Where do I even begin?
I never thought I would write down my thoughts and experiences like this again after my youth. This journal was supposed to be a means to vent and express my troubles. I suppose now is as good a time as any to do just that.
This entire “mission”, I guess you would call it that, was one big fool’s errand. They made it seem simple, an abandoned castle with some sort of unholy beast that needed to be ousted so we could take it as a place to embark out from further. I think we all figured that after everything else we’ve experienced this would be as simple as we hoped. Gods be good, we were more wrong than even I thought possible. Arriving in Dunbar was uneventful. The soldiers did their duties, setting up camp a few miles away from the castle and the village as to not rise suspicions about our intent.
The village was far more deserted than we predicted. After further investigation, only about half of the villages population remained. Some phenomenon was going on there that made the commoners leave in droves, deserting the village for a better life away from the dying village or so they claimed. Some were not convinced of this truth, and I counted myself among them. It was all a bit peculiar for such large numbers to leave all at once, and this was only made more complicated when the woman, Margrev, I think her name was may she rest with the Mother. She came to us, begging that we help her. Her children and husband had gone missing like the others, and while her neighbors told her that they had left, she didn’t believe it, and suspected that something else was going on. She was right of course.
After speaking with her and learning what we could for the night, Ozruk and myself retired to our room and left the buffoons to their revelry. Ozruk spoke to me in private, she had found this journal on our travels, I had forgotten all about it until she presented it to me. She claimed she hadn’t read it out of gratitude but I told her to do it anyway. It seemed to help her somewhat, or so she said.
I knew something was peculiar about that fucking bar wench. She was too quick to try and write off our willingness to help and try to push us away from Margrev’s pleas the next morning. She played all of us for damned fools. I swear to the Mother and any other gods that will listen that if I ever see that bitch again, I will make damned sure that she suffers everything they did.
I had promised Margrev to try and find her lost children. Guilt drove me, the guilt of a poor soul suffering, the guilt of a mother who left her own daughter for years. The others focused on the task at hand, it seemed investigating these disappearances coincided with our own goals. We needed to find a way into the castle, to bypass the magic that barred our way. The mayor proved little help, with exception to the knowledge that he was unaffected by whatever was clouding the minds of these commoners. He saw that they were afflicted, something was changing what they saw and remembered and that these disappearances were indeed unnatural.
When we later reconvened as a group, it was to speak to the woman who was the chamberlain of the castle before its fall. It was to our luck that she and her mother were both of the Mother’s faith, they were more eager to hear my words despite an earlier failure of deception on our bard’s part. She relinquished us a key to the castle and divulged what knowledge she had of the inner workings.
Ryland had found a cave the night before when he was out skulking through the woods. Something about investigating the lumber mill and happening upon it. We went to find this phantom cave, and sure enough it existed. We decided to see where the tunnel lead, thinking this was our key to the castle so to speak. Unfortunately, we were correct.
Somewhere along the way, Ozruks little pet left us, unable to accompany us from some magical interference.
We arrived in a large room, seemingly unremarkable save a balcony. At first glance one would think this to be some kind of performance chamber perhaps. If I had never seen otherwise it may have been for the best. The entire room was glamoured, an illusion to hide its true appearance. I felt the magical influence, and with a blink the veil was torn away. There was no floor, we stood on perpetual floating planks that followed our movements, and under our feet was a nightmarish hellscape of desiccated corpses and remains. Gods know how long they had been hidden down here, left to whatever ill fate begot them. The missing villagers, captured or lured here to be killed and tossed aside. The others did not seem to take notice of the illusion, completely oblivious to what I was seeing. I tried to get their attention, Braum took notice quickly, bless the boy. It took a few minutes trying to convince the others, but finally they were able to see through the wicked magic. There was an orb sitting upon a dais in an alcove, it had also been hidden by the illusion. I approached it cautiously, this castle had already proven to be more than we anticipated.
As I approached, the orb sprang to life, an eye peering from within and watching me. Before anything else could happen, or before I could investigate from my safe distance, the fool decided to touch the fucking thing! Ryland’s contact with it activated something and from within the orb we saw images, visions of some time passed.
Children that matched the description Margrev gave of her own. For a moment I had relief, that this orb was a scrying device and that they were safe and alive. I was foolish to think for a moment that the poor dears had even a moments chance here. What I saw come to life in that orb, however, was the most horrific thing I have ever seen despite all my years. The heartless monster made her rip her own children to shreds in a mindless rage. Whatever mental infection he used, she was nothing more than a puppet. The fear on their small faces as she was upon them will forever be scarred into my mind.
I was beside myself, all the walls I built in my heart and mind to block out the horrors of the world fell like they were made of the thinnest parchment. I felt the simultaneous feelings of rage, nausea and helplessness. I had made a promise to see those children returned to their mother safely, and yet I just bore witness to them being brutally killed by the very mother I made the promise to. My mind immediately went to Cecilia. That could easily have been the two of us, were the circumstances different I could have been the instrument of my own daughter’s death. If not for Ozruk’s intervention and insistence that we would find the one responsible and make them pay, I probably would not have had the will to move from that floor. Ryland told us that when he touched the orb, he not only saw what we had, but rather he had physically felt all of the fear, pain and suffering. Furthermore, he heard a voice, one he recognized as that of Samwell, an alchemist we met earlier in town.
The further we progressed through the castle, the deeper the mystery seemed to go. Ozruk and I found the way into the balcony above, and there we found furniture that matched that of the tavern. It all made sense to me then, that damned wench was involved in whatever happened here, that’s why she was so eager to see us uninvolved and leaving town. In my anger, I lost my cautious reason and threw the damnable chair from the balcony. The sound of that vile decadent wood shattering on the cages below was pleasant but it did little to soothe me.
My mind was little eased as we progressed deeper into the recesses of the keep. Eventually we came upon a large, dark, dank cavern. I used my magic to illuminate the cave, it did not seem at all extraordinary. A thick viscous liquid formed a pool with a few broken paths over it. The others came to the plan to use ropes and pitons to create a way to traverse, with Ryland on one end and myself on the other. It all went smoothly for a while, but when things mattered the most, I faltered. Ozruk was crossing when my mind flashed back to the horrors of that orb and I lost my bearing, dropping the poor girl into the mire. She said later that she didn’t blame me for it, but if she did harbor some resentment towards me for it, I couldn’t blame her.
We were set upon by creatures from the deep underdark, Ropers I believe the others called them. The battle was long fought and I hate to say that I barely came out in one piece, although greatly worse for wear. Aderyn and Ryland were also in bad shape, despite my best efforts to protect them all. We were in no shape to continue immediately, we found what seemed like the remains of some sort of camp and took a rest to bandage ourselves and recover.
Ozruk did her best to rally the group from our stupor and fatigue. I hate to admit that I think myself and Ryland were dragging the rest down. My own weakness was dulling my senses, and Ryland was still reeling and brooding from earlier. Poor boy had by far received the worst of the experience. We all seemed to come around, I took time to pray and meditate on my teachings in service to the Lady of the Water and managed to bring myself around enough to go onward. We passed through what seemed like some kind of tomb, armor and remains were scattered everywhere but none seemed to raise so we ignored them and continued on. Onward still we came to a tall tower of a room, lined with smaller rooms and a spiral staircase that seemed to go onward past what we could see. Somehow Braum and Enrico managed to sneak off as we investigated. The rooms seemed to be cells, and in a few of them we found more corpses and signs of struggles. Sickening through and through.
Before we had a chance to search more thoroughly, we were alarmed by a loud banging upstairs and rushed to find its source. It was Braum and Enrico, of course. They were trying to bust the lock off of a door, a seemingly live woman was still in one of the cells. Ozruk tried to get Braum to stop, but he wasn’t to be deterred. The woman was in terrible shape, her eyes sewn shut and she seemed half dead. Looking back, it would have been better if we never found her, but we did and at the time it seemed right to try. As the others argued over what to do, a wind seemed to form in the room and we were beset by a wind elemental of some manner. We fought it off as best as possible, though I was of little help as it tossed me like a wicker doll in a tornado, unfortunately at one-point right into Ozruk.
Through some sheer stroke of luck, we prevailed. They finally agreed to release the woman, with the condition that if she were to seem a threat, she would be put down swiftly.
She was responsive and seemed to understand us somehow, though her ability to communicate was gone along with her tongue. Ozruk called one of the other vanguard members that was accompanying us, Denam I believe, and he came to retrieve our new charge.
Outside we were in some sort of study or lab. There we saw the son of a whore, Samwell, or what appeared to be him at first. I don’t know what manner of monstrosity it was, half man, half dead. It seemed like it was decaying alive, or at least part of it. It spoke as a servant, confirming Samwell’s masterminding of this wickedness. Ryland lost it finally, his anger driving him to violently beat whatever it was until it was broken and motionless. In doing so was his folly, however. It unleashed something as it fell, and when it struck Ryland he became not himself. The boy was overcome with an unholy rage and struck out at Ozruk and anyone else around before shaping into this ungodly abomination that seemed like a bear straight out of the hells. We had to subdue him, or else stop him. Seeing his friend struck must have set Braum off, for he was unyielding in his blows against Ryland. Our attempts to stop our friend seemed to have little effect, weapons and magic were dulled against whatever force drove him in this madness. Aderyns magic managed to push him out of the room and Braum created a barrier with a heavy table. We were set to wait out whatever this was, but Ryland had other plans and started to flee towards the outer perimeter rather than continue after us. He likely would have gone straight for the village if Braum and Enrico did not goad him back. I managed to halt his advance finally with one final spell. As he lay unconscious we had precious little time to decide what to do with him. We didn’t know if he would even be himself when he came too once more, or would he come after us renewed. Using what chains and rope we could find, we finally bound him to one of the heavy tables from before rousing him from his unconsciousness.
It seemed he had returned to normal, his wounds magically bound and the rage subsided. It was odd, however, despite it all being seemingly over, he was not fully himself as we knew him. He seemed a simpleton. His manner of speech, his memories and his mannerisms were different. It was like speaking with a child. Once we were sure he was no longer a threat, we released him from his binds, Braum making sure to keep his weapon from him.
[The next few lines seem to be heavily crossed out]
Once rested, we departed for the central chamber of the castle and were stopped when Ozruk noticed floating eyes watching us. Samwell’s voice spoke to us, demanding the devils horn that Ozruk had possession of. Rightfully so, the girl refused. In doing so however, we were set into one last battle. The thing was a literal monster. A chimera stitched together with some sort of hodgepodge of arcane and necromantic magics. As with everything in this castle, when we finally triumphed, we were far worse off than when we started, Aderyn took most of the damage this time. Samwell left us with one final message, we were too late and what he set into motion had already begun. The village was doomed, and worse yet he had unleashed a trap in the soldier’s camp, dreadfully we had given him that chance. The woman we saved was his weapon, and we delivered it right to our own doorstep.
Twenty-five of our own men and over two hundred villagers were lost in the chaos, we later found out. We finalized our push into the castle, our progress barred by a magically warded door. The rest of the group split up to try and find the key, Ryland and Enrico later returning with a magicked broom and sword. Upon a better inspection, they found the key they were looking for, and we descended into the final bowels of the keep. Inside was a large crystal and I was the first to notice what was inside. A man, faint and frail. The others didn’t see but I did, and they seemed to panic as I approached it. Really, did they take me for a fool after all of this? The man seemed surprised that I could see him, and said that his name was Malvo and that he had been trapped for a long time. His soul was being used to fuel whatever magic this crystal was emitting, likely the barrier that had been erected. Ozruk, Braum and Aderyn seemed to know who he was. He begged me to release him, and of course I obliged, not willing to let a tortured soul remain trapped any longer. If we truly had lost the village, I was at least going to give this one rest.
We were met in the castle courtyard by soldiers, they informed us that the village was a total loss and of our own losses. They started setting up tents and barracks, starting their own little base while being too afraid of what we had already taken care of within. They were right to be cautious of course, but it was too little too late. One of the vanguard members, Kalana, had gone missing we were told. Amidst the chaos of the attack on the camp, she vanished and could not be found. I was set to retire for the evening, Ryland tried to speak with me but I was too tired to deal with any more tonight. Before I could even settle in my own tent, I heard a disturbance, shouting, and went to investigate. I arrived too late to find out the matter, only in time to see Ryland leaving with Gaspar, a dwarf with the Vanguard. With nothing else, I retired once more for a short time.
It was a short rest before we were summoned once again. We were told by some of the soldiers that our presence was requested to help investigate the villages remains and search for survivors, as well as assist in final rites on my part. Ozruk was nowhere to be found, but Ryland and Braum were around. We needed our party whole, Ryland I believe went to locate Aderyn, while Braum and myself went for Ozruk. It did not take me long to find her, sulking on the roof of the castle. Ryland had told me why when I inquired about the disturbance the night before. Gaspar had said some awful things to her, which I will keep in mind the next time I see the heartless bastard. The soldiers would not let us enter the keep to reach her, so I had to do something medieval to get message to her, and fired a message on a bolt from a crossbow. It worked at the least, she came down without any further fuss and we managed to regroup to discuss what it was we had to do before retiring for the night.
We were awoken to the sound of loud horns, a sign of an arrival. Gaspar returned from whatever hole he had hidden away in all night and he had Kalana in tow. She was in awful condition, unconscious and missing an arm, bleeding this grotesque green pus. The medics did not seem to know what to do. I tried my best to look her over, but even then my knowledge is average at best. One thought had dawned on me, that this may have been similar to what ailment afflicted Ryland, and remembering the cure, I took a brief reprieve to consult the gods in augury.
The gods were kind to return my words, that my magic will help. I channeled my divine magic to break the curse afflicting the young woman and it took some time, but it did indeed work. She briefly regained consciousness, but she was still weak and needed rest. We left her to recover and for the village below.