Updated: May 28
I left my last dispatch to you regarding my travels from Vanderhold, my narrow escape from death in Ashwood, and my harrowing trek from the north down to Vaingate. As I mentioned in the previous letter, I had resolved to pen you this letter when I had a good chance. Only now, almost a whole day after arriving, have I found the time to sit with pen and ink in order to write to you.
The moment I arrived in Vaingate I was hit by the pungent smell of the street urchins, unbathed and unwashed, as they scurried about the city. A cart pulled by a horse whose master lashed it into galloping as fast as its shape could make it go, bolted passed my humble self, almost covering me from head to toe in the muck and slime made slick and thick by torrential rains that had battered the town the previous night.
Though almost did not cut it. For, as if a cat, I jumped back from my spot and dodged the spay with near feline finesse. A feat, I must confess, I thought I did not have in me; for even with imminent danger hurtling towards me before my very eyes, I cannot seem to avoid getting struck by the object that views me with such violent ire as to take leaping hurdles towards my mortal self. I was then approached by a young woman who, with my grace and politeness not only directed me but also accompanied me to the closest lodgings and taphouse: The Broken Oak Tavern. From what this woman inferred by her meaning of “companionship” I believe she was looking to entertain – in no uncertain terms – lost souls who would gladly pay for such ‘enjoyment’. I respectfully declined her offer – you know what I’m like with such intimacies – but paid her for her good-humoured conversation and acceptance at such a rejection.
I entered this establishment and, Maria, beyond any reasonable doubt did this tavern outshine every alehouse, inn, or hostelry in the Northern Skyreaches by a league. For, growing in the centre of the common-room was a large oak standing on a small, raised patch in the ground with moss and flowers growing about its exposed roots. Above, rafters and roof seemed to peel back, making room for the canopy of leaves and branches that towered from the body of this mighty evergreen. This fine institution’s proprietor was a noble dwarf by the name of Oakstaff, but by the suns did he live up to that name. Although a squat man – as all dwarves share the trait of diminished stature – his presence was that of the great conifer that demanded such splendour and attention as to be the namesake of his tavern. His muscles wrapped around his muscles like thick vines and his legs moved as one might expect roots to; firm and sure footed, if somewhat delayed due to their bulk.
Served by the proprietor himself I purchased myself a room and a meal for the evening. When Oakstaff exited into the kitchens to inquire about the specifics of the dinner – upon my request – I rewarded myself with a drink, which the barmaid was more than willing to supply me with. As I gave myself into the first drink of that long, long day, my muscles – what few I have left after my years of sloth and gourmandry – soon reverberated with the ache of age and the vibrations of a shaking foundation soon brought to collapse would come if I did not seek some comfort of rest for my body’s reparations. For the warmth that ebbed throughout this tavern, the jaunty yet soothing tunes of the bard, and the distinct yet somehow quiet chatter of the patrons rocked my soul to yearn for the embrace of sleep. But sleep that day would not come.
Maria, henceforth, I shall write in cypher. I know not what the customs offices of Vaingate are like in openings and readings of personal messages sent within or without the city limits. For my dealings now turn to the shadier end of the moral and legal spectrum. I hope, as we have spent many hours together; you in your patient brilliance, bearing with my experiments of decipherability and legibility, have already concluded that the start of this paragraph is in my cypher and that who have been wise enough to notice my scribblings to be as such and remember my lessons of such decoding.
Enter one of the many players that would shape the evening’s events to such strange perversion of routine as to drag my restful soul from sleep and into a world of indifferent thievery and dishonesty, unscrupulous dealings that – although, perhaps, from moral angles seem dark and dire to the integrity of my being – I found riveting and exciting. For with this first player came a chance to sate my appetite of adventure and yet offer compensation for my risks of self that could contribute to our penniless yet fortune-owing circumstance.
