was there. I know not how she arrived, nor where she has been, but she was hardly minutes behind us. Priests and holy warriors, too, following this Nebuchadnezzer that we keep hearing about. We were thankful to have their help.
Even with it, we had to take reprieve in the church. One of their order was able to keep the rotting dead at bay. We looked over the inside of the church, fearful perhaps that the undead would find a way in unblocked by Delia and her god’s power. We found Alara. She was hanging from some sort of altar, bloody and hurt, and we wasted no time in bringing her down and having the priests tend to her physical wounds. Her emotional wounds must be terrible, but her heritage appears to have lent her great force of will; she was ready to fight the rotting ones and their masters immediately after we all slept, fitful though it was.
Baulder nearly ran off on his own down there. I barely managed to keep up with his enthusiastic pace. He saw what was obviously some sort of magical gauntlet. I tried to warn him from donning it before we’d looked into it, but the words came out of my mouth at about the time that he was fitting the last clasp into place. He’s certainly an explorer, our Baulder.
We sallied out of the church with a plan. Alexander, one of the holy warriors of Nebuchadnezzer, ventured with us and Alara. The plan fell to shreds almost immediately: we were to make straight for where we suspected the cultists responsible for this town’s death were; instead, almost from the beginning, many of us stopped to fight the rotting undead. And that’s when we saw them.
We’d heard their terrible cries. The carcasses of some foul flightless fowl charged us and died again, if it can be called death. That was when I knew there was no hope for the redemption of our enemies. To slay and reanimate with ugly, evil magics the bodies of those who lived, loved, and toiled there was not enough for them; to spread fear and villainy was not enough for them: they mutilated the souls of those innocent animals for their own ends. It was too much. And so, like a mighty oak’s roots will chew through stone, I was set at returning these humans to ash and earth. And so I read a terrible scroll and sent fire at them, and they were embraced by it.
I felt little at such action. I had expected to feel justice; my mind sensed only the chaos of battle, for it was not yet done. They summoned something, or empowered it, or perhaps merely opened a hole to allow such a vile thing to come through. Like a shipwrecked corpse it looked, skin pale and eyes without colour. My friends (and Isto) nearly died to it, and still I do not know what it is. Somehow, we managed to slay it, I think. In any case, it no longer seems alive, naturally or foully. We dealt with the remainder of the cultists in a grim manner, leaving none alive so far as we know. I removed what magics were still intact about them, hoping to study them, and more practically so some child or scavenger does not fall victim to whatever malevolent energies may be contained within. We gathered those townsfolk still alive, herded them to the church, and hope to sleep the night through.
I’ve had an ill omen about the White Lord and his followers since first I had heard of them, only recently. But Alexander was a capable ally in battle today, and it is only through Delia’s efforts that we were able to sleep and replenish ourselves after the terrible fighting of the day. I rest now knowing the townsfolk and ourselves are safe, at least for now.