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Letter #13: Building Bridges to Burn

Updated: May 22, 2021

Dear Maria,

Much of import has occurred in these last few hours. I shall try to keep it concise for, due to an unforeseen and immediate timer running against our lives, we felt it pertinent to make the most of what little time we have left. I am afraid I cannot say with any surety if we are to be safe or not. This and the letters that follow are to be culmination of our plotting and planning, and perhaps the last we see of Vain Gate – at least, openly – for some time.

With the consensus of our stratagem to be to commandeer the boats in the name of the Queen, it seemed in that moment that already the penultimate cogs of this heist had begun their movement, shifting our fate ever faster towards the end of this endeavour. The discussion then turned to how to get rid of the book down in the depths of the Underdark, stowed in that grand cache of treasure. I had decided to give it the affectionate name of ‘the Tome of Twisted Skin’ until such time as I can discern its true name – if it even has one.

Brixton decided to visit the good Mister Milmor Glass; as the quartermaster of the Daughters of Twilight he might have the means to discern what the book is; as Brixton is unsure of what to make of this book – which, in itself, is disconcerting. The always surefooted and stoic rogue I have never seen so flustered with unknowing or anxiety about an object, person, or situation like this. Each of us have our uncertainties of the book’s powers and intent.

I had sketched the image into my diary and so Brixton took that to show to Glass, in the hopes that the cover itself my spark some recognition or notable fame of it in the gnome’s mental annals. Gudael inquired if I had been under its influence for longer than what was evident. I lied. I said that I was simply curious and taking as many scholarly notes and descriptions as possible for posterity. In truth, I have had that face of gnarled and knotted flesh slithering over my thoughts and flooding my dreams since I laid eyes upon it. Not that it had some spectral hold over me, but simply that my mind had become haunted – if I may use that term – by its image and the unknown within its binding.

Before Brixton left, he put to the group the idea that any decision around the book should go through Leith, since he felt so strongly about leaving it behind. The elf was hesitant, but no one else really seemed to want to take the lead – and after my incident earlier that day, I wasn’t likely to be allowed such a position.

Brixton returned sometime later, bringing with him some rings that would protect us from the psychological effects of this books possessive alure. It would take a small amount of time to become spiritually connected to these items in order to use them, for them to become accustomed to our mentalities. Brixton also returned with news for Gudael, that Illanthra Imdrael, the Head Priestess of the Solanor Temple, was going to get in contact with her.

Whilst Adrik went to speak to Rem about the construction of a bridge to span the chasm, I took Leith aside to talk to him. Immediately he profusely apologised for his actions. I was rather taken aback by this and thrown, at a loss for words as he had already repented for what I was hoping to discuss with him. I asked for forgiveness myself for becoming violent with him but also requested that until I am ready, my memories and thoughts are to be my own.

We retired, I snuggled once more with Tupp in my pocket and Sir Ambergris in my meaty clamps before dozing into a peaceful lull.

I noticed in my slumber that, whilst I had visions, flashes of distorted and faded horrors – the beachfront, the book, my family – they all gave way like mist before a firm breeze, and revealed behind them all was you; sitting in our parlour, the warming glow of the hearth behind you as you opened my letters, smiling sweetly at the memory of your wondering stranger-husband. It eased my dismayed heart and filled me with a sense of belonging I have not felt in all my years at Vanderhold. A sentiment rivalled only by that of resting alongside these brilliant and amazing companions and compatriots of mine, each skilled in their own dangerously fantastic way! Whilst I sluggishly worm between them.

I awoke first, having achieved my first good night’s sleep since early childhood, and descended the stairs to put on a pot of coffee for my friends. I ascended in time to hear Adrik’s post-sleep back-crack; a sound not dissimilar from a stove being thrown from a bridge that spans a bustling street. Everyone rather cheerfully took their morning cup of coffee, of which Adrik “couldn’t possibly have straight” and so he and I took ours with a little touch of dwarven courage.

Our first hurdle of the day came in the form of the foreman Zandor Rem, who we always enjoyed seeing. He entered, backed by two wizards, and alerted us to the arrival of an inquisitor of the island of Barachial; a powerful mage coming to the Annex in order to audit the management of the excavation for the incredibly paranoid magocratic council of Barachial who are suspicious of strange goings-on in Karkanos – most likely, how news of the digs were leaked to Queen Claresca.

Rem turned his attention – I dare say, even his ire – to Brixton and asked where the half-elf had gone that day. Evidently, eyes of all kind had been watching us and Brixton’s little excursion to the Daughters of Twilight had caught their attention. Brixton, in ever his charming and glib fashion, tried to spin his jaunt as one of tactical importance. However, a tired and overly-stressed Rem cast upon him a zone of truth – similar to the one cast by Gudael two or so days before – and Brixton’s answers fell flat – either due to being too obscure to be deemed blatant truth, or utterly unanswerable as one cannot willingly reply dishonestly.

The disappointed Zandor gave us twenty minutes to get our story straight before he wanted everything answered. We were left alone, and quickly resolved to profess all our intentions and secrets to Rem. Whether he would take our side or not, we have doomed this poor man; for having done our unscrupulous actions under his nose, he, in the council’s eyes no doubt, would be seen as equally responsible for letting this happen as those who perpetrated the crime – i.e. us. We told him as much when he came to meet with us.

He was, naturally, heartbroken. He was given little to no choice in the matter. His life’s work has been for naught, as his years studying with the Barachial wizards only to become a man-on-the-run obviously didn’t sit well with him. But I suppose with them he would never have been free. Rem is too good a soul to waste on the likes of them. Let them have their Hamirs to twist and corrupt their petty squabbles; but keep those pure Rems away from such vile villainy and put to work upon the greater good that they will gladly give their life’s commitment for. We promised every ounce of protection for Rem and that, after our heist, he would be safe from harm’s way – perhaps even with a portion of recompense.

He agreed – again, with little choice – and we all set about to get the last pieces of our heist together. We had roughly four-and-twenty hours to get out of the Envoy and hidden amongst our underground contacts before the Barachial inquisitor would arrive – a man feared for his ability to cleave from your mind one’s darkest secrets and in the process destroying the intellectual self. Adrik and Leith stayed behind to interrogate Kaeleah Brixton at first was helping Misters Mystralath and Fogdar, but after a particularly unsavoury run in with Hamir, he left to catch up to us. Alone, Gudael and I secured the ship.

I was worried about this book, this Tome of Twisted Skin. Not only had Glass seemed interested in bringing it back to the surface, but so had Rem. What’s more, is that we left it unguarded whilst having knowledge of not only drow moving through the Underdark but now also the Leppers of Nort having an access way in. I was quick to ensure its safety.

Ensuring our good cleric was not turned against us, I myself braved approaching the book, to find it had moved and its pages were open. I was able to look upon it without its darkened magic infesting my brain. Its writing was in giant-runes and so I slowly went about casting comprehend languages and the page it was opened upon was that of a wish spell; a spell that could alter the fabric of reality to the whim of the caster. During this time, Brixton came across us, and as I tried to turn the book to its first page, Brixton tried to shut it. Whilst both of us failed, it was Brixton who fell under its power once more. With a firm command, Gudael pulled Brixton from his frozen position beside the book and to the sanctuary of her care.

I went about slowly turning each page of the massive, extensive volume in order to reach the front. Adrik and Leith finally arrived, with Hamir in tow; and as I continued my work on turning pages, Hamir seemed shaken. He started commanding my fellows to stop, or even kill me, due to being under the possession of the book – or so he claimed. I assured Adrik, with a free-willed glance that I was alright. Yet Hamir remained unconvinced, and so went about magically convincing Adrik. Under a suggestion spell, Adrik grabbed my arm and asked me to move away. I had proved I was alright and so resisted, Mister Fogdar, however, continued accosting me. Leith tried to stop the mage from doing further damage, and as Adrik forcibly lifted me from my position at the book, Brixton stuck.

Two well landing blows pierced Hamir’s side. Taking this as a cue to finally jump to action, he attacked.

You see, we had discussed with Rem before the likelihood of Hamir becoming an issue. It appeared that Hamir was not only after Rem’s job, but also was acting as a spy, giving intel to higher-ups and going over Rem’s head and behind his back to report his findings. It was unknown whether Hamir was the reason for the inquisitor’s visit to Vain Gate, or whether it was he who told the Leppers of Nort about the dig, who in turn warned the queen. It was agreed that Hamir was too dangerous to be left alive if we were to make it out unscathed. It was either him or us. I think you can guess what we all went for.

I and Leith sent off two blasts of fire at the mage, Gudael sent a bolt from her weapon into his side before a spectral longsword materialised before him and plunged into his thigh. Hamir was able to pull himself free of Leith and Brixton’s grasp, sending a blast of eldritch energy of his own at Brixton. Leith and I sent another collection of our arcane volleys, whilst Brixton tried once more to drive his blades into the traitorous mage’s back. Hamir raised his staff, and from is shot forth a beam of lighting, all of us taking hefty hits from it yet all of us stood strong.

It was Gudael’s sacred flame that ingulfed the wizard, his robes caught immediately and his harsh, gravely voice turned to squealing screams of agony. His crooked face lost all semblance of humanity as the flames licked at his fatty flesh, burning it to charred leather. Yet, he still struggled in his flailing, blazing dance of fire; burning not so much like a candlewick, but more like a wildfire set upon a dry and dead bramble of leaves and twigs, ingulfing its fuel. Brixton finished him off, putting the caster out of his misery, and went about trying to disguise him as Rem – so that it appeared to be the foreman who had died and Hamir who had stolen off with us.

Whilst the others assisted Brixton in this matter, I continued my job of turning the pages of the tome – now that Adrik seemed no longer under the affect of Hamir’s spell. And I reached the first page of the book.

And here is where I shall leave it. There is much more to discuss I assure you. But I have taken somewhat of a flare in my writing, deciding to leave you, my audience, wanting more and on the edge of one’s seat for what comes next as the curtains draw on this portion of our journey.

I know what we are doing is criminal – put it appears that Vain Gate would come to a stand still if not everyone partook in some illegal activity one way or another. Villains and cutthroats the lot of these Vaingatians seem to be, and I have no qualms giving them a taste of their own medicine. Rem seemed shaken that Gudael, a cleric of Sehanine Moonbow, would fall in with such “criminals”, yet are not the Barachial Envoy criminals – coming to a land that is not theirs, brainwashing the local poor and homeless, and then stealing from under the monarch’s nose items of magical and cultural significance to those belonging to her forefathers?

I know I am a man – or at least, like to view myself as one – who looks upon all sides of an argument and sees within no heart any true evil that was not instilled upon them by their circumstance or teachings. But there are some I know of who were, without a doubt, born with such malignancies in their hearts; and these Barachial wizards, this Council of Art, who conduct the lesser mages in their orders, are such people.

This, or the next one, may be the last one for some time. I intend to send to you what I can before needing to stay low. And once I am in a position to send once more an update on my movements then I shall. I shall not stop writing, but I may have to pause on the frequency with which I dispatch these to you – though, I suppose, there has been little to no frequency with which I’ve sent any of my previous letters. By chance I was able to get them off to you, and by chance it shall likely happen again.

Pray for my soul, for I cannot do it myself

Your “criminal” husband,

Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff

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