Enter Drazael. A dwarf baring the colours of earthly tones; a burly man, thickset and tall, even for a dwarf; he stood over Oakstaff himself, who seemed a pebble against this boulder of flesh and muscle. His deep mahogany hair plaited together, cascading down his front and back as if glorious binding of wool. On his person, almost never found without, a pair of throwing axes that hang from his belt like trophies. He spoke with that typically dwarven accent of common that hinted at the mystical and joyous yet contained enough gruffness in it that, should one rouse the giant within, one would have a storm of rock and ice hailing from the heavens.
Behind Drazael entered Jagar, a fellow dwarf under his employ. It was evident what manner of employment he was paid for from the bearded axe that slung over his shoulder and the ebony-hued leather armour he wore. Jagar’s long red hair flowed over his rippled body of muscle and armour like a stream of blood over an obsidian mountain. A great scar cleaved down one side of his face, impacting and continuing through one eye, which held in its socket a glass replacement.
All faces paused to see the entrance of such personages. The music halted, which was quickly signalled once more to continue by the same magnetic force that had caused the bard to cease their plucking. This figure – Drazael that is – called in a tone that offered friendship, yet lent a hint that such rejection would be lethal, to a man alone at a table, sitting not too far from myself.
Entree, or more revealed, into this scene the player who has had the most prolific impact and interaction with me since my arrival in this city. A man whose unscrupulous nature, almost visible untrustworthiness, is outweighed by his good humour and charming personality. A man who, as I would later soon to find, everyone in Vaingate either knew well or knew well enough about: Milford Brixton.
This Brixton fellow appeared to be of the half-breed variety; the combination of two lineages of cultures: the human and the elf, resulting in the skilful and easily enjoyable company of a half-elf. His complexion was dark and his thick, ebony hair bound in dreadlocks that erupted from his head in a grand display of style and care. Eyes that pierced at the viewer with mystery and cunning but had a smile that seemed to relax the tense reflexes of such a profoundly mischievous figure.
Drazael, an evidently feared figure, approached Brixton with such casuality that one may consider them friends. For even Brixton, the slightish and dexterous fellow that he is, seemed to welcome the oncoming dwarf and his powerful aid with a reluctance of dealing with an annoyance more than a fear for his own bodily harm. I would later learn that this is a common feature of dear Mister Brixton; more afraid of the mere irritation conflict may impose rather than the potentially life-threatening result of losing such a confrontation. An endless supply of confidence, it seems, one either has in Vaingate, or one must forgo it almost entirely – I’ve found there is very little middle ground with the types in this city.
I overheard, for they spoke in common – not that them sharing a language in another well-known tongue might have hindered my dropping of eaves – that there was some odd dealings in the human domain of the city. I am oblivious if you are familiar with Barachial and their schools of magic – I may have shown an interest once or twice in their teachings some time ago when I bought my first book of wizardy – but they are powerful manipulators of the Weave that have an annex within Karkanos. While building a new Tower of Art in Anzahl (the Arcane District of Karakos), the Barachial Envoy had had uncovered some remains of the long dead Giant kingdom that once dominated this land. It seemed, as we were to later cement as a probable theory, that the noble House of Muldraea – that same family who backed your father against mine all those years ago, who rule over the unified Protectorate of human states and the Karakos district of Vaingate – know little to nothing of this discovery; this lead us to further suspect the mages’ actions as anything less than scholarly.
They wanted Milford Brixton to go forth and investigate. That was when I was pulled forth into this whole mess. It seemed, Brixton was loath to go alone, and, whether he was in some contact with my uncle Gadolf – whom I know has well-known friends in the city of Vaingate – or simply saw through my desperation and the filth the clothed my garb, my wand that rests upon my hip, or my collection of magic and research books that bulge from my satchel; regardless, this Drazael picked me for a man who could help this Brixton fellow.
Why I agreed I cannot say. It was not the wine – for I had but a little sip and, as you know me, it takes a quantity and quality more of drink to get me beyond reasonable thought – so I suppose it was one or both of the following: Mister Drazael made it very clear that pay would be immense and delivered upon completion of this ‘investigative mission’, and even paid upfront. Now, in our own situation which are well aware of, I could not pass up an opportunity to help make at least a small; indentation in our vast debt. But also, I feared that refusing such a revered yet dreaded man would be a complete disregard of one’s sense of self-preservation.
I accepted, and Brixton and I took about formally introducing ourselves – prefer to mention as little as possible my connection to my house, almost to the point of attempting to conceal it, but few times in this city can one get anywhere without the correct papers, and the more important one seems to be the more one seems to get. While I bathed and cleaned myself of muck and grime, Brixton was generous enough to go and purchase me a new set of fine clothes – for my current ones I had soiled during the travels with dirt and filth. I must mention however that Brixton did so with my own funds, which I was more than happy to supply him with, except that he took them without my knowing, as a pickpocket might do. However, he was able to batter for a lowered price, and so gave me change upon his return to my room; obviously to my surprise, as I distinctly remembered not giving him any coinage whatsoever.
This is that peculiar charm of Milford Brixton I hinted at earlier. For, while he took from my pocket coin and property that rightfully belonged to me, he only spent it on items I would have invested in for myself, arranged for a lowered cost, and, even having the option to lie about the price, concealing the remaining change for himself, he confessed his good work and thus handed me back what remained of my fees – which would have been reduced or even non-existent had it not been Brixton who fetched my new attire for me. This roguish yet kind countenance of Brixton is either purposeful, as an exposé of an unblighted soul, or simply the result of a man who could care little for the piteous coinage of a local vagabond – for that I truly was.
Into Karakos we ventured, wit and my papers to gain entry into Anzahl. But despite my noble birth and studies in the arcane arts, it seemed the guards of this excavation were directed only to allow strictly and expressly permitted personnel through to the site. Brixton cautioned me to stay hidden whilst he went atop the tiled canopy of the city and found a way to view the dig site, declaring the Broken Oak Tavern as our rendezvous should we both needs flee swiftly. I sat and waited for some time before realising that I had not personal or practical evidence to trust this Brixton’s abilities – nor any to distrust either – yet thought I should make use of myself.
Climbing the walls of the alley and leaping from crown to crown of the local buildings – winding myself some times on the way there and back – I let loose from my grasp Tupp and he scurried down the walls.
Of course! I forget myself. You have not met nor heard mention of Tupp! See, as I grew weary of a lack of companion ship, and looked to master some spell of conjuration beyond cantrips, I focused on summoning what is known as a familiar. A creature descended from some plane beyond ours to take the form of a simple yet useful beast, whom I may converse with telepathically. Tupp has been a companion and friend of mine since roughly a week after leaving Ashwood and venturing south. So you gather I am very fond of him, particularly in his weasel form, which I deign him to take mor frequently than others.
Tupp conveyed to me, though my body lay blind and deaf atop a roof, the visions he saw. Great treasures being hauled from the ground. Necklaces, earrings, swords, shields, all built and fit for purpose to be used by those huge creatures that once built the original Vain Gate – now South Wall: Giants! The smallest of the loot pulled from this evident grave site were coin, still too large to be handled and carried without the utilisation of both appendages. Sadly though, as we were also instructed to, if possible, bring back a ‘souvenir’ of this site, I sent Tupp to retrieved such an item. A poorly timed excursion mixed with a poorly felled pickaxe, poor Tupp was struck and thus vanished, causing my vision and hearing to return to myself.
Now fret not, for Tupp himself is not dead, only his material self was destroyed. Given the right time and components – ingredients if you are unaware of their meaning – I may return him safely to my possession, though it will take some bribing to convince him to go on such a mission again were it to be required in future.
I descended the roof tops and went to re-join Mister Brixton at the Broken Oak Tavern, where he divulged to me what he had not only seen but also heard. For, with his vision not being impeded by darkness, and his hearing more acutely trained than that of the humble weasel, this half-elf rogue had seen some sort of lifting mechanism, tall and with an outstretch arm that could raise and descend items above the capacity of mortals without the aid of certain magics; as well as hearing that the excavation would only the last for seven days, one having already passed.
We headed immediately towards Mister Drazael’s house to inform him of all that we had seen and heard. On the way, Milford inquired into my personal life in regards to…entertainment – if you recall what entertainment the helpful madam who directed me to my lodgings offered me once we arrived. I told him that I was not particularly interested, as you well know, despite being married. I think that was his personal way to connect to a fellow humanoid – I am not sure if he is otherwise unsociable and defers to this type of questioning with most fellows he falls into or whether there was some standoffishment that I exerted that perhaps inferred a disconnect to such carnal desires.
Regardless, we arrived at the house of Drazael. A lovely, masterful work of dwarven architecture. A squat building, beautiful and humble, yet knowing beneath lies the labyrinth of corridors that made Drazael’s mansion. However, being welcomed by Jagar – the glass-eyed guard of Drazael we were taken above. Sitting by a table, overlooking the beautiful site of Thorasis shrouded by night, the lanterns of houses glittered like distant fireflies, the streetlamps’ dull glow akin to the fluorescence of glow-worms.
I should note that Vaingate is comprised of two circular walled domains, each holding several districts. The three domains are such: Karakos, led by the human House of Muldraea; Raxtharsis, helmed by the dwarven Umbeunor House; and the Jaedahlim House run Grenolaea, the domain of the elves. These domains sit arranged as a triangle around a river that flows through the valley and cliff faces each domain bear as a foundation. Built across and around this river are other districts where the market, merchant, and fishing districts are more concentrated.
Here, we reveal to Drazael the information we acquired during our sleuthing. He paid us in kind and allowed myself to look at his precious collection of spellbooks. I must dare say that while the collection as a whole was not impressive in magnitude, it was, however, impressive in substance. For there was a book on conjuration that allowed me to view further those I might add to my own collection. During this time, Milford Brixton went about pulling together a disguise, for there had been workers in rags that did all the heavy work of pulling and collecting and cleaning and hauling back at the excavation site. Next time we snuck in, Milford would pose as one and so have a greater freedom of unmolested movement. It was a spectacular disguise that I think not even those famous thespians of Gwyll could best.
Mister Drazael also shared with us a small glass of his ale, which I might have taken a good drink or two of. I shall try to recall when and where I received drinks but to try to recall where all nine – remember that I do not count drink ten – came from accurately would be nigh on impossible without the capabilities of an extremely well-honed and keen mind.
Drazael seemed rather intrigued about these items and hoped to be in a position to soon own a small, if somewhat illegally obtained, supply of them. However, in this regard it seemed that he would need help beyond that which we could provide. We were direct to contact a Lord Hassildril, an elf of the intelligence and information gathering proclivity. It soon became evident that these two – Drazael and Hassildril that is – weren’t only particularly friendly terms, and gossip soon began to circulate between Brixton and myself why they despised each other so. Brixton would later suggest perhaps it had something to do with a niece Hassildril has, but I cannot say that we have found anything to substantiate that claim, despite somewhat embarrassing queries aimed at Hassildril’s staff.
I shall end this entry here, dear Maria. My next letter shall begin with our arrival at Lord Hassildril’s house in Grenoldraea and meeting the elf himself. I hope my stories do not bore you, or that my prose is too direct. I merely hope to paint for you the same views I have seen and the same sentiments I have felt during my short stay, yet lengthy night, here.
I know not how to sign off, for you shall be receiving all four or five of these letters at one time before quickly – I have no doubt – moving onto the next. While you are not one to speak your mind or discuss with me philosophies or politics of the past, I know you to be a prolific reader, and your love for the material word of mortals to be one you share with me. Perhaps it was that that may our years together more bearable than they would have been had you detested books or been an unsufferable gossiper. For I found peace in our silent nights before the fire, reading our respective books.
It is funny. Perhaps that old adage “distance from love weakens not the bond, but merely strengthens the ties that bind” be true. For, I thought that I would, at least, miss you the same I did the day I left. Yet, now, as I picture your face, I seem an aching in my heart for such a familiar view to come back into sight. I’m sure I am merely getting sentimental at such change. Pay no attention to ramblings and scribblings of a drunken, aging man.
Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff