Clearing the High Pass Keep

8th Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year

After finally managing the solve the riddle of the lion, the bull and the fodder the alcove in the back of the room opened up and revealed the third, and probably final ankh. I decided never to enter the room fully and remaining in the doorway. The wraith that kept appearing over and over again could still return and I was running on my last legs.

I have heard people call me craven before, but it has never bothered me. To my mind, I was not displaying cowardice, but calculus. Anyone who puts themselves in danger without knowing the odds is ignorant. Anyone who puts themselves in danger despite knowing the odds is a fool. And yet, this is often seen as heroism. I think it’s stupidity. Of course there are reasons you might want to place yourself in harms way that are heroic, for instance when it means you get to save a loved one. That might be worth the low odds.

I say this, because I noticed Quentyn display some shockingly callous and foolish behaviour that I simply couldn’t unify with who I knew him to be. He snatched the ankh out of the alcove and without a moment of concern for the well being of or considering for the others he walked past me back into the hallway of the guardian.

To my horror, Quentyn impatiently starts placing the ankhs, one after the other, in the three pedestals standing in front of the remaining locked door. When I realised what he was doing I made sure to keep at a safe distance. The placing of the first ankh was punctuated with a load thunderclap and a bolt of lightning which arced from the sphere in the middle of the room to Quentyn. The lightning licked around the edges of the new armour he wore, which was enchanted with strong abjuration magics which were especially developed to withstand this type of raw energy. The lightning dissipated and he seemed completely unfazed.

I had told everyone about the magical properties of the armour, but nobody had seen it in action before. If I was Quentyn, I would not have blindly trusted the armour to protect me, and I was fairly confident that what I had divined about the armour was correct. He blindly trusted me, like a child trusting his mother, which is flattering, but also exceptional.

Three ankhs and three consecutive bolts of lightning struck Quentyn, only the last of which seemed to affect him as he gritted his teeth through the ordeal. Through the noise of the thunderclaps I found myself yelling at him that there was a better way to place the ankhs, one that wouldn’t put anyone in danger! He had seen it! He knew!

My astonishment was complete when he called for Ser Fosco and Yorick to put up their shields and join him as the door to the last unexplored room slowly slid open. I briefly made eye contact with Ser Fosco en silently implored him to desist. He already had a look of concern on his face matched by my own and he halted and kept Yorick from moving forward, too.

Quentyn was so impatiently preoccupied with clearing out the keep that he didn’t notice Ser Fosco’s insubordination. It didn’t feel good to undermine Quentyn that way, but the consequences could be dealt with once we made it out of the coming room alive

I jumped into the moment that Ser Fosco left open with his hesitation and urged Quentyn to allow us to cast the required divinations to make sure that all was safe. I summoned a quartet of lights which I ordered forward through the corridor and into the room beyond. As I peered into the room, I felt a sincere sense of foreboding coming from the room beyond the corridor. It felt as if I was suddenly caught in the shadow of a cloud drifting in front of the sun.

I asked Quentyn if Brother David could come and have a look. I explicitly called him by his title, reminding him of David’s position in and contribution to Glister. Quentyn in turn responded by telling David to come forward with a gesture and tone that indicated he didn’t see him as much more than an obedient hound that he could order around. This had been a problem in the past but Quentyn acted in a tone deaf manner which indicated that the friction it had caused between the lord and the priest had not even registered.

Despite Quentyn’s tone, David came forward and stood in the doorway with us. The frown on his face told me all I needed to know. He explained that he felt that the room beyond was desecrated. In order for there to be no mistakes, I asked him if that meant that the room beyond was essentially “unholy ground”, and he confirmed.

David and Quentyn entered the corridor. Ser Fosco followed. Hubert was ordered to protect me, and Yorick stayed behind with Jago, for which I was very grateful.

From where I stood I could see precious little of the room, there seemed to be a dark pool of water in the middle of the room, with steps descending down below the surface. It reminded me of certain cleansing customs I had read about, where priests and their followers would purify and bless water and use it to baptise people into the faith and following of a certain god.

A workbench was stood at the back end of the room. It was littered with alchemical tools which piqued my curiosity at a very deep level. Above the workbench, all along the walls were shelves filled with jars and bags of ingredients which equally enticed me.

Out of my sight, on either side of the door there were pedestals, one holding a stained bowl, the other holding an embedded crystal. Both pedestals had an engraving of a skull sitting atop a scroll with a large feather behind it. I knew this to be the symbol of Jergal, an ancient, Netherese god, often referred to as the Scribe of the Dead, who later voluntarily gave up his portfolio, splitting it up between the infamous trio Bane, Bhaal and Myrkul.

I was asked to come into the room and as I started to walk forward the group in the room noticed movement coming from a corner in the room that the small anxious globes of light I had conjured could not illuminate. David immediately responded with an angry prayer to the Broken One, and immediately the entire room was bathed in light as bright as the sun.

The others seemed to be frozen in place at the shock of what they saw. I heard something moving and when it finally came into view I understood why the others felt unable to move or act. My words will not do the situation justice, but it was another reanimated corpse. This one looked like it was embalmed and swathed in long strips of embalming linen decorated with arcane writing, the nature of which I couldn’t immediately make out.

Aside me, Ser Fosco and Jago seemed to be unaffected by the paralysis that had come over the rest. Hubert, who had been standing next to me when the embalmed corpse came into view, was frozen stiff. I retreated from the corridor and dodged out of the way as Jago used his sling to attack the creatures with pellets.

The embalmed corpse was ever advancing, pushing itself slowly past the others. When it made its way into the corridor, I could make out its face, or at least part of it. Some of the linen bandages had slipped and revealed some of its face underneath. The area around its eyes held a darkness there, which was exceptional. Thinking back now on what I saw, I cannot honestly say whether the darkness that I saw was true, or whether I saw its malevolence intent in its eyes.

Despite my belly turning to water, I ignited a krein do yol, a sphere of fire, right in the middle of the corridor. After adjusting its position, I saw the embalmer ignite and the linen eagerly catching fire.

Jago seemed to have given up his strategy of slinging pellets at the embalmer in favour of attacking it with burning torch, but unfortunately in his eagerness to get to the embalmer he almost got caught in my flaming sphere. The shock of possibly burning one of my companions almost made me lose my concentration, which lead to some fumbling on my part to keep the sphere centred on the embalmer.

Hubert had managed to scramble out of the corridor and back to the hall of the guardian, but unfortunately not without getting injured by the embalmer in the process. We were now evenly divided on either side of the embalmer; David, Quentyn, Ser Fosco and Victor on one side, with Jago, Hubert, Yorick and myself on the other side.

As I mentioned earlier, I was running on my last legs, and I didn’t have many options left in attacking the embalmer. I panicked and reached out to the Blackwing sending out a message for help. I hoped that she would understand and alert Tove, Ægir and Gunnar who were still above ground in the courtyard of the High Pass Keep. Meanwhile, Jago had grabbed a torch from a sconce on the wall and used the burning sphere to ignite it.

I noticed that Hubert seemed pale and that his skin had turned very dry and withered. His lower jaw was trembling and he looked as if he was about to flee the fight with the embalmer. That realisation made my knees buckle and my stomach turn weak. I managed to gather my wits and say a few words of encouragement to him. I told him that everything would be alright, and that we would take care of him as soon as we’d vanquished the embalmer. I was incredibly relieved that he didn’t leave because I was absolutely terrified. I know I was selfish in making him stay, and I cannot rightly say that I would have stayed if the roles had been reversed.

Relief washed over me when I heard the others coming down to investigate. It seemed that Blackwing had done what I had hoped she’d do. She has never let me down in a pinch.

I had ran out of options to supply magical aid in this fight. I had the power for one more spell left, a very devastating eruption of fire that would certainly catch some of my companions in its inferno. I was reminded that I had brought my hooded lantern down from the courtyard. It should still hold enough lamp oil to ignite the embalmer even further. I went in search of it. Just as I had found it, I heard Quentyn yell for our retreat.

Suddenly, David came out of nowhere to push the embalmer through the corridor all the way into the hall of the guardian. I used that moment to douse the embalmer with the oil from my lantern. Emboldened by David’s heroic push, Quentyn rushed the embalmer back further and all the way against the hovering sphere. Another giant thunderclap filled the room and lightning arced to several people around the embalmer.

Luckily, I was spared the lightning arcs and with a sigh of relief I spotted Yorick’s discarded torch, which was still burning. I used a simple telekinetic transmutation to pick it up and move it over to the embalmer to ignite the oil I had doused it with but before I could reach it, Quentyn had taken the Sword of Hope, glowing in his hand and cleaved the embalmer in two. All that I could do was drop the torch on top of the crumpled corpse. That was a decision that I came to regret, later, since I was keen on inspecting the linen bandages and the arcane writing on it. Unfortunately, I found no legible parts of the linen had survived.

I had not realised just how injured Quentyn really was, but he almost collapsed once the embalmer was down. David effortlessly lifted Quentyn and moved him away from the sphere, close to the staircase leading up to the courtyard of the keep. I was quite surprised at the feat of extraordinary power, displayed by David, since Quentyn is a heavy man, especially wearing that bulky brigandine armour. I wondered whether I had underestimated David’s abilities, or his connection to Ilmater, for surely this was a display of divinely inspired strength!

David’s connection to his patron seems to be exceptional. The powers the Broken One grants him are so varied that it leaves me and my abilities seem paltry and one-sided. In that moment I realised that if I ever want to be useful to my companions, I will have to find a way to expand my repertoire. There is only so much I can learn through development of my current spell seeds. A fresh influx of seeds spells could really help.

In order to put an exclamation point on my feelings of inadequacies, David implored the Broken One to heal Quentyn and within minutes most of his wounds were healed. In the meantime Jago was returning the discarded torches to the empty sconces around the room, making sure we had enough light.

When the light returned it turned out that Victor, like Hubert, was covered in a scaly, dry patches of skin and looked deeply sick and withered. David did some research on both men and tapped into his font of knowledge about wounds, diseases and tending to patients. He found that they were afflicted by something he called “corpse rot”, which was an aggressive and unnatural wasting disease that drained a victim’s natural constitution. It was hard to heal, even with the divine powers within David’s domain because the affliction went hand in hand with a curse which made the victim less receptive to divine healing. David estimated that the men would likely expire in several days, at best.

Jago also seemed to have been wounded, and David tending to him as well. I had some cuts and bruises, but nothing that wouldn’t heal with some proper bed rest so I declined his offer of healing.

We decided to move the wounded back up to the courtyard. I stayed behind to try and find some of the linen bandages, but as I said, they turned out to either have burnt or become illegible. I went upstairs to retrieve some extra oil for my lantern and went back downstairs together with Jago. David objected to that decision and wanted us to go back the next day, when we were all fresh and rested.

Jago and I stood at the edge of the room of the embalmer and used the lantern to investigate. The chaos of the fight with the embalmer had obfuscated just how rich the room was in valuables. Bars of noble metals, gems, spell components, scrolls and assorted tools lined the shelves and workbench. I could sense by Jago’s reaction that he realised just how valuable everything in the room was, probably by virtue of his many interactions with trade caravans around Glister and his time in Hulburg.

We ventured into the room to look at the pool. The water in the pool had a thick layer of viscous oil atop it, which Jago quickly found out was mildly flammable. Beneath the surface we spotted a corpse at the bottom of the pool and I started to come up with a theory on what the room, the workbench, the components, the pool and the corpse were meant for. That thought process was interrupted when I spotted a hole in the pool. At first I thought it might be a way to drain the pool of the liquid, much like a bath has a drain, but then it occurred to me that it would fit the bloodstone almost perfectly. I had to resist the urge to take the bloodstone out and give it a try.

I shook off that notion and decided it would be best for David to have the stone. We were set to switch guardianship of the stone this evening, but I decided that if he did not ask for the stone, I would sneak back down into the embalmer’s room and experiment with the stone. There was something in the back of my mind which cautioned me against it and hoped that David would come for the stone, but the urge was very strong.

I shook off the thought and decided to go back to my theory. I came up with the following; the embalmer’s room was meant as a source for all the undead we had spotted throughout the pass. All the components we had found served to source necromantic magic that would reanimate the dead. The pool held corpses in stasis in preparation for their reanimation, and the corpse at the bottom of the pool was an empty vessel awaiting a host.

Jago and I decided to go back up to the courtyard, and with a bit of subterfuge I convinced Jago to leave the door open. If David didn’t come for the stone this evening, I would need the ankhs to remain in place elsewise I would definitely wake people up with the lightning strikes.

Jago, Yorick and Ser Fosco went out to set snares, when they returned before dark, Jago disappeared for a little while. Quentyn came up to me and ordered me to relinquish my tent to Victor and Hubert. Reluctantly I cleared out my tent after which Jago came to inform me that he had found a secret compartment in the pedestal on the left hand side of the door to the embalmer’s room. He said he didn’t open it just yet, but it did indicate that there might be more to find in the room.

Before I turned in for the night, David came to ask for the bloodstone. I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment. I would have to wait for a better moment to try the bloodstone on the hole inside the pool but for now it felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders.

9th Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year

I woke up early the following morning and I felt relatively well-rested, despite my minor cuts and bruises and having slept under the stars. I found David already awake and performing his morning ritual. I relieved myself a ways off from camp into a ditch behind a tree and quickly rehydrated before starting my own morning ritual; preparing the spells that I thought would best serve me that day.

When I looked up from my tome I saw David tending to Victor and Hubert, accepting Victor into Ilmater’s faith. Before I could fully consider the implications of asking a man on death’s door to swear fealty to a god in return for salvation from death while that salvation could be granted without a promise of servitude, ironically, Victor expired despite David’s best effort. This drove Hubert into such a panic that when asked if he would want to be accepted into Ilmater’s faith he said he would accept anything, which in turn made me wonder how much an oath worth when sworn in the shadow of such an event. I was glad to see that Hubert, who had protected me so steadfastly during the fight with the embalmer, didn’t pass away like Victor had. His situation did not get worse, but it also did not seem to get any better.

A short, but very dissatisfying conversation took place about what to do with Victor’s remains. David said we should lay him to rest there, because it could still be contagious. I asked him about Hubert, weren’t we at risk with him around if the disease was contagious? David corrected himself and said it was not contagious, which reinforced my opinion that we should bring Victor’s remains back to the Hoof and let his people decide how best to lay him to rest. For some reason David was very upset and stormed off. I am not sure why and before I could fully contemplate it, I felt my own bile rising as Quentyn argued that he did not want to show Victor’s withered remains to the people at the Hoof because he did not know how to explain what happened to him. I told him off, saying that he doesn’t just get to live in the mansion, he also has to bear the responsibilities for the people who get wounded and die under his command.

Tove and Ægir seemed somewhat concerned at our conversation, but Jago managed to calm him down. When Ser Fosco and Kusman returned from clearing the snares they made sure that the two men were distracted with the meal preparations. Jago suggested the others should go after the two donkeys that were still at large. We would need the extra hoofs in order to bring everything we found back to Glister, not to mention carry Victor’s remains. Ser Fosco took charge of the group and they departed in search of the donkeys. Yorick stayed with us, and Gunnar took charge over Hubert.

When we finally managed to go back down into the cellars of the High Pass Keep, we couldn’t find David anywhere. He had walked off in anger, probably frustrated over not being able to save Victor. When we realised he was no longer in camp, or anywhere around the courtyard, I saw Jago respond and I knew exactly the conclusion I had reached only seconds after him; David had the stone and was angry, probably something Nar-Narg-Naroth could exploit. We ran downstairs and arrived just in time to see David carefully drop the bloodstone in the dark pool, right above the hole I had noticed.

Immediately, the water in the pool came to a violent roil.

I responded immediately by jumping into the pool and trying to dive for the stone. As soon as I breached the surface I could feel Nar-Narg-Naroth’s anticipatory glee sending violent currents through the pool. Someone jumped in with me, though I know not who it was. I tried to swim towards the hole. I almost reached it but slipped off of something soft, I suspect it was the body laying on the bottom of the pool awaiting to be inhabited. Inhabited by Nar-Narg-Naroth. I redoubled my efforts, swam forward against the current, swallowing a gulp of that wretched water in the process, but I managed to reach the hole and snatch the stone from it.

In the back of my mind I heard an angry howl but I blocked it as much as I could. The water became still and I managed to regain my footing. The corpse in the pool was slowly falling apart, turning the water into a sickly broth. I climbed out of the pool and immediately retreated to the hall of the guardian. So much had become clear to me while struggling underneath the surface of the pool; the room of the embalmer was a resurrection chamber and Nar-Narg-Naroth had subtly manipulated all of us into getting it close to it so that it could resurrect itself into the vessel of the body laying in the pool. It used a great deal of energy in order to do so and it would take some time for it to recover. Hopefully, we would be able to finish the Arcane Lockbox before that time.

Jago came to sit with me and he revealed his suspicions that the same temptation had just given into I had struggled with when we were the last remaining in the resurrection chamber the day before. He’s very clever and observant. I explained to him that he was right and that I had resisted the urge, feeling safe in the knowledge that David would once again take guardianship over the stone that evening. I had trusted David’s strong sense of morality and faith to keep him safe from the influence, but it seemed he had been coping poorly, and it was adamant we finish the Arcane Lockbox.

I went upstairs to change clothing. Luckily the pouch holding my spell components was proofed against the elements and they had been spared from the putrid water. I continued coughing up thick phlegm that tasted suspiciously like embalming fluid but I managed to get into some dry clothing.

When I was done, David came to me and asked to take guardianship of the stone. He felt like he had to test himself. I think he felt he wanted to make up for his failure. I relinquished the stone to him, and we all made a vow not to go into the resurrection chamber unless we were all present. Anyone who would do so under different circumstances would immediately be considered suspect.

A little while later, we went back to the resurrection chamber. Jago decided to investigate the two pedestals on either side of the door. He had already found a secret compartment in one of them, so he was curious to see if he could find a way to open it. Quentyn decided to take a look at the jars of chemicals while David inspected the implements. I decided to look over the many components and scrolls.

What we found was nothing short of astonishing. Below is a list, with the approximate values, as determined by Jago:

  • A magical red wooden box, upon attuning myself to its aura, its magic mostly comes from the transmutation school.
  • A magical golden ring, upon attuning myself to its aura, its magic mostly comes from the evocation and abjuration schools.
  • Three bars of gold (fifty gold coins per bar)
  • Three bars of silver (ten gold coins per bar)
  • Eleven other bars of assorted metals (ten silver coins per bar)
  • Four platinum rings
  • Eleven chunks of flint
  • Sixteen onyx gems (twenty-five gold coins per gem)
  • Sixteen flawless onyx gems (fifty gold coins per gem)
  • Four pearls (one hundred gold coins per pearl)
  • Four crystals (one hundred gold coins per piece)
  • Five diamonds (one thousand gold coins per diamond)
  • Twelve pieces of cured leather, one of which is a chameleon skin
  • Three mammoth tusks (ivory, one hundred gold coins per tusk)
  • One hundred black candles
  • Eight bags of caltrops
  • Two sets of fine woolen robes
  • A set of masterwork embalming tools (fifty-five gold coins)
  • A set of masterwork sacrificial implements (fifty-five gold coins)
  • A set of masterwork stone-cutter tools (fifty-five gold coins)
  • A merchant scales with weights
  • A silver dagger (three hundred and twenty gold coins)
  • A magnifying glass (five hundred gold coins)
  • A holy symbol of Jergal (five hundred gold coins, silver)
  • Six jars of bone dust/meal (ten pinches per jar)
  • Seven flasks with organs in embalming fluid (e.g. chicken hearts)
  • Eight jars of soot (ten pinches per jar)
  • Fifteen jars of odd smelling grave dirt (ten pinches per jar)
  • Four jars of salt (ten pinches per jar)
  • Fourteen flasks of oil
  • One flask of lead ink (three measures, fifty gold coins per measure)
  • Two flasks of blood based ink (three measures per flask)
  • One flask of mercury (three measures)
  • One jar of powdered gold (seven measures, twenty-five gold coins)
  • Eight jars of powdered silver (one measure per jar, twenty-five gold coins per measure)
  • One flask of ruby dust (three measures, fifty gold coins per measure)
  • One flask of diamond dust (five measure, fifty gold coins per measure)
  • One flask of powdered jade (one measure, two hundred and fifty gold coins)
  • One flask powdered black pearl (four measure, five hundred gold coins)
  • Five scrolls of divine magic
    • One scroll of Raise Dead
    • Two scrolls of Restoration
    • Two scrolls of Lesser Restoration
  • Three scrolls of arcane magic
    • One scroll of Gust of Wind
    • One scroll of Chill Touch
    • One scroll of Gentle Repose
  • Ninety-four pages of quality pages of paper
  • A nearly complete set of scrolls, close to one hundred in total, chronicling the life of Sigmar the Deathless, written in Netherese

This is an incredible find. I am eager to identify the box and the ring and I already have plans to significantly reduce the cost of the reconstruction of the Arcane Lockbox using the chameleon skin. I’m also keen on scribing the three arcane scrolls into my spell book. The scrolls telling the tale of Sigmar the Deathless will surely help me pass some of the more boring evenings around the campfire and it will help me brush up on my Netherese. Exciting!

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