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Letter #16: Battles and Hard Truths

Dear Maria,

Once all of us, this Brixton’s Bunch, had gathered and spent some time enjoying the environment of the forests of Sidha’lach – this Isle of Shadows – we returned to camp. It was roughly four hours past midday and I was trying not to gaze or think much of the Lockhearte Lake. Thankfully my small break from the ever-present waters by the camp had allowed me to relax some, and the fog that engulfed the island also obscured any sight further than say three-and-thirty yards; allowing me to spare myself some of the harsher symptoms of my fear.

Brixton, sensing some oncoming conflict with Braegan, asked us not to be “heroic” if something happened and started making reference to his “Will”. We scolded the half-elf for such dramatics – as if Braegan would slay Brixton, I think that would prove his spiritual constitution as that of being no greater than the man he hopes to overthrow.

Ringing out in the air were grunts and the echoes of blunted weapon practice. We rounded a corner to see a large slab of Ostorian stonework and around it the elves had set up a training ground. Practicing was Prince Braegan and watching over this spectacle was the half-orc Thorn and a handful of her guard.

Invited to spar, Brixton swiftly bested one of Thorn’s guards. Adrik soon followed suit and, using some Ostorian magic, sparked his sparring partner before Thorn grabbed him by his chain linked shirt. He was given a stern warning – as magical blows cannot be pulled like physical ones can, and could very nearly have ended the man then and there. Gudael was henceforth ever vigilant in case someone needed healing or stabilising. It was not long before Prince Braegan himself became interested in the two sparring matches and offered his own sword to be challenged by their mettle. Adrik and Brixton accepted and the three went about preparing for the melee.

Brixton was first to go, he jumped off Adrik’s shield and with two whirls from his blades, the prince caught them against his greatsword before matching Brixton blow by blow, both also missing the exceptionally swift rogue. Adrik dropped his maul and shield, raised aloft his hammer of thunderbolts, and with each step towards the prince he grew to that stupendous size he can often achieve. Another two swings from Brixton, and one landed before the prince smacked the flat of his blade against Brixton’s breast and sent the half-elf sputtering. Adrik swung his hammer down, striking in a joint where the armour had split away during his blow and delivered a painful strike to the elf. Brixton struck back with his shortsword, landing against his bicep. The prince, his blade gleaming with the power of the Seladrine bore down with his blade and dealt a staggering whack to the dwarf before following it with a second, swifter yet not as damaging blow. Adrik drove his hammer into the prince’s chest. The great sword clattered to the stony slab below and Prince Braegan yielded the fight, bested.

He was gracious in his defeat and Brixton, bending his knee, pledged his loyalty to him. With that, whatever conflicts the two had were now resolved and the prince, Thorn, and the retinue of guards, carried on back to the camp.

It was during our own debrief of what had just transpired that two monstrous roars tore through the open air, and down from the tree line came two burly, quadrupedal forms barrelling towards us. Brownish feathers glittering with tints of grey and purple bristled from their necks. Black, unblinking eyes peered at us, and once more from their gullet came this tremendous belt of ferocity, directed through their gaping yet precise, sharp beaks. The owlbears made no pause as they sprinted towards us.

I sent an ice knife glancing against one’s side before it burst in a globe of arcane frost and I retreated to prevent further injuries. Adrik took a hefty clawed strike before its beak tore into his forearm, but he followed by thumping his hammer against the monstrosity’s barrel chest. Brixton flanked its hind but the other one leaped on him and blood soon came pouring from wounds all over his body. Gudael cast her spectral weapon upon the one on Brixton and tore into its hide. Leith ran for help; by his determined and nearly fearless sprint, I can only imagine it was to get his Master Maith. I fired another ice knife at once and the horrific thing tore again into Adrik. He dashed its skull and its brains pulsed through its fracture, yet it still moved and howled. Brixton tried to get two slashes in, but with the creature once again on him, he lost the grip of his blades and his body went limp. Gudael healed him and tore her sword once more into the one atop Brixton. Adrik dashed the first thing’s brain once more and put it down. Maith arrived, his form shifting as he moved, and from the sky came a column of lightning that struck the thing and seared the final one’s flesh. A firebolt of mine caught it in the side and it collapsed to the ground, panting, before letting the calm ink of death overtake it.

We thanked Maith for his assistance and adjourned to the main camp area – where that feast Bran and Thorn had mentioned to us was laid out. Despite my poor appetite around the depths – even earlier I was offered a glass of wine and had to refuse for fear of exacerbating my nausea – the excitement of the melee as well as that business with the owlbears, had made me quite hungry. Yet my focus on the food was soon overshadowed by Gudael’s discourse with Maith and Prince Braegan.

Gudael had suggested they think about their claim and what grounds upon which they stand to challenge Ivran for the crown. I think perhaps she meant in order to circulate it amongst the free-folk of Sidarhael, but Maith seemed agitated by this. He explained the slaughter the prince’s family had faced upon the orders of Ivran. The lies about the Ungor Ma’ak and their presence over the mountains “waiting to strike” at the heart of Sidarhael Tu’Larethian; that the disorganised tribes of the orcs posed no credible threat to the elves; that it had all been controlling fearmongering. That what few orcs were responsible for reading elven settlements or caravans were had on their person coins minted by Ivran from his personal coffer. Maith spoke of the massacres orchestrated by the Black Guard – the storm-troopers led by none other but Gudael’s father ______, the right hand of Ivran.

Gudael had been shielded from the truth by her father and family. What I think spared some of her grief was that her brother, Ren Talandaran, had been feeding the Servants of the Fox information for years. A pure, noble, and brave soul that boy must have.

Maith and Prince Braegan retired to their tents. Gudael did so as well, overwhelmed by the information she had just been bombarded with. It was plain that it had shaken her to her very core. I truly felt for her in that moment as she walked away, stunned. So many lies surround the innocent children of heartless men and women.

I spied Thorn and, in her native orcish tongue, asked how she had come to be accepted by the elves on this island. She said “It’s a long story…Valour,” and I said it was impressive that she was able to do so. Sensing some slight she quickly snarled a reprimand and challenge, but I swiftly explained that I was sincere and was happy for her that she was able to achieve such. Leith gathered us around and we thought it best to discuss what to do with the ship laden with gold, but first we needed somewhere quiet.

We went inland – after Leith suggested a stroll on the beach and I quickly maintained my stance on removing myself from such an experience – and, though it felt wrong to debate the topic without Gudael, she did request she have some time alone to herself. Though she soon joined us again, and so did that fellow Bran – that elven lord dressed in such dim clothing one would think he were a wraith. He tried to advise us on how best to “spend” this money, in regards to its relationship with the prince – for, here we are on his island with a ship full of treasure, and enough to fund his whole war effort, no doubt.

I even suggested we hide it up north in Vanderhold with Uncle Gadolf. I trust him the most but; firstly, I do trust you more, but to dock and unload such a sum and transport it back to the Stretch and to have you organise AND potentially be caught with the whole lot would be disastrous. I could not risk it, I could not risk you. Secondly, despite trusting Uncle Gadolf the most, I am glad we eventually decided against it for the nonce. With Rem I feel the treasure could be looked after better, but even with him, there is still a chance that Uncle Gadolf would do something untoward with our funds; however, it would be one place these Barachial wizards wouldn’t think to look.

It was agreed that we would donate a grand portion to the king in the hopes that he would recognise our skills and loyalty, and perchance award us with certain benefits and maybe even contract us to help him in his rebellion. We went to try to catalogue our treasure horde, only to be told by Thorn – who had taken it, rather presumptuously, upon herself to guard our treasure – that it had already been done and that we should talk to Maith for the specifics.

Maith’s tent was, dimensionally speaking, strange; as it appeared to be bigger on the inside than on the outside. Maith had removed his eye-bandages to reveal a network of blackened scars, like a collection of spiders’ webs, that covered his eyes. He offered that, to fund a good portion of Braegan’s campaign, the prince would require one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand gold pieces – which turned out to be an insignificant sum compared to the sheer amount of gold aboard our galley. For we had items from the “dawn of history” with “thousands of years’ worth of lore”; I’m sure even a fraction of these would pave the way for any peoples to overthrow a government.

The mage was curious as to our inventory of what we found originally in the Underdark at the dig site. We tried to play down the book and the crown, for fear that he would become too interested or that they would have magically appeared on the ship. Fortunately, the book had not; but, the crown Maith described to us was the Crown of Ire, which was currently sitting in our Galley. He thought that perhaps our offer had better be worded more eloquently for a presence before the prince – as I don’t even think we truly knew what we were doing – and he also suggested that it would be wise to consider all our potential paths henceforth from this point in time. He also made us aware of a goblin encampment on the island, by an entrance to the Underdark, that would be useful to get rid of. It is hard to wage war while there is still conflict at home.

And with that, we planned to clear the area of goblins before deciding to hide out horde there, where that entrance to the Underdark is most accessible, but that was for the next morning. It was eight hours passed midday – now nine and a half – and we are all beat. Though I cannot sleep.

Despite trying to rend it from my thoughts, this cold sea of water and its fathomless depths unsettle me, as does what lies beneath the waves, in the darkest waters of this lake. I cannot sleep; thus, I write this letter.

Yet, I am also anxious. For did not King Durian Tarnasis Erothani fall to an ambush of orcs ninety years ago? And did not Maith say that some raiding tribes of orcs had been in the pocket of Ivran? Could he have-

What I fear most is that Gudael’s brother, Ren, is in grave danger. For he has been passing information along to the Servants for years. He has the crimes of treason on his head in the eyes of Ivran – if he or the Black Guard ever found out – not to mention that, as merely an informer, the Servants might not be able to protect him like they would one of their sworn own. If he is caught, I fear the worst for that boy. I must needs discuss this with Gudael when I can, but I think it is best for her to rest as much as possible before worrying her more.

I should perhaps take my own suggestion; rest before worrying. But it is in my nature to worry and fret and stress and overthink. Perhaps that is why I never act. A man with determination yet not drive is one who is truly lost.

I hope you receive my money soon, so that all this debt business may be put behind us and you may never have to deal with my silly reckless-fallouts ever again.

Your most devoted stranger,

Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff

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