The Battle at Kinbrace Bluff

Previously, the heroes had aided Neamhan in her attempt to break the curse that rested on Quentin, placed there by a bargain he struck with the Good Sisters at the grove outside of Blackbough. Unfortunately, the grasp of the sisters on Quentin proved too strong and they rebuked Neamhan’s attempt.

Second Day, Second Ride, Autumn Twilight, 1262

(Silvermoon is in high sanction, Bloodmoon is waning, Darkmoon is waning)

Neamhan awoke from her reverie as she often did, very early in the morning, before the Careless Wanderer awoke. With the possible exception of Lauryn, that is. She had failed to break the curse and was considering what to do next. When she heard the telltale sounds of crystalline windchimes Neamhan knew that Wynn was nearby.  He revealed himself soon after and told her she carried the Mark of the Heretic, left on her the previous day during the confrontation with the custodians. Wynn blew a cold breath upon the back of her hand to reveal a glyph of sorts, and told her that as long as she carried the mark she could not leave, and that the custodians would always find her.

Wynn also gave a confusing explanation about his role at the Careless Wanderer, which he referred to as the domain of “Blind Magda”, presumably referring to the owner of the inn. Blind Magda was a signatory in the “accords” and Wynn was representing the “winter court”. He also explained that the inn was considered accorded neutral territory, which is why he had to tolerate the presence of the dragonling, which Wynn went on to explain was a representative of the “summer court.” He was helping Neamhan because the custodians had broken the laws of hospitality when they decided to confront Neamhan, who was under the protection of Blind Magda. It was because the inn had a “weak threshold” that the custodians could even get away with what they did, he reasoned.

Neamhan asked a few cursory questions about the Feywild and how to get there. She learned that there were many ways into the Feywild, in places Wynn called “crossings”, “as many as there were doors half ajar”, he claimed. He also told Neamhan that there were still elves that lived in the Feywild, after telling her that all elves had fey-touched ancestry.

Wynn departed soon after. Neamhan heard Luca leave his room down the hall, walk downstairs and head out of the inn. She peeked out through the shutters to see him heading out into the early morning snow.

Luca had awoken early with a throbbing presence coming from Blackstar that made his vision blurry. Concentrating, he pushed the staff’s incessant intrusion away, and decided that it was time to give the staff what it wanted. He got dressed and headed out into a city covered by a snowy sheet and tenebrific blanket.

Luca wandered the streets of Kingsport, looking for a suitable place to feed Blackstar. The city was dark and quiet, with the only sounds coming from the waking seagulls that were harassing fishing boats about to set sail, and the crunching of the soft blanket of snow under his feet. Luca made his way to The Salt, a ward just off the docks filled with people he deemed expendable.

Wandering the narrow lanes of The Salt for a while, he found a suitable alleyway that was sufficiently hidden from view. It took but a moment before a suitable sacrifice presented themselves in the form of a middle-aged man, dressed like a stevedore, well past his prime and without the demeanour that suggested he had a lot of dependents waiting for him at home. An easy lie and a quick charm got the man to follow Luca into the alleyway where a vicious ray of purple, ruinous energy from the void crystal at the top of the staff took the man’s life. A jolt of familiar pain shot through Luca’s arm, quickly followed by a rush of invigoration, as some of the man’s life energy was funnelled into Luca’s body.

Luca felt strong when the rush faded moments later. His plan to use an illusionary mask to disguise himself as Dick, James’ childhood friend and well-known ruffian, was foiled as Luca found it impossible to access that magic. Troubled by this, he tried to make his way back to the Careless Wanderer without drawing any attention to himself. Which, considering he was dressed in purple robes dotted with moons and stars, might not be as easy as it sounded.

While Neamhan and Luca were starting their day, a newcomer was waking up. Overlooking Kingsport from the coastal cliffs of the gulf to the east, Chakuq was starting his day. He had never seen a city of this size before and it left him awestruck and trepidatious. Somewhere in that city the College of Bards could be found, and some said all of the songs known to the Verdant Kingdoms were known there. While Chakuq doubted it, he was hoping that he would learn more about the songs of the lost tribes.

Chakuq followed the road to one of Kingsport’s enormous gates and found his entrance into the city. He had spent enough time away from his tribe to know how to familiarise himself with a new settlement. He got a feel for the city and its layout, and found out where he could pay for a bed for the night. He decided to look at the lodgings he was suggested, and found that one of them had a sign over the door of a minstrel playing a lute. He liked it, and decided to enter the Careless Wanderer.

Inside he found a warm and welcoming tavern room. A jovial dwarf worked the bar and introduced himself as Durham. When Chakuq asked for some breakfast, a burly cook brought it from the kitchen and excitedly asked him to try some sweet pastries he had been developing. A friendly elf called Lauryn oversaw the running of the inn.

There were only a few guests at the end, and Chakuq’s eye fell on a group of them who seemed very familiar with one another, and equally familiar with the inn. After some quick introductions, Chakug decided to observe them for a while, as they seemed absorbed in the preparation of a great undertaking that did not immediately become clear to him.

The heroes had all woken up and gathered in the tavern for breakfast. Quentin had taken a bath in the basement of the inn, Emrys had come down and Astrid was digging into the food that was on the table. Falka had joined as well, and was spreading out several parchments of notes on the table, ready to share more information on Epidemius with the heroes while they enjoyed breakfast.

Just before Falka started her history lesson, Céleste Deschamps of L’eau Célestes walked into the Careless Wanderer, dressed elegantly. She looked around the tavern until her eyes fell on Durham behind the bar. She approached him and spoke to him for a long time. Quentin made an attempt to overhear the conversation, which seemed to be about buying any surplus stocks of wine the Careless Wanderer still had. Quentin quickly lost interest and started focussing on Falka.

Falka started by explaining her credentials; she had grown up on Dunagore Mount, a tidal island off the coast of Dunashire which was the home to the Order of the Shield, one of the three orders of Lyrian knights. She had been working for the Knight Chronicler of the order since an early age, and was sponsored by the order to study at the Bournemouth academy where she ultimately became an accomplished historian.

The reason why Falka felt her credentials were relevant to the subject is because the history of Epidemius and the Order of the Shield were intertwined as it was in a battle with the Order of the Shield where Epidemius lost his Liber Bubonicus, the Book of Woe.

Falka explained again that Epidemius was one of the seven Proctors of Pestilence. She listed them all; Epidemius, Lord of Decay, Virulencia, Lady of Plagues, Vormiter, Lord of Waste, Malignance, Lady of Disease, Typhorius, Lord of Infections, Antharix, Lady of Poison, and Pestor, Lord of Vermin. All of the proctors were underlings of Baalzebul, an archdevil and ruler of the Seventh Hell, also known as Maladomini. They were responsible for overseeing, advancing and encouraging the development of all manner of diseases, plagues and infections.

The story about how Epidemius came to lose his Book of Woe that Falka told was not a simple and straightforward story.

A demon lord named Lamashtu, also known as the Mother of Monstrosities, had been convinced by Pazuzu, another demon lord, to attack the Order of the Shield. There were several stories about why and how Pazuzu convinced Lamashtu, but the most compelling was that defeating the order would clear the way to raise a monstrous creature from the deeps of the Jagged Shore.

Unseen, Pazuzu slipped into the Nine Hells, found Mephistopheles, Ruler of the Eighth and Lord of Cania, and struck a deal with him. Pazuzu traded the knowledge and details of Lamashtu’s attack for a circular tablet from the archdevil’s personal vaults.

And so it came to be that when Lamashtu’s monsters fell upon the Order of the Shield at Kinbrace Bluff, Epidemius and a small group of his fiends were invited by Mephistopheles to observe the battle and catalogue any new and interesting ways in which wounds festered, infections spread and diseases ravaged. But the forces of Mephistopheles betrayed Epidemius and used him as bait to lure Lamashtu and her monsters out. The demons overstretched themselves and got caught between the hammer and anvil of the infernal forces of Mephistopheles, and the knights of the Order of the Shield.

Epidemius lost the Book of Woe, which fell into the hands of the Order of the Shield when the recovered it after the battle. Epidemius was banished back to the Nine Hells and began the slow and arduous task of climbing the ranks and regaining his station.

Falka shared a passage of old writing she had found which supported the story:

Lo, the pestilent fiend was rent asunder by the monstrosities and sank back into the ground leaving behind its Book of Woe. How the other fiends cackled as one their own was mercilessly sacrificed. They stepped aside as the knights bore down on the demonic horde’s flank, driving lyrium tipped lances, filled with His holy fire, into the heart of chaos.

The Mother of Monstrosities cursed and spat and swallowed whole a dozen of her children and tore open a rift to retreat back to the abyss. The heavens opened and His light shone forth, illuminating the Book of Woe and protecting it from the greed of the other fiends, allowing the Just and Righteous to secure it.

– Teachings of Prior Arturian of Pholtus, First Abbot of the Monastic Order of Apothecaries

According to Falka, a rift was created that day, not just between Baalzebul and Mephistopheles, but also between the Calabim, of which Baalzebul was a member, and the Belseraphs, of which Mephistopheles was a member. This animosity has lead to tension and hostilities between the two bands of devils ever since, while Takhisis sat her throne, fanning the flames of strife.

Falka quote from the Book of the Enemy, a religious text within the Church of Deus, which said;

How the vestments of Maladomini shook with the anger of Baelzubub. He brought indictment against Mephisto, vowing the destruction of the Liar. But the indictment was cut short. The vestment of Maladomi cracked, and the foundations of Cania sundered, as both archdukes were cast down by Asmodeus. Baelzubub for believing a Balsaraph, and Mephisto for conspiring with chaos.

— Book of the Enemy, Church of Deus

Falka continued her story by telling the heroes about what happened to the Book of Woe after the Battle of Kinbrace Bluff. The book was inspected by the order’s Knight Chronicler and their assistant and both went mad from reading the book. The Senhadrim took the book away to a remote part of Dunagore and built a small monastery meant to keep the book guarded and safe. The monks formed the Monastic Order of Apothecaries in the worship to Pholtus, the God of Light and Healing.

Many of the monks fell to madness, disease, temptation, and corruption before they established the rigorous training necessary to safely consume the pages of the book. What the monks learned from the Book of Woe became foundational to a lot of modern healing techniques. They established clinics as part of all major temples to Pholtus. The order’s relevance waned considerably over the ages, but their legacy of clinics survived.

The heroes discussed the Book of Woe, about it supposedly being held by the Order of Apothecaries, while Epidemius claims the Upright Man had possession of it, indicating that it should be still in the vault’s library.

Chakuq, who had been sitting and listening to the lecture by Falka, felt himself growing interested in the discussion and politely joined in, offering his insights as a hunter.

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