6th day of the 1st ride of Summer-Flame, 1262
The burial of Theodore Strickland was a dismal affair. He was interred in the garden of the Magistrate’s Residence of Allenham. The ritual was performed in the honour of Chauntea by a few of the villagers and Syldarael and her daughter. There were few in attendance. It was a deeply sad, but strangely fitting end to this horrific episode in the history of Allenham. More than a dozen dead, three permanently displaced … maybe three dozen remain. To be honest, I can’t wait to turn my back on this town. These wounds are unlikely to heal any time soon and there is little else I can do to improve the situation. By the Mistress, we did the best we could.
When I returned from the sad affair Luca and James stumbled in, while Emrys had just stumbled out of bed was starting to take his liberty with the larders. Astrid was loudly, but vast asleep. Luca and James looked haggard and were spattered in blood … not their own. They provided an explanation as queer as any. It seems that they had run into Martha Allen with some friends performing unmentionable acts under the influence of some … essence? Whatever it was, they followed it to a cave with cryptic markings and signs where they stumbled on a ‘beautiful’ creature. Luca suggested that it was some manner of wily daemonic creature. He also suggested that this creature may well have instigated the whole Allenham tragedy to begin with. At any rate, the two struggled with it and apparently slew it, or extinguished its earthly form. James and Luca were sufficiently shaken to want to leave Allenham at the earliest convenience.
We wrapped up some loose ends and made some final preparations before departing from Allenham. We travelled a well-trodden path northwards keeping the river within a fraction of a mile on our right-hand side. At first we passed through farmland, but these quickly made way for wild forests. While we were dealing with the sad matters at Allenham, the dark forest enhanced my sense of dread, now the forest and all its life lifts my spirits. The monotony of travel also has a meditative, almost cathartic effect. Outside of Astrid, the others were not fully comfortable with travel in the wilderness, so I feigned some confidence and set the pace. The pace was mostly dictated by whenever we would happen upon a pasture, so that we may relieve our fine mule Theo of its burdens for a short while.
We may be ill-prepared in many ways, but I enjoy the solitude of the forest and the great weather. Even that glorious thunderstorm! And don’t forget how blessed these lands are by the Mistress of Streams, this is a veritable heaven!
7th day of the 1st ride of Summer Flame, 1262
Our first leg passed without any significant events, and we camped in a fine pasture with what Luca identified as ranger-marks. The next day we came to a few farms, where we inquired about Lord Destan and bartered for some perishables with the elven blade we had taken from the bandits. Lord Destan and his guardsmen indeed had come by this hamlet called Shady Brook and we talked to the same Tom he had talked to. He gave us the same directions he had given to Lord Destan. The path wouldn’t continue for much longer. After that, we would have to go into the proper wilds, wilds not without danger or so it seems.
Tom explained that the wilderness is populated by ‘forest spirits’ that are very dangerous, and fiercely territorial. The forest-people placate the spirits with small offerings, but otherwise steer clear of their territories, which are marked by cairns and other cryptic markings. Also, murders of crows can appear at the boundary of a spirit’s territory. I get the impression that Tom is rather well attuned to the lands he dwells in. Perhaps he is like the Old Man of the Estuary, or the big man at the Seat of Friendship? Either way, we are very grateful for his help.
After our pause at Shady Brook we continued for as long as our feet would carry us and until it was sufficiently late in the day and we happened upon an appropriate pasture. There we pitched our tents and spent the night. Luca’s uncanny sense of direction and Theo’s stubborn resilience and Sedna’s guiding hand have put us well on our way.
8th day of the 1st ride of Summer Flame, 1262
During the night James became perturbed by gathering of crows at some distance from our pasture. He feared an imminent attack by a spirit. I noticed that the murder of crows was concentrating at a distance from us and not closing in. If a spirit is involved (and I personally like to believe it is) then it is simply making clear to us where the boundary to its territory is, and perhaps also to observe us through the eyes of these crows. There was nothing we could do than to rest and stay alert during our respective watches.
In the morning, we packed camp in a bit more of hurry than usual and continued on our way. The murder of crows appeared to keep shadowing us, always at a distance. We were clearly still outside of the territory of the spirit, and keeping clear of it. Luca hypothesised that these spirits may well be relics (or descendants?) from the Time of Fear: entities that became stuck in our world when the various planes of existence no longer intersected.
All things considered, our going was not too bad. We made plenty of little mistakes, and we had to double back on numerous occasions, but never for much. More importantly, we were well able to keep to the directions provided by Tom from Shady Brook.
After another crossing of a rivulet, we happened upon the mangled remains of a stag. More disturbingly, we found that a horrific monstrous creature appeared to have erupted from the stag’s torso. Luckily, this monster was without life. It appeared to have bat-like appendages, but to be of the size of a fully grown human. Not of this world.
We would discover this to be too true. We decided to track the stags final dash and found a small overhang with deposits of slag and crystal, much like we found underneath the Sheridan estate. A portal to a plane of existence with horrific monsters!? Now only the slag remains. Are new spirits coming into these woods?
We left the scene untouched (although Luca obviously tinkered with this and that, here and there) and continued on our path. A little weighed down by the revelations at the crossing I still managed to cheer up a little after some more travel from all this life around me. But then we came upon the Calvin Farm that Tom of Shady Brook had told us we should.
There were two farms and both farmhouses were clearly entered forcefully. We found the two families. All of them dead. It is unclear who or what exactly did this, but they set upon the residents with a great deal of brutal force. These people were very clearly murdered. James climbed up to the chimney where he kept watch, while Astrid and I laboured to provide modest burials for the victims. We procured some perishables for a meal and departed afterwards.
Here ends the lighthearted journey. Things become serious … dangerous again. I should probably warn Tom at Shady Brooks about these restless spirits, or new arrivals.
We continued until deciduous trees started to be replaced by pines and firs. We are getting onto high lands. At some point, from a high point, we noticed the shining armour of a knight slumped on his warhorse moving in a lumbering pace towards us. James and Emrys were immediately alarmed and expected the worst. James became taut like a bowstring, Emrys summoned a swarm of copies of himself, each one striking different flamboyant poses. Taking their lead I asked for Sedna’s protection for James.
We approached the knight and notice that he was severely injured, as was his steed. We approached with caution (I tied Theo to a sapling), while Emrys used his illusions to make Astrid appear larger and even more fