journal.wiredreflexes.com Jack the sound barrier. Bring the noise.

11Feb/180

Nighttime March to Glister

4th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

We camped in between the outer wall of the keep and the broken tower, trying to stay as far away from the stench of the troglodyte bodies as we could. Even after death they seem to ooze an indescribable stench that was hard on my stomach. Jago once again stunned me with his practical sense by building a large, smokey fire to cover up the stench.

We had a discussion about what to do next. We considered several options; going back to join Ser Fosco on the Thar, trying to find the second troglodyte camp, heading back to Glister. Every option seemed to have a strong drawback which kept us from deciding anything. Instead, we decided to go to sleep and make a decision fresh and early in the morning.

One thing that struck me during the conversation was the notion that before we found the carnage at the Lizard's tower the troglodytes and gnolls had been collaborating. I asked how that conclusion was reached, and Widukin explained that he recalled the gnolls and troglodytes meeting after the encounter at the Stillwater Rapids. During that time I was dealing with a surge of adrenaline and repeated spasms from voiding the contents of my stomach. I had just taken a deep breath of the vile mist the troglodytes were capable of producing, and I was not well. It bothered me tremendously that I had only learned of that encounter then. It changes a few things.

My assumption had always been that the Lizard's Tower was the base of operations for a troglodyte leader who held tight and merciless control. Our conversation with Gal'nutha reinforced the idea that Oxul'nitha was that leader. Her powers are demonic and more than enough to drive the troglodytes to these acts of aggression. But I don't believe that she would have enough power to bend gnolls and ogres to her will.

No, a far more powerful force is at work here. I suspect the ogre mage we spotted at the Stillwater Rapids is in charge of the gnolls and ogres and has enlisted Oxul'nitha and her troglodyte followers.

5th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

When I awoke the following day, I quickly began to prepare my spells for the day. I noticed that Gunnar had perched himself atop a section of wall that was left standing. He was performing an augury. Later he said he wanted to return to Glister. He wouldn't speak with certainty on what augured, but he felt it for the best if he made his way back.

A conversation was had about how to proceed next. A consensus was reached that the men on the Thar would come and take up shelter at the tower, preventing Gal'nutha from moving in and retaking the tower and keep for herself. I volunteered to help the men bring down the goods since I had prepared a lot of arcanokinetic spells. Gunnar would make his way to the ropes that Ser Fosco and the others had prepared for a possible hasty retreat and make his way over the Thar towards Glister.

I took off flying, together with Blackwing. I had yet to really take the time to go flying with her, but it was as exhilarating and energising as expected. The sense of freedom, of opportunity and of mobility was unparalleled. Long have I desired to be able to fly. Since the time where I was bed-ridden as a young boy I've dreamed about it. It helps that it significantly relieves the pain in my joints that I feel when walking for long stretches at a time.

Fly
Bo med faal ven
Fly like the wind

Arriving at Ser Fosco's camp, we found that Sigbart was not doing very well. The bloodloss he had incurred was too profound for him to remain warm, despite a good campfire. It would take a long while before he would recover and to do so he would have to return to Glister. Gunnar, who arrived at the camp a little while later, would take Sigbart, three donkeys, some excess supplies and building materials, back to Glister. I helped levitate the other two donkeys, together with the rest of the men, down to the marshes below the Thar.

We arrived back at the keep around noon. Jago and Widukin had busied themselves in searching for troglodyte tracks. They had found tracks leading south-by-south-east. It was unclear which group the tracks had belonged to, but the going theory was that they belonged to whoever survived the fight at the keep. It lead me to think about the fight again.

The gnolls and ogres are seemingly working together with the troglodytes. I now believe they do so under the leadership of the ogre mage. But they are probably very reluctant bedfellows, and infighting is likely. What if the fight between at the keep was nothing more than a reestablishment of dominance within a loosely aligned group with a common goal? And if so, who won?

After showing Ser Fosco around the keep, making special note about the tunnel entrance through which we sneaked into the keep, we left him and the rest of the men and set off down the path through the forest leading towards the small river. We kept following the tracks that Jago had found and followed them upstream for a while before they lead north. The tracks were essentially heading roughly in the same direction as we had come from, except that they passed between the hill that held the keep and the hill we suspected held another camp.

When we were about middle way between the keep and the other camp Jago reported he had found gnoll tracks which crossed the troglodyte tracks. Jago estimated that they were tracks coming from the keep and heading towards the other camp. The gnoll tracks were freshest, which meant that the gnolls had crossed from the keep to the other camp after the troglodytes that we'd been following had made their way from the keep to the river and back north.

What did this say about what happened at the keep? Were the gnolls victorious? Did they come to the keep to hand out the orders given by the ogre mage and did they enforce them by engaging in battle? Did the surviving members of the troglodyte, now beaten into submission depart for the river only to return north again under orders from the ogre mage?

The tracks continued and we kept following them. Soon after, Jago found more troglodyte tracks coming from the direction of the second camp, joining the tracks of the group of troglodytes we were following and heading north. North towards Glister. At that point I thought Gunnar may have had the right of it.

We continued following the tracks down the path until the path veered off west towards the Thar. Shortly after, the tracks seemed to turn north again, away from the path and up a hill. Another discussion started about what to do next and what the troglodyte actions meant.

David, who had grown very quiet and was unwilling to engage in conversation, suddenly walked off without a word and continued down the path. My guess is that he was tired of the talking, the indecisiveness and confusion. For a man of the cloth he has little patience for contemplation, rhetoric and counselling. He is a man of action. Either that or thinks us all stupid.

Quentyn had given up trying to penetrate David's reasons for doing anything, and he wasn't about to run after him. He ordered us to continue following the tracks. I suspected that perhaps the troglodytes decided not to follow the path but continue straight across the hill in order to save time.

Atop the hill we found a clearing where the tracks temporarily got muddled. Eventually Widukin and Jago decided that this had been a site where the troglodytes had met up with two other smaller groups of troglodytes. There were several dead troglodytes in the clearing, whose throats had been slit and hands had been severed. This gave me the confidence to assume that Oxul'nitha was among the group of troglodytes and she was either demanding a sacrifice from the smaller groups who were joining her, or she was preparing for battle and made offerings for good fortune.

We continued on, deciding to skip eating, despite the dying light. Soon after we caught up with David, who had continued to follow the path. This supported my earlier assumption that the troglodytes had cut across the hill in order to save time. We decided to give up trying to search for tracks and simply march for Glister. Soon afterwards, we started hearing sounds coming from the north, coming from the woods that lay more land inward, away from the Thar.

Jago spotted five stalkers along our path, laying in wait to ambush us. We could either fight, maneuver around them. I handed out dollops of the protective ointment to everyone. If we were going to have to fight them it was best we were protected against their awful stench. While we were getting ready to attack, Widukin shot off an arrow, which missed horribly but sent them scurrying away. Clearly they were not interested in a fight where they weren't able to catch us off guard.

We continued down the path and a little while later I heard some draconic hissing coming from the darkness up ahead. I was trying to make out what was being said, but couldn't quite hear it without moving in closer. Suddenly we heard drumming of weapons against wooden shields coming from our right, more land inward, and was afeared we were getting boxed in by another group of troglodytes.

We decided to retreat in order to not get caught between the Stillwater Lake and two groups of troglodytes. Soon after we heard a fight coming from up ahead. We heard gnolls resoundingly defeating the troglodytes who we had heard hissing and whispering in the darkness. I had been completely off, the group banging weapons on their shields weren't troglodytes but gnolls.

Why would gnolls, who shared a common cause with the troglodytes, be attacking the troglodytes? Was their dissension within their ranks? Were they ordered to set an example? Was this another case of infighting? I decided that we needed answers before we could effectively decide what to do or how to proceed.

We snuck back down the path towards Glister and found the corpses of the defeated troglodytes. Further down the road we came upon a group of three brutes, six stalkers and four regular troglodytes. A well-placed fireball took out the stalkers and two of the regulars. The other two regulars ran off, but the brutes engaged. Two of the brutes we cut down with fire and steel, but not before they managed to critically injure Widukin.

Fireball
Ag ko faal toor do Dinoksetiid
Burn in the inferno of the end times

I called for the last brute to be taken alive for interrogation. It took David, Jago and Quentyn to bring the beast down and tie him up. Now it was time to use a spell to read its mind and get some answers!

14Jan/180

The Lizard’s Tower

4th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

After the fight with the priestess, I took a moment to look around for any items the priest might have left behind. I found the crudely carved snake figurine that the shaman threw at me. I decided to keep it with me, perhaps I could use it to intimidate one of the simpler troglodytes in the future.

It had occurred to me that the enormous snake that Quentyn, David and eventually Gunnar, killed, would likely have to have eaten at least one adult troglodyte each day in order to attain and maintain that size. I guess we know what happens to all the troglodytes who refuse to submit to Oxul'nitha or bow to Sess'Inek.

Further down the tunnel we found a wall with small hand and foot holds. Quentyn couldn’t manage to climb up due to the slimy and wet stone. So Jago climbed up first and I followed him, carrying my rope on my back. We lowered the rope and Jago could lift items back up while I made some light.

Finally, everyone climbed up along the wall, with the exception of Quentyn. At that point we heard a slithering. I asked Jago to light another torch, while I summoned an unseen servant to carry the torch to the next corner of the tunnel. At least we might have some advance notice in case something came slithering down the tunnel.

And something did; first two, and later two more snakes appeared. These were not as big as the previous snakes. And these were not constrictors, these were vipers. I called out to the others and Jago immediately called upon his patron to summon forth a rat the size of a small dog. I traded places with David and then with Quentyn, leaving space for them to engage the vipers.

We got closer to the exit of the cave and we got a hint of the troglodyte excretion. We all used some of the ointment we had made before we rushed out.

We exited through a thick curtain of roots and bushes and we emerged on the lowest level inside the tower. The tower was in a sorry state; the entire interior had collapsed in on itself and most of the walls had jaggedly collapsed all around. The ground was littered with stones, brambles and weeds, as well as shards of flint, crude pottery and lots of bones. A ruined, once arched entrance on one side of the tower had long since lost its keystone and had since started to lose stones overhead. Despite that, the entry was clear and often used.

Opposite of the entrance, at the back wall of the tower, was a large block of stone, adorned with dismembered troglodyte hands and crude writing in dark blood. It was clearly an altar, once to Laogzed, but now defaced with praise and iconography of Sess'Inek.

Walking around the bottom one could hear crunching of small bones underfoot.

The tower’s radius was about five yards. I carefully made my way to the offering stone to investigate the writing on it. My footsteps made crunching noises as I crushed small bones, brittle twigs and shards of stones underfoot. Jago went to take a look outside the tower, and quickly found a battle scene, littered with many bodies of troglodytes, a few gnolls, and even an ogre or two. Quentyn could make out from the wounds that the fight had been between the troglodytes and gnolls, with the ogres likely fighting alongside the gnolls, like we had seen at cairned camp on the way back from the High Pass Keep.

The crude draconic writing on the offering stone were made by someone who clearly didn’t understand what they were writing. The eldest ones were offerings to Laogzed, while the newer ones were dedicated to Sess'Inek. On the alter there was a golden coin, covered in blood, surrounded by dismembered troglodyte hands.

David took out the suntoken and compared it to the gold coin, it being roughly the same size. I called the unseen servant to clean the coin in order for us to examine it more closely. David decided to pick up the coin, and just as I wanted to warn him not to do so, I started to notice the mist coming up from the inside of the broken, tower walls. There was a sudden blast of air that threw me backwards. As I scrambled back up, a dozen strange figures emerged from the mud. Two of them lunged at me, and I didn’t know what to do, so I levitated myself up, away and out of danger.

Levitate
Fus kotin faal su
Force into the air

When I looked down, I saw what these things were; dretches, the foot soldiers of the tanar’ri. Cowardly creatures who overwhelm with numbers, and could summon other demons. I was confused as to what they were doing here. The two below me seemed to be mindlessly trying to grab for me, but one of them stopped and summoned another, which appeared from the ground.

I kept out of range and cast a burning hands on them, which didn’t really seem to do that much damage. The rest were faring quite well against the dretches. I decided to levitate myself upward and out of the tower to take a better look at the situation around the tower. The dretches who I had ignited seemed to have fled the battlefield.

Burning Hands
Ag voth yol nol haali
Burn with fire from my hands

I came up from the tower and saw the Thar, the barrows, the construction that Ser Fosco had built on the edge of the Thar, the forests and the clearing of the Oldmark, and the trail to Hulburg. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any trace of the ones that had attacked the tower

I heard David yell down below and saw him use the gold coin, held it out before him, and rebuke the Dretches. Five of the Dretches exploded in rancid, muddy chunks. Unbelievable. It was an incredibly risky move to use the coin without him knowing exactly what it was, but it seemed to have paid off, because otherwise he would have been overwhelmed.

What are these lower abyssal creatures doing showing up here? While the others were killing off the dretches, I took another look to see if I could find the other camp on the hillock close to the tower. I saw the area where the camp was supposed to be and saw the forest had thinned out, probably because of logging. It was too dark and the forest was too thick for me to make out anything else.

When I came down the situation seemed well under control. Quentyn asked what the creatures were, and I told him that they were lesser demons. Sess'Inek is a greater tanar’ri, which would explain the presence of the dretches.

Sess'Inek, Nar-Narg-Naroth, Yeenoghu, these are all tanar’ri. Zenghi obeyed Orcus, the demon prince of undead. Am I just making connections because my mind yearns for there to be a pattern, or is there really something there?

The carcasses were cleared from the courtyard and we used them to close the entrance to the caverns underneath the tower. We set up camp between the tower and the outside wall. It was defensible, sheltered from the elements and relatively clear of the stench of the bodies. Later Jago would start a large fire with some moist branches thrown in for good measure; the smoke from the fire would mask the stench from the bodies. He's so clever.

Blackwing returned in the early evening and said that she was well-fed by Mund and said she was in touch with Godric, whom she called “dog throat”.

Gal’nutha approached with her two bodyguards and asked how long we would stay. Quentyn wanted them to know that we were going to stay until the morning, but that the tower was his possession. I advised him against it, cautioning that we would have to think about our safety and the safety of Ser Fosco on the Thar.

Gal’nutha asked to take some of the bodies. She went into the tower and spent another hour consecrating the altar, removing the Sess'Inek paraphernalia and painting a toad on it with the blood of one of the troglodytes. She took two gnoll bodies and departed for the Thar.

29Dec/170

The Enemy of My Enemy, a Troglodyte Deal

4th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

During my stay in Glister I've heard many curious tales about a great orc empire, supposedly responsible for the barrows on the Thar, the standing stones on the Oldmark, and many more wondrous structures hidden away in the secluded woods of the Galena foothills. I've always considered it poppycock. There is no evidence to suggest that orcs are capable of anything but the most primal urges. Never in a the last hundred lifetimes have they shown any interest in the type of collaboration necessary to achieve an undertaking of that magnitude. The lower humanoids are crude, and even if there would be an individual who'd have the intellect and mental fortitude to achieve something, it would never be supported by their brethren. I believe that exceptions can occur in individuals, but nothing that could support an empire.

After the fight, when Sigbart was on death's door, David created a fire. The element of surprise had been lost and tending to Sigbart's wounds would be easier by firelight rather than moonlight. Jago, ever pragmatically clever, set a ring of torches around our camp, beyond the range of the blowpipes the troglodyte stalkers had been carrying.

The conversation quickly returned to twice covered ground; what the purpose of our expedition. Ser Fosco, always the military man, wanted to set up camp close to the tower, dig trenches and set traps. I argued that our numbers wouldn't support an assault, and that it would be best if we would continue to be a scouting party, like initially discussed. If the opportunity arose that we could take out the leader at the Lizard's Tower, we would, but an all out assault was not something we were equipped for. I was actually quite surprised. Ser Fosco, for all his initial bluster, had always been relatively prudent and somewhat conservative.

Eventually we decided we would indeed scout out the tower with a small group, while the rest, under Ser Fosco's leadership, guarded our descent from the Thar and made sure we could retreat up the Thar in safety, should the need arise.

The next morning I rearranged my prepared spells to accommodate the new plan. I cut about three yards of rope off the rope that I had taken so that I could summon a secret, dimensional pocket in which we could hide. While I was preparing for what was to come, Gunnar had been reading the signs and portents. He had a suspicion that perhaps the real battle would be on the Oldmark. He decided to come with us because his augury was inconclusive, but it was enough for Quentyn to demand I send Blackwing to warn Godric to raise the militia to a state of alertness.

When we were ready to depart, we caught up with Jago and Widukin, who had scouted ahead to the edge of the Thar and had found a good place to set up the ropes for our descent. They had spotted a barrow in the distance similar to the one we had found close to Glister. Midway through our preparations we noticed a trio of troglodytes slowly and openly approaching our position.

The smaller, female troglodyte, dressed in ragged robes, was noticeably smaller than the two brutes that flanked her. She held out her claws and spoke in a crude form of draconic. They had clearly observed our nightly skirmish and noticed that I spoke their language. They wanted to parlay. She introduced herself as Gal'nutha, a priestess of Laogzed. She explained that the group that had attacked our camp were also the ones that occupied the Lizard's Tower. They were lead by another priestess by the name of Oxul'nitha, a follower of Sess'Inek. She also explained that Gal'nutha's tribe was the erstwhile occupants of the tower, but were driven out by Oxul'nitha. They were rivals.

In our talks, through difficult, I did manage to understand more about the troglodytes than before. Loagzed and Sess'Inek were both minor deities, Abyssal princes with a small, but determined following. Semuanya was the major god of the troglodytes, who didn't concern itself with either demon prince.

The outcasts offered us access to their tunnels, which would allow us to get up close to the tower without being seen. In return, they wanted a donkey. After some negotiations, they realised that we were offering them a much greater prize than a donkey; the death of Oxul'nitha. She agreed and lead us to the barrow. Gal'nutha explained that Oxul'nitha had arrived last winter and gathered all the tribes. Supposedly she was looking for something. Those tribes that wouldn't submit fled onto the Thar.

Once at the barrow, about an hour from the edge of the Thar, we found that the group of outcasts were clusters of different troglodytes, all remnants from different tribes. We counted perhaps thirty armed warriors among them. We were lead to a tunnel which lead back to the edge of the Thar. We convinced Gal'nutha to draw us a map of the surroundings of the tower and she explained that we could recognise Oxul'nitha by the severed reptilian claw she wore around her a neck, a symbol of Sess'Inek.

At the end of the tunnel we found another troglodyte keeping watch. He reported to Gal'nutha that it was quiet at the tower and that many departed for the north-west, which happened to be towards Glister. In the exchange between Gal'nutha and the scout I noticed their language was more cruder than what she used to speak to me. It seemed as if she had been adopting a slightly more accommodating accent when we spoke. At that point it struck me again; this crude race had figured out how to work magic, fashion tools and clothing and build crude huts, but given another hundred years, they would not develop to the point where they could build a city, let alone something as intricate as the barrows on the Thar.

With some difficulty we got down from the Thar and stood on the embankment of the Shadowed Marshes which lead all along the edge of the Thar up to the Shadowed Lake that flanked one side of the Oldmark. I levitated myself up and used the evocation I learned from the scrolls we liberated from the High Pass keep to project a violent gust of wind against the wall of the Thar to propel me across the marsh. The others, unfortunately, had to swim across, but I arrived on the opposite side without having to get my clothing wet.

We made our way north, on Gal'nutha's instruction, to a set of caves in the side of the hill the tower was situation upon. The cave itself was spacious enough for us to walk single file, with the occasional stalagmite to skirt or stalactite to dodge. It reminded me of the caves I explored with Laenore and Harlan around the Bray Valley and once again longed to be back there, pretending to be knights and war wizards. I wondered if Laenore had succeeded her wonderful father, Lord Mortimer, and whether Harlan was riding besides his legendary father, Ser Lorimer. I wondered about the library at Brayford Keep, and I was so caught up in my reverie that I only noticed that Quentyn and David were ensnared by large snakes when I bumped into the man who had been walking in front of me. Soon after, Jago got attacked by an even larger snake that managed to sneak up on us during the commotion.

Once the initial shock of the serpents wore off, we kept going through the meandering tunnel. We certainly had the feeling that we were ascending the hilltop from the inside and that we'd eventually emerge somewhere close to the tower.

We came upon a bend in the tunnel we were following and some of us could hear some sound from up ahead. It turned out to be a Sess'Inek priestess who was whispering to a very, very large snake. I could make out that she was bidding the snake to be patient, that the snake would feed soon. Was she waiting for us, or was she merely urging for patience until the next scheduled feeding?

Was this Oxul'nitha? She clearly was a priestess, and she had the symbol of a dismembered troglodyte hand hanging from around her neck. We couldn't be sure.

Regardless, Quentyn charged in with David close behind him and they were immediately engaged by the enormous snake. Despite us being able to catch the priestess and the snake unawares, they responded with astonishing clarity and speed. This only strengthened my suspicion that the priestess had been waiting for us.

While Quentyn and David were fighting with the snake, the priestess threw a stick carved in the shape of a stick directly at me. I recognised it as a summoning spell and I fired off a counter spell and the stick fell uselessly to the ground at my feet.

Dispel Magic
Kren lah!
Shatter magic!

The snake started to constrict Quentyn, which gave David the opportunity to pass the coiling mass of the snake and charge at the priestess. He bull-rushed her to the ground and struggled to get her under control. Gunnar ran up to the snake while it was preoccupied by Quentyn and instantly killed it. Immediately after the snake died, the priestess secreted that awful mist from her neck glands.

I retrieved the pot of ointment we had made in Glister and started going around everyone who was immediately engaged in the fight to rub a dollop of ointment underneath their noses to protect them. Luckily, only Gunnar seemed to be affected by the horrible stench; Quentyn and David were made of stronger stuff. I made a mental note to keep the pot of ointment on my belt so that we could apply it before rather than during a skirmish against the troglodytes.

In the meantime the priestess continued to struggle and kept trying to bite at David's face. She even tried to appeal to Sess'Inek in prayer. I tried to reason with her, telling that if she wanted to continue Sess'Inek in this realm, instead of being devoured by Laogzed in the next one, she should calm herself. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get through to her. Eventually, she managed to break free and started running. Again, she was remarkably fleet-footed, but luckily Quentyn ran her down and killed her.

She was clothed in hide and bone armour, and only had a holy symbol and a few trinkets and sticks on her, which made me doubt that this was Oxul’nitha, the feared priestess warlord.

David used the healing power of Ilmater to get Quentyn back on his feet and we decided to continue moving.

3Dec/170

Return from High Pass Keep, Highharvestide, The Troglodyte Threat

9th Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year - 10th Day, 3rd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year

I have been feeling very low as of late. After returning from the High Pass Keep with all of our treasures I found that Quentyn had gotten a letter from his family in Cormyr. I don't know what the letter said, whether it brought good tidings or dark words, but I felt myself so envious that I feared I would not be able to hide it.

I locked myself away in the laboratory in order to use the bounty of precious materials we found at the keep to finish the arcane lockbox. Once finished, we stored the bloodstone in it and David used the power of Ilmater to shape the very bedrock upon which the mansion stood to bury the box beneath the laboratory. The stone could not be detected, the demon inside the stone was weakened, the box could not be opened without our blood, and the box was hidden safely inside the foundation of the mansion. It was all we could do to guard it at that time.

As much as Quentyn's letter had drained me emotionally, completing the arcane lockbox had drained me physically. For days, all I could do was catch up on my studies. I transcribed the arcane scrolls that we retrieved from the High Pass Keep. I tried to start reading the Netherese scrolls of Sigmar the Deathless, after having used the box of mending to repair the salvageable scrolls, but it was too much for me to handle. I had to rest.

A quick summary of notable things that I should not forget:

  • I received a so-called Apprentice Ring, which grants me many interesting benefits, the most important of which is a resistance to the magical effects of other wizards.
  • I managed to identify the great club we took off the guardian, called Goran's Great Club, as well as a Box of Mending, which, at the time of writing, still has sixteen charges left before it will have to be recharged.
  • On our return to Glister, at the cairned camp, we were ambushed by gnolls and ogres. Of note was that one of the gnolls wore a magical set of leather armour, while the other was a servant of the Yeenogu, demon prince of gnolls.
  • The leather armour was identified as having many different properties that benefits rangers.
  • Upon arrival at the Newmark it appeared that different traders had reached Glister for their last voyage before winter.
  • I managed to purchase two casks of wine from Fergal.

Highharvestide

I managed to get past the deep depression which had afflicted me and prepare for Highharvestide, a very important Fulcestershire tradition. Fulcester might not keep my in their minds and hearts, but Fulcester was in mine. I'd be damned if on this holy day I would forego giving thanks to the Mother Creatrix.

I ventured into town by myself and headed towards Chauntea's grove, a pleasantly wooded area in the south-western part of the Oldmark. A lot of Glisterians had gathered there, and it seemed that Gustav's daughters were the designated matrons of the ceremony to decorate and paint a crude wooden statue. They are clearly not particularly devout, but they seem to be taking great pride and satisfaction from performing this duty.

The statue was carried to the standing stones in a festive procession. At the stones a cow was slaughtered in a ceremony lead by David. The actual slaughter was done by Quentyn, which he did with great showmanship.

A few Cormyrians from Oak Hill had come down to Glister to join in the celebrations. Some of them seemed a little uncomfortable in the pagan way the Glisterians were celebrating Highharvestide, and so I decided to invite them as well as Quentyn and anyone who was willing to join in to perform a more traditional prayer to Chauntea which I had learned at my time at the Temple of High Worship. I performed the prayer in high Cormyrian in the hopes that the people of Oak Hill would feel a little better at home.

Some of the Glisterians didn't seem to accept the way I performed the ritual so readily, but I thought it was important that they understood that things would have to change a little bit to accommodate the newly arrived Cormyrians.

When the rituals were conducted, the procession continued on south towards the Shadowed Lake, along the Farmhand's Dyke to the wall of the Thar, where in one of the many caves that dotted the wall the statue was placed and locked away behind a crude door, painted in bold colours.

I managed to chat to Ser Fosco about his religious affiliations. He talked about paying proper respect to the Triad: Tyr, Ilmater and Torm. He spoke about Chauntea and how Tempus had kept his group safe during their trek to Glister. He had some trouble accepting the latter's influence on the people he lead to Glister. He accepted that the group had turned into a group of mercenaries, but was uncomfortable with that fact. He seemed to have lost some of his faith in the journey to Glister, and hoped that now that the group had settled, they could be steered back on a more wholesome path.

1st Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

Godric came to disturb me in the study of the mansion. He had been sent by David in order to be taught about one of the five chivalric virtues; faith. I thought it strange, since faith isn't one of the five chivalric virtues. The closest one was probably wisdom, so I gathered a selection of books on the subject of faith, gods, portfolio's and pantheons and made sure that they were slightly more philosophical in nature.

Later that day I spoke to the others about what to do next to secure a prosperous future for Glister. We quickly agreed that it would benefit Glister if we would take care of the surging troglodyte threat coming from the south-east. A large group of them had gathered at the Lizard's Tower and was threatening safe passage to Hulburg.

It was interesting to note that while we had gone to liberate High Pass Keep, vanquishing a dangerous threat there and opening up better routes to Vaasa, we had let the threat along the Hulburg route grown and fester. I wondered whether my lord-father was ever forced to make such a hard choice. It felt as if we were on a boat which had sprung many leaks, and we'd have to triage which leak to plug and which leaks to let worsen.

The choice was clear; we would have to deal with the threat at the Lizard's Tower before it grew beyond our capability to handle. It would make the area safer, drive back the surging threat of the troglodytes and open up a faster route to Hulburg for traders.

2nd Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

I did research on the lizards in order to verify their exact nature; troglodytes. Smaller, standing about 5 feet tall instead of the usual 6 or 7 feet of lizardmen. They are far less sophisticated than their larger cousins, but have a nasty ability to secrete a powerful discharge from glands in their neck that causes violent nausea.

I found a recipe to help defend us a little better against that awful stench, which required some common and less common ingredients which could reliably be found in the wilderness around Glister. I shared the formula with David when he came to the laboratory to pick up Goran's Greatclub. He agreed to talk to Jago and find the ingredients. I was secretly very happy. I had not yet recovered from my malaise and wanted to stay indoors as much as possible before going on our expedition to the Lizard's Tower.

Jago came to the laboratory with all the ingredients and we made ointments together while we spoke about his connection to the mysterious animal that was stalking Glister's territory. We ended up making 49 measures of the protective ointment, which could be rubbed on the face, especially underneath the nose, to protect against the burning sensation in the eyes and the nausea that the troglodyte discharge caused.

I told Jago that I could help him make a more concerted effort to contact the animal through a series of guided meditation before sleep each night. The animal comes to him in his sleep, which makes me think that it could be nocturnal, perhaps mountain lion of some sort. Before sleep is when the animal is awake and when he is tired and hopefully well-fed and ready for sleep. It will likely be the best time to help him reach out to the animal.

I found out something interesting; the troglodytes worship Loagzed, the eater of souls, the devourer. It's a toad-like demon from the Abyss.

In the evening the question came up of where to go, how many people to take, and what we were capable of achieving with the force we could muster. Were we going to be a smaller and more nimble scouting party? Or were we going to be a larger, better equipped fighting force?

I asked Blackwing if she could go and scout around the Lizard's Tower for us, so we could see the lay of the land and see how many troglodytes were out there.

From Oak Hill:

  • Yorick
  • Voytek
  • Morden
  • Hanco
  • Ser Fosco

From Glister:

  • Aegir
  • Sigbart
  • Gilmar
  • Morits
  • Widukin

I did my first session of guided meditation with Jago, which seems to already have a large measure of success. I think his connection to the animal is much stronger than I had initially understood. I doubt it will take long before the two of them will meet.

3rd Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

The Blackwing returned in the morning with news from the Lizard's Tower. She found another camp on a hill north-east to the tower. The tower had several dozen troglodytes, while the other camp was slightly smaller.

We decided to make our way along the Thar so we could more easily surprise the troglodytes. Most of the rest of the morning was spent in preparation of our departure.

At night we made our camp upon the Thar, probably several hundred yards away from the edge to prevent from being seen, in a small hollow. We decided against a fire so that the light wouldn't carry across the edge of the Thar, nor attract some of the trolls that we know to live on the heath of the Thar.

After Jago built another cairn and carved the image of Gwaeron Windstrom into it, and afterwards we did another session of guided meditation, which seems to have met with great success, yet again. Satisfied, I fell asleep, only to be awoken by a loud thunderclap as we were beset upon by half a dozen troglodytes!

4th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

The fight was short and we managed to fight off the attackers, but unfortunately some of them managed to get away, scurrying over the edge of the Thar to the waters below. So much for our stealthy approach. As they climbed down the wall of the Thar, I saw, through the eyes of Blackwing, that one of them used a leaf of a Tharthistle to whistle something, probably in warning to other raiding parties scouting upon the Thar.

One thing that I noticed was that there was a higher variety of different troglodytes in this party than we've seen before. There were smaller, more roguish troglodytes who fought with blowpipes and darts from a distance, stalking around the edge of the battle scene. And then there were larger, more brutish ones that seemed bred for war.

A good thing I discovered during the fight is that they indeed seem to understand draconic. I speak high draconic, and they probably have a lower form that they speak, but I could hurl insults and threats at them, that Lord Quentyn was "Laogzed's herald" who would "devour their young" and "poison their waters," etc. I must say that it worked rather well.

18Nov/170

Ulster the Black

The first time I learnt of the Redwyne's shame was right after I was expelled from the Temple of High Worship in Fulcester. I was trying to remain invisible at Redgarden Keep by hiding in my lord-father's library. Reading became an obsession mostly to dampen the feeling of loneliness I felt after having lost the two real friends I ever had. It also served to give me some direction and chase away the boredom. I occasionally organised trip to other keeps around the duchy to plunder their libraries as I did our own. Lord Mortimer Loxshore's library at Brayford Keep was especially rich in information on the natural sciences. It helped that lord Mortimer and his daughter lady Laenore, who was of an age with me, were lovely people. He always welcomed me with open arms and invited me to stay for as long as I liked.

The Brayford Library

I had first met lord Mortimer when he came to Redgarden Keep as part of an attache of lords visiting to discuss matters of governance. This was shortly after being expelled from the temple, and my lord-father didn't feel like he had much use for me so when lord Mortimer expressed a desire to wander the Redgarden library, I was ordered to show him around. We quickly bonded over our mutual love of books, folios, librams and manuscripts and we perused the library for hours. Our family library was rich in books on history with minor sections dedicated to religion, genealogy, heraldry, agriculture and engineering. Through lord Mortimer I discovered just how useful books could be to occupy the mind.

Before lord Mortimer departed later that ride he invited me to come and visit him at his home of Brayford. He wanted me to meet his daughter, the lady Laenore, sail the river Bray and inspect the irrigation works along its southern banks that had been completed only that summer, and of course inspect his renowned library. I was delighted but found my lady-mother hesitant. Later she would intimate to me that lord Mortimer was simply courting the possibility of a marriage between his daughter and myself. I had been expelled from the temple which had made some of the high nobility cautious about marriage, but a lord from a more modest house saw it as an excellent opportunity to elevate his daughter. Or so she reasoned.

Despite her reservations, she was glad to see my enthusiasm and arranged for my visit. With a retinue of men I rode out to Brayford Keep several rides later. My reception was modest and lovely. I had worried that perhaps my arrival would become a grand affair, but it seemed lord Mortimer's sensibilities were one with my own. I met lord Mortimer's younger brother, Ser Lorimer, who was the steward of Brayford and captain of the guard. Ser Lorimer was well known among the peasantry and an accomplished and honourable knight whose exploits were the subject of many a bard's song and tale. Lord Mortimer was a widower and had no interest in marriage and Ser Lorimer had never married, and while the two were as different as night and day, there was an enviable warmth and mutual respect between them that made me long to see my little brother Danan again.

Lady Laenore turned out to be a really clever and sweet young woman, who clearly took after her lord-father. She was warm and caring and we got along very well. Her near constant companion was a young boy by the name of Harlan who I later learned was a bastard sired by Ser Lorimer. His mother had passed and so came to live at Brayford Keep. He was tall and strong like his father. The two of them were delightful companions during my visit.

Brayford Keep sat upon the river Bray, a narrow but deep river whose steep valley had been an excellent source of fruits. The valley required extra military care due to the many places in the hills that rogues and brigands could hide. Ser Lorimer had a tight hold over the lands but was often called to ride out to pursue bandits and keep order. I learned all this in the first few days of my visit as we sailed up and down the river on lord Mortimer's boat, the Anna-Gabrielle, named so after his late wife, who originally came from Beauclaire, like my own lady-mother.

The rest of my time at Brayford Keep was spent in the company of Laenore and Harlan and wandering the vast library. Laenore was an avid reader, too. Harlan had more desire to leave the grounds and go exploring. They had long since agreed upon a compromise; whatever interesting thing Laenore found in one of her lord-father's books on natural sciences, they would try and find in the valley of the river Bray. This way it would be exciting and educational. Both lord Mortimer and Ser Lorimer encouraged this and I found it to be incredibly stimulating.

One small section of the Brayford library was dedicated to the arcane arts. Whenever I grew tired of the natural sciences I would read books from that section to satisfy my curiosity. There were treaties on magical theory, books on the planes, like Adam Neville's "The Conjuncture of Sphere" and the anonymous "Travelling Between Worlds", magical creatures, like "Remarks on Basilisks and Cockatrices" by Brother Adelbert of Suzail, wonderous items, descriptions of magical swords and their legends, and even some silly books like "Tyromancy, or the Noble Art of Cheese Divination".

When I discussed some of these books with Laenore and Harlan, it was Harlan who was keen on going out into the valley to see if we could find a magical sword or a wyvern's lair. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we never found out exactly where to look. When reading about animals, plants and local legends, we always had some inkling on where to look or what to do, and usually we were quite successful. Unfortunately, in this case we had none, and that bothered me.

At least once a year, until my admission at the Circle, I would return to Brayford Keep, as a guest of Lord Mortimer. Unfortunately, lord Mortimer's age meant that Laenore was being groomed to become the Lady Loxshore of Brayford. Harlan was training under the supervision of his legendary father and was sure to be an accomplished soldier. Responsibilities got in the way of our expeditions, but that time was very precious to me, since it gave me some much needed direction after being expelled from the temple.

Ulster the Black's Grimoire

The vast Redgarden library became a safe haven from my lord-father's disappointment. Much larger than the Brayford library it was an endless source of interesting books to read. I would still organise field trips as a result of some things I read in the books, but the frequency and the nature of them was different than from the trips I undertook with Laenore and Harlan.

Like I mentioned before, the Redgarden library had a different focus, mostly historical. My trips often surrounded legends and ruins that could be found dotting the Fulcestershire countryside. I started to delight in roaming around hidden and forgotten places, climbing through moss-covered ruins and searching through the cellars of long collapsed holdfasts. Most of what I found there were decayed larders and stores of soured wine, but every time I stumbled upon something I'd pretend I had found some hidden treasure.

In the wintertime the options for field trips were limited and despite having a variety of books at my disposal, I occasionally grew bored. One such time I found a few shelves of curious books, mostly written in archaic languages I had not mastered. I quickly identified some of them as Netherese books and started trying to master the dead language. I did it for the challenge of it, to stave off the boredom, but ultimately didn't lead to any great insights.

However, in the search for materials to help me puzzle through the Netherese books I came across a nearby set of black, leather-bound librams, adorned with some macabre silver skulls. There were four in total, each containing curious writing accompanied by diagrams, drawings and formulae that I couldn't comprehend. There was a name on the inside of each of the books, penned in the same ink as the rest, written in the same steady hand as the rest; Ulster Redwyne.

I had not heard the name before and at the time I could not have known just how deeply my ancestor would affect my life from that moment going forward. Initially, I did what I always did and did research on the Redwyne family. I went through books of genealogy and traced our family back as far as I could in search of Ulster Redwyne. I quickly found that the name Ulster was nowhere to be found.

I started to suspect that the books I was consulting had been curated and sanitised of the information I was looking for. I noticed that sometimes a particular name had been crossed out, or was omitted altogether. Once I had identified the generation and the family relations, I focused my attention there and found some references to someone disparagingly referred to as "the Blackwyne." Initially I thought it referred to the bastard child of Lord Riordan Redwyne the Second, Sixth Lord of Fulcestershire, but when I found a book on lord Riordan and his children, several pages had been torn out of the book a long time ago, with many others being heavily damaged.

The information that was left convinced me that this was not a matter of a bastard child. Great effort had been taken to erase one of lord Riordan's children from the annals of history. I put the book aside and started going around the keep, asking anyone who would listen questions about lord Riordan and his children. Eventually I worked my way up to Ser Osmund Waynewood, the steward of Redgarden Keep. He would not budge and told me nothing of value, until, out of frustration, I dropped the names "Blackwyne".

The old knight grabbed my arm and pulled me close. They say a man's strength is the last to leave him as he grows older, and it certainly seemed true of Ser Osmund judging by the bruises he left on my upper arm. He told me never to mention that name again, to give up on my foolishness and that I was going down the path of ruin. Naturally that only made me more determined.

I decided to give up on finding more information on Ulster Redwyne. Ulster was was almost certainly the third child of lord Riordan, behind his son Graemme and daughter Gwynneth. I also knew that Ulster had brought shame to our house and had earned the name Blackwyne for it. And apparently, the shame was so bad that it still made people act strangely generations later.

The Discovery of Magic

Instead, I decided to focus on the curious writing in the books. I quickly found that the writing in the books was arcane writing, with a healthy mix of draconic, abyssal, infernal and celestial mixed in. I mastered none of these languages, but I was determined to learn more. I excavated every dark corner of the Redgarden library, made trips to other libraries and slowly started to translate small parts of each page of the first book. The further I got into the first book, the harder the text became to decipher.

Eventually, after rides and months, I concluded that the first book was a book of spells and formulae. As that conclusion formed in my mind over time, so did both the excitement and trepidation. I knew I was dealing with forbidden and potentially dangerous books, and I was also quite aware of the laws of the lands; none were to practice or study magic without supervision and approval of the Circle of Magi.

I ended up focusing on one single chapter in the first book and after long months I managed to translate it fully. At least, to the point where I roughly understand what the text said and what the purpose of the spell was; it was a transmutation spell which could repair and restore simple objects.

The spell only required a very specific incantation and gestures, no complicated alchemical ingredients like with some others which I had given up translating. I wanted to see if I could try and cast the spell, but I was so terrified that for rides after completing the translation I didn't dare to attempt it. When I finally worked up the courage I made sure to try it in seclusion. The first few attempts made me feel foolish for thinking I could ever really work magic.

But then something happened. Or at least, I think it did. I couldn't be sure, but I did think I saw something happening to the quill I had broken in half which was the focus of the spell. With every concurrent ride I spent trying to make the spell work I was bolstered in my confidence as I saw more and more of an effect on the quill. First the feather of the quill started to unruffle. Then ink-spots started to disappear. And then finally the two pieces were joined together, only to fall apart again. Finally, after hours and hours of practice, I managed to do it! The quill was made whole again. Brand new! I had trouble believing it!

For days I checked whether the quill would remain whole. When it did, I started to turn my attention back to the book on lord Riordan. I took it out and laid out the damaged, illegible pages and started, one by one, repairing and restoring the them.

It told the story of the renegade wizard Ulster Redwyne, son of lord Riordan of House Redwyne, who had been unwilling to practice magic within the confines of the king's laws. Who was unwilling to submit to the Circle of Magi and escaped during his trial only to be the subject of a months long manhunt across the kingdom. Who was responsible for the loss of countless lives in his pursuit to practice magic without constraints.

I felt like a great mystery had been solved. I had an ancestor who was a wizard and whose spell books sat forgotten in the Redgarden library. The discovery of my family history had gone hand in hand with the discovery of my own abilities to manipulate the arcane forces, albeit in a very minor way. I realised that this was something important, something I was not allowed to keep from my parents.

My parents had started to focus their attention fully on Danan and an equilibrium had fallen over our house. As long as they were not too often reminded of me things moved on smoothly. When, one night during supper, I told them about what I had been able to do everyone was stunned to silence. For long moments my lord-father and lady-mother said nothing. Danan and Ser Osmund looked from my lord-father to me and back in anticipation of his response.

I got anxious for him to say something and I lost my patience. I grabbed a wooden ladle which one of the servants had used to serve our food and snapped it across my knee. Stunned the others looked on as I executed the gestures and spoke the incantation of the spell. When the ladle had once again been repaired in my hands my lord father stood up, wide eyed, pushing off from the table so hard that he knocked over his chair and several cups on the table.

I do not remember very well all that he said. It was not good. When he calmed down again, Ser Osmund suggested that I might apply to the Circle of Magi and study there. He said that the Circle had a lot of influence and could aid the family at court. My father did not want to hear about it. I would bring ruin to our family the way the Blackwyne had, all those generations ago. When my lady-mother stood in support of Ser Osmund my father became furious. He had already been shouting, but I was certain he could now be heard all the way from Colwyn Bay to the Warrington Hills.

That night I was plagued by feverish dreams of a bearded man in black robes summoning unspeakable evils from the ground and leading them on a nightly assault on a village. I was hiding in a hut. When the skeletal warriors broke down the door, I fell through the floor into darkness and was caught by strong arms. I couldn't see anything but I could hear a heavy, baritone voice tell me that everything would be alright, that he would watch over me. Everything felt warm.

When I woke up my mother was in my room and she announced that I was to apply to the Circle. She would arrange for everything, but I had to swear to forego the use of the Redwyne name and renounce my claims to the title of Lord of Fulcestershire. I was overjoyed.

The Circle of Magi

My mother wasn't lying when she said she would arrange for everything. She used gold from her dowry to secure a place at the Tower of High Sorcery for one Ethan of Fulcester. She bought the high wizards' discretion about my identity and she paid off my punishment for engaging in magecraft against the king's laws. What she had not bought was a privileged position at the tower. It would undermine my assumed identity as Ethan of Fulcester, and considering what happened at the temple she thought it would be best for me to keep a low profile.

My time at the tower was complicated. I progressed through the curriculum very quickly, which caused some debate among the high wizards. My aptitude for magic was undeniable, but some feared that my ascent was too steep and that the knowledge and power I was attaining should be tempered with the kind of wisdom that only accompanies age. As a result, even though I had shown myself capable, some of the high wizards had revoked my access to their libraries and my progress had slowed down to a tedious pace.

Jealousy reigned among the other apprentices. After my identity was uncovered by some of my peers, no doubt through a loose-lipped high wizard who disapproved of my talents, the rumours started. A popular apprentice by the name of Lynesse of Angersleigh claimed that I was a reincarnation of Ulster the Black and that I had come to the tower to take vengeance on the Circle of Magi by usurping all the knowledge in the libraries and destroying the tower. Even though I denied any relations, the other apprentices did not relent.

There had been a few high wizards who I was on friendly terms with, but no peers I could talk to. I started spending more and more time by myself. I would take books from the libraries and archives that were still available to me and I would take them to the highest balcony in the tower. I would sit there and read, surrounded by the ravens living in the steeple-roof of the tower. The rookery was run by an old wizard who took a liking to me and would later help my summon Blackwing, but that's another story.

The Trial of Ulster the Black

One day, after classes I decided to skip supper and head up to the balcony. I had decided to scour the archives for mentions of Ulster the Black and had found a book called "Arcane Inquisitions" by Hendrik de Jonkheer, a royal war wizard and a one-time high wizard at the Circle. The book described the case of my ancestor who had been charged as a renegade wizard, one who practices magic while not belonging to the Circle of Magi, which was forbidden under the king's laws. He also stood accused of being a necromancer.

The circular room was dark except for an orb of light hanging high overhead. Ulster the Black, the renegade, was chained on either side, wrist to floor. His clothing tattered, his hair unkempt, it was clear that his time in the cells had not been kind to him, but there was a gleam of defiance in his eyes that I found troubling.

"Ulster Redwyne of House Redwyne, you are charged with renegacy against the king's laws, against the traditions of the Circle and the teachings of the recognised religions of our lands. By royal decree, affixed by the seal of the king, I was named inquisitor extraordinary and plenipotentiary in order to adjudicate this case. It is my verdict, and by proxy the verdict of the king, as well as the verdict of the Circle, that you are guilty and sentenced to hanging by the neck until dead. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

The man got up off his knees and walked in my direction until both the chains stood taught and he could advance no further. I must have been a disembodied voice to him, standing in the shadows as I was, but his evil eyes pierced my soul. He responded;

"All nobility are weak, and the Circle members are as arrogant as they are ignorant. They do not deign to implement their own verdict in the same way that they refuse to allow magic to be used freely. Yes, yes, the Circle is the sacred guardian of the secrets of magic, et cetera, et cetera. I was brought up in the Circle, so I am fully aware of their ridiculous dogma. It is the dogma of cowards. Man's dominance over nature has marked the upward surge of civilisation. It is through the pursuit of power that man can reach his potential."

He paused, lowered his head, his face hidden in shadow. 

"Tonight is Midinváerne," he continued, "the winter solstice, midwinter. Some call it deadwinter. It is the blackest of night, where light and life are at their weakest. Watch carefully and learn what happens to those who do not respect the power of magic."

I do not know where the wraiths came from, but before any of us could mount a proper defence he had broken his chains and sank away into his own shadow, only to reappear among his accusers and strike terror among them. Glyphs of pain lit up the ground wherever he stepped out of the shadows. Before the wraiths were defeated and chaos had subsided, he had disappeared.

The rest of the entry on Ulster the Black dealt mostly with the fallout of his escape, the subsequent manhunt as he terrorised the countryside for months and to his defeat at the Battle of Exbridges. Something stirred deep inside of me when reading those words of defiance. I felt connected to him on a level that I could not quite comprehend. On a level that surpassed a mere kinship. I felt his words confirmed and underlined what I had been feeling myself, that a few unenlightened and craven high wizards were keeping me from reaching my potential.

I had already given up maintaining my adopted identity in order to please others. I decided to give up worrying about what the people like Lynesse of Angersleigh thought. Hers was a response born out of fear. It was her cowardice that left her a mid-mark student at the tower. I would shed myself of my own cowardice and reach my potential. I started coming up with a plan.

The Final Ordeal

I was keenly aware that only a minority of high wizards at the tower supported me and saw the possibility of greatness in me. Maynard of Cheriton, Mistress Halicent, Joffrey the Evoker and Seer Freya of Huntly. would likely support me. The others were afraid of my ambition or saw in me the potential they could never achieve. It sounds arrogant to say it, but I felt that even though I was still a year away from undergoing the ordeal, the final test, I was ready for it. If I waited for the high wizards to unanimously agree that I was ready to undergo the ordeal and graduate from the tower, it would likely be at the same time as the others, perhaps even later, just to teach me a lesson.

It was possible to undergo the ordeal early if you could get a majority of high wizards to agree that you were ready to try. There was only one attempt and those who failed were forbidden to practice magic forever. If they survived, that is, for the ordeal could be incredibly taxing.

I started by talking to the high wizards who had been supportive and had treated me fairly. Most of them thought I had a good chance of completing the ordeal successfully, while some were cautiously optimistic about my chances. When I started gauging the willingness of the high wizards who had not been so supportive or downright combative towards me, I was surprised to find that the ones who had been the least pleasant were the most ready to agree. Like lady Catrìona Dunfanaghy, who never had a good word to say about me, never called on me, and always derided my work. I quickly determined that they simply wanted to get rid of me, through failure or through death.

It left me unperturbed. The ordeal had cost the lives of many apprentices, but I did not feel like I had a lot to lose. I was unlikely to get more adept at the skills that I had learnt while at the tower due to the restrictions put upon my ascension, so any more time waiting for the high wizards to put me forward for the ordeal themselves would not change my chances at succeeding. I had little to lose. I had no family, no friends and no place at the tower or among the Circle. I wanted to leave. I wanted to leave a wizard.

The evening before the ordeal, I dreamt I was Ulster the Black. Of riding a black steed with flaming hooves, flanked on either side by riders in skeletal armour. Of being pursued by knights bearing purple banners and carrying shields with purple dragons on it. They were the king's men. We drove our horses hard through the night until we crossed a wooden bridge and came to a halt. The king's men were bearing down on us lowering their lances, ready to run us through. I cast a spell and felt a surge of cold energy rise up from the ground and rush up my legs, through my body and out of my arms as a deathly chill which froze the wood of the bridge and covered it in a thin layer of ice. The moment the king's men thundered down the bridge the wood splintered into a thousand pieces and the horses plummeted into the water below.

To this day, I felt like I don't like talking about the ordeal. I passed, but it took me months to recover. It is a test meant to challenge an aspiring wizard on all aspects of wizardry, but my ordeal was a vicious attack on my obvious physical shortcomings. I cannot be sure if what I am about to say actually happened, or was a product of the illusions I was confronted with during the ordeal, but there were moments were I could hear a strong, baritone voice in my ear. A voice telling me what to do, which spells to cast and which corridor to choose. When my body was close to giving up, the voice told me that everything would be alright. I would feel a renewed vigour in my limbs and a determination I never knew I possessed.

Possessed. Huh.