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Letter #11: Part One: This Nucleus of Destruction

Updated: May 27, 2021

My Dearest Maria,

Perhaps I should put in place a series of events should my demise come earlier than anticipated. I would not call it untimely, for I’m sure my passing is overdue. Each day hence forth from that day in Ashwood has been a day borrowed from Fate and the Gods. It seems that I may be running on a double allowance now; and when my debt is called to be paid it shall be an even heftier price than afore.

The cresting first sun’s radiance of aureate that gilded the sky with its brilliance; the soft, cool air of early morning that rested on dew covered laurels of grass and dirt; that barely audible creak of a city as it slowly awakes and begins a day of activies – like the rigging of a ship just starting to set sail; all of this was shattered by a distant crack, one more portent yet curt than thunder. I was in fact, woken by this, whilst my lodging-fellows were already at the window, trying to ascertain from which direction these detonations were coming from. Adrik noticed their course being due north, towards the Palatial District – under which our tunnel passed – and Ludivar – the exit of our tunnel and where we travel openly to the dig-site.

We gathered our equipment; Rem already having taken to traverse the stairs entered our quarters. All contact with his raven familiar had gone down, and the fear shared amongst us was that this was yet another attack orchestrated by the Leppers of Nort – the mages who had previously attacked us in the underground tunnel, where the secret passageway was found. Zandor asked us to go investigate what the disturbances were. Betsie and Mortimer, Adrik’s wonderful beasties, were collared and reigned; for if we could, during our investigative mission, stash or stow some titbits of treasure for our Triumvirate employers, then our bargain on their behalf would be completed.

As we passed through the subterranean tunnel, we paused to allow Brixton and Gudael an inspection of the secret door. It wasn’t long before Gudael returned to the rest of us and requested our company, for voices ahead, up the stairs, could be heard and very likely belonged to that very same group who had used this entrance way to ambush us less than a week ago – the Leppers of Nort.

Gudael, ever the present calming and tranquil presence of the group, attempted to approach them in a peaceful manner – no doubt trying to put their gnawing apprehension to rest and perhaps paint us as friends. The response we got was not so friendly, yet Brixton tried to allay their fears, passing us off as those they were waiting for. But evidently, we had been made, and Adrik, with a rune masterfully linked into his mail glowing in some arcane energy, one frontward man became charmed by him.

Leith, conjuring with darkened eyes, the spite of his patron, furls a sable tether to one – the object of his ire – before sending a cracking beam of force towards his foe. I drew my wand – having already abjured myself a protective armour before entering this sunken side-alley – nestled its tip to my eye’s corner, before casting upon them a sphere of raining sand, dropping one into an undisturbed slumber. Gudael, extended both hands; from one a jet of radiance seared an advancing foe, whilst the other hand conjured a spectral longsword, swinging to meet that same foe’s steel. A spectral simitar that had previous appeared and slashed at Gudael, now swiped at me, cleaving up my stern. Ignoring the enclosed space, Gudael skewered one with a masterful shot from her crossbow, and I sent a bolt of fire, searing the flesh of one’s shoulder. Brixton with the dance of his blades, felled two fellows, their bodies tumbling down the stairs, and Adrik moved towards the final one, denting his ribs with a blow felt by all present. Still standing, the final offensive enemy slashed twice at Adrik, one glancing off his should with a spark and the other lacerating his leg. Leith blasted another ray of energy at the last man, causing blood to rush from his nose and he collapsed, an empty husk.

Brixton ‘finished’ the one that had been put to sleep whilst Gudael cast a zone of truth upon the charmed one, Adrik allowing his hold over the man to drop. Let us say that what preceded was not pleasant. I knew Brixton had some dark streak that I dared not confront him about, unsure of his reaction of me pressing his personal states of mind; but Adrik I noticed talked slower, deeper, more with a hate that sang through every muscle of his body and emanated from his face like the glare of a hell-hound – taking offense to the endangerment of his job, himself, and his friends – yet seemed to enjoyed this indulgence of broken rage. Gudael, while asking questions in her composed way, seemed unbothered by this display of brutality from the dwarf. Adrik had thrown the man down the stairs, sent his maul crashing against the fellow’s shoulder, all while this poor wretch of a thing moaned and cried.

From this poor, abused fodder, it was discovered that this man and his dead associates were evidently working for the Leppers of Nort, or at the very least, was just from Nort – but the connection itself could not be clearer. This group of ragtag attackers were waiting for others and it was this squad’s purpose to “take them away”. The Leppers obviously knew about the dig-site – hence the ambush we suffered – and were keen to get in on the find through some similarly dishonest means as the Barachial Envoy, but it was they who told Queen Claresca of the site and thus endangered us all. We were informed that five more of these infiltrators were bound to show up at any time, but – at least to our knowledge – they never did; and I think we know why.

Leith and I did little to intervene, surprised I suppose at how truly grave and morbid this line of questioning had taken in the application of “leverage”. When they were done, I turned to Leith divert him from the ghastly sight of a pitiful execution. He knew full well what was happening, but I merely tried to distract him from the grisly and gruesome tone this room now seemed to be steeped in by relaying to him The Weasel in the Rat Tree by Philip Tuppence. Once it was over, while those of heartier physical abilities moved the bodies of our fallen foes onto the cart, I looked about their personal affects. Among their items I found some spell components – which naturally were to be of great use to Leith in his magical abilities – and I discovered a book of spells on the more advanced spell-caster of the deceased ambushers and tore from his tome a spell that fit with those I, as a wizard, could potentially learn.

Between the secret door and the junction which we soon approached following our exeunt of the tunnel, the good Gudael suffered another one of her seizures. She had already experienced some small number of these during the night after our binge and I did my best to disperse any potential hazards away from her person; although, to much difficulty, as five corpses were stacked across the cart-bed.

The solemn streets were quiet, empty. All the bustle of a morning set for business and work cut short by some unseen carnage and hidden destruction that raged on behind the abandoned houses of Ludivar, the thunderous echoes of blasts still intermittently reporting throughout. Window shutters ached, muted twangs of pain, back and forth on their hinges and what few houses were lucky enough to have windowpanes had their glass-panels shattered by the shock of the reoccurring rumbles. It was chilling to see a street often so hectic with merchants and playing children now stretch before us like some forsaken cemetery.

Then, a familiar sound was heard against the rain and in the growing silences held between the booms that had sent us on our mission.

Leith and myself sent our familiars – his owl and my devoted bat, Tupp – to investigate, and our suspicions were affirmed. For that same clanking and slogging, well-kept beat that marched rapidly towards us was that of the armoured guard that had trudged into the muddy courtyard the day before. Around the corner of this encroaching crossroads, a dozen armoured footmen stomped in time to the commands of their superior.

Adrik, cued by this information, jerked his loyal draft-bovines into a sharp turn. Against the lubricious sludge, undermined by a jutting boulder of loose cobblestone, our vehicle flipped, sending all but the most dexterous of us – i.e. Milford Brixton – flying from the bed and into the muck beneath. During this kerfuffle of disaster as an impending platoon of power-abusing draftsmen enclosed upon our deserted selves, I tried to hide our incapacitated cleric in some unappealing back alley, but finding no sturdy footing against the silt, found myself wallowing like a hog in the brown-ooze.

The squadron of troops halted before us, only the sound of the torrentially down-pouring shower stood against the quiet that fell upon this feculent and awkward scene. Their commander, a captain of strict discipline – his stern face a bust of heroic marble – stepped forth and addressed us. Always quick on their feet to a solution, Brixton and Adrik exclaimed elated voices of relief to the arrival of some authoritative figure. It was explained to this officer that we were in fact attacked by these strange men on our way to investigate the explosions and chaos now encircling the Ludivar District. In ever his organised manner, Leith exposed a letter confirming not only our employment by the Barachial Envoy, but also our permission to work by Queen Claresca herself.

I was half expecting to be led away back to the palace in order to confirm this – as I feel the insecurity of this regnant regime breeds paranoia and a self-conscious nature that was evident in the court’s blatant need to display power and superiority, like how a bully might victimise another to disguise their own inadequacies; to announce your power is to say you have no power at all and that is all this “queen” seemed to do with our audience. Perhaps my distain for a system built on privilege and not merit has blinded me to the benefits of having a child as the ruler of an entire protectorate.

Yet, the captain seemed convinced – or at least, his eagerness to resolve this disturbance supressed his doubt of our intensions. And, despite our own clear motive to simply return to the Annex, we were moved on along with them – once they had assisted in righting the cart – towards this nucleus of destruction and mystery. Whilst they did so, I assisted Gudael to her feet once she regained consciousness and mechanical cognition; catching her up with our current predicament.

During this walk, I inquired to Adrik in his native tongue about his dark-spell. He assured me that his brutality towards the man was just an act. I expressed my own concerns at such a perfromance, hoping to limit it if it were merely put on, or offer any emotional support were it not. He said “I’ll be alright” and looked at me.

Now to convey this striking sentiment justly I must spare no insignificant detail in how Adrik imparted to me this overwhelming feeling. His face displayed that calming, soothing slight smile that I have seen him so often use to quell the fears or anxieties of Leith and Rem. His posture was relaxed, guided by his trusted oxen yet prepared to act when spurred to. His voice carried itself in the velveteen baritone it always had been. But his eyes told something different.

Chestnuts, bordered by a composed and unruffled brow, gazed out from their bulbs. Irises drowned in sorrow, pupils twisted in agony, and within the whole collective was the knowledge of horrors and sights beyond reckoning to sane and hopeful mind. In that instant I saw the image of his jaunty, joyful self-torn asunder and through these umber windows the silhouette of a man whose very heart and soul have been stolen as he walks hollowed through these lands that are but shadows to him. And in that same moment I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I had acted with such misery and contempt at my self-inflected gluttony and sorrows, while this honourable man, this good man had suffered so harrowingly at the hands of something beyond his control. I have only myself to blame for my woes, Adrik has the whole world to blame for his.

I apologised and he left his thanks floating in my mind as he turned his anguished gaze back unto the road ahead.

Boom! The sound of some massive thing thundered on the mirrored side of the bricked partition we now stood adjacent to. An abyssal grown, like a choking cough, purred in succession before stone and mortar were scattered by a pincered tail and from this wreckage, climbing over what little remained of the wall, stood some quadrupedal carnivore.

It’s snarling snout and hunched back gave some semblance to a hyena – a savannah-based predator-scavenger – yet what God or Entity first thought of these beings must have, unwillingly nor not, perverted their nature with some hellish nightmare. Matted and patchy grey fur clumped to its emaciated looking form, over which stretch mottled and leprous skin. In parts flesh and sinew seemed to slough from its bones, caused by no external wounds, but instead from some consuming evil that rotted its very essence from the inside out. Its maw – fang filled and covered in some diseased ichor-drenched slaver – hung open, some amber-hued light emanated from its gullet, and as it panted, this glow of yellow purred within its near transparent rib-cage. Yet it seemed to smirk with a nauseating appetite for slaughter and scanned this surprised herd of prey with its bloated peepers.

What most defined this creature, however, were the ridges of coal-coloured barbs that ran the length of its spine, their tips a festering, rusted, brown. These shards of bone extended down to its tail, an appendage that nigh matched its own bodily length. And as its tail grew into the stinger that adorned its end – its tip dripping with a venom that matched the glow from its mouth – the fur dropped away and revealed some snaking scarred and hairless flesh, pox marked in its wounds and girthy like some giant worm, as it supported its grand, black nail of poison.

Its tail darted to the captain and with a tortuous haul, lifted the officer off of his feet before sending his toxin-flushed body hurtling once more back into the mud, a sickening crunch as bone broke beneath armour, his dying words echoing that of the great Samael Stardust: “Ack!”. Brixton, in the haze of the settled dust, the morning fog, and the heavy rain, stole himself into the confusion – I lost sight of him, but knowing that he likely moved round to its flank.

The horse-sized being lunged forward and in another flourish of its repulsive, scorpion like tail, it stuck Adrik with its point, sending him hurtling into a nearby building. Rushing over, Gudael laid her healing hands upon the dwarf and then turned, materialising through her dedication to Sehanine, her spectral longsword, that slashed and dove to land a skewering hit against the monster.

Leith, a rippling ball of force welling in his palm, sent his spell towards the creature, but a charging infantryman, blinded by panic and bloodshed, took the blast as he steered himself right before the elven spellcaster. With a great pounding blow to its side, Adrik splintered bone and cartilage, warhammer denting the beast. From my wand, a dirk of frost gashes its rear, exploding in a burst of cold, yet its resilient hide took it, able to within stand all but the harshest of temperatures.

In the haze that still continued to settle behind the monster, I could see what looked like Brixton trying to climb over the rubble this abomination had left in its wake, as he tried to flank the damned thing. The creature, now focused on its smaller prey, was able to feign snaps to either side of Adrik, throwing the warrior’s strikes of kilter, saving itself from another devastating blow. And as Gudael’s spectral blade rung from its deflected mark off the stingered tail, her bolt of flame charred its side and turned the skin into a boiling hive of pustules. Leith’s second blast of eldritch energy shuddered its hind leg as a bolt of my fire blasted a fellow guard to the side – their charging, turtled formation, giving cover to the beast while they struck at it.

A thin swooshing heralded the appearance of Brixton, as a rope-tied hook arched over the back of the creature and his nimble form came into view. Yet, as he mounted the great thing, it’s stinger jabbed his back, causing our beloved rogue to tense, falling from his perch and onto the blood-stained path of our battlefield. A prayer of divine protection sung from Gudael’s lungs, bolstering our fallen Brixton, and she wielded her longsword high as she pummelled it. This valiant charge from our cleric gave Adrik his opening to send his fist of iron and steel into the beast’s festering grin. Leith’s blast careered into the tiled roofing of a house, and my own blast of fire singed its already thinning fur. Its twisted leer flashed at me, and I saw its rows of putrid teeth before I remember waking up, brought back to consciousness by the recalling words of Gudael. I before me blasts of arcane force leaping from Leith, the slashing and arcing of steel against this monster’s hide by our melee combatants. Hoping to resolve this devastating skirmish, I raise my hand, encircling the beast with dust as I try once again tried to put an enemy into a deep sleep. But this foe seemed unaffected. The guards charged once more, a portion of their numbers visibly lost, and more taken as they retreated to recover themselves for another attack. The tail swiped at Brixton, but his pride would not allow him to be caught unawares again.

It is with a divine sheen in her blade and the strength of the Seladrin behind her, that Gudael plunged her mighty weapon into the underbelly of this beast, disembowelling its fowl viscera across the clart if Ludivar. With the creature now slain, already its skin and flesh broke down to the flies that swarmed its wretched body. Only two of the two-and-ten guards were left remaining, and ourselves, tapped of energy and vigour, set about returning to the Barachial Envoy. However, before we left, I made note to try uncover what creature it was that attacked us.

Through my previous research and books on-hand I was able to ascertain that this being was indeed a fiend of sorts, known as a shoosuva. As you may know, fiends are not a wandering type of occurrence in the material plane, but instead summoned. It was here that I remembered, when we first encountered the Leppers of Nort when they ambushed us some small amount of time ago, that Mister Rem stated than in case of any potentially disastrous assault, that the wizards had a distraction set in place. It was noted that should this distraction occur, we should get ourselves as far away as possible.

Now, naturally, we had no clue what this actual distraction was. We are still not sure whether these explosions we were hearing were the shoosuva or Nort mages attacking or Barachial mages protecting themselves. It seemed that we had been given a small piece of a warning but were unable to use it due to the lack of full context, undoubtedly because the wizards didn’t want to expose they had a fiend on site, yet of all their actions and crimes, I’m sure the shoosuva failsafe was the least of their worries.

Hence, upon our arrival, I dismounted our cart and grabbed Rem by the collar, shaking him furiously, ignoring the searing pain in my back and my side from the day’s two tolling conflicts. We informed Zandor of the Leppers, the fiend that attacked us, and all their fates. Congratulating us on our efforts and the postponement of our demises, Rem seemed more affixed to the idea of recompense for our struggles than ever, but the foreman also asked us to go investigate both dig-sites before securing the ship once more. I asked Rem if he could procure me two spells scrolls that I could copy into my spellbook, as training and practice has granted me the ability to not only be able to cast and prepare more spells, but also to copy a couple into my book with little-to-no cost that I would usually have to spend in order to do so.

We were taken to the mess-hall in order to recuperate – “sweet relief” as Samael Stardust once said, albeit in regards to operas’ intervals – while Mister Rem searched for the items for me.

I think, in this generous respite we were granted by the Gods from our plightful day – more was to come, doubt not – this entry shall be concluded. Truly a combative day and one I don’t think any of us shall forget for some time to come, though none of our recent exploits, I think, are going to easily go unremembered. I once again stand up upon my own legs, having brushed once more with Death, and my time is but a crutch I have borrowed from the Gods and Chance that may at any given time be pulled out from under me, to send me sprawling back upon the cold, harsh ground where I shall lay forevermore.

I should really put into practice some system, something that shall allow these letters to pass into your hands without my needing to be alive for it to happen – for you should know the full story of what has happened to me, and I feel a welling dread at my final days of thoughts lost to oblivion without so much as a rat to peep upon my postulations.

May you stay guarded against the Winter of Loss and Suffering, Dear Maria.

Forever truly your fellow hardship-bearer,

Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff

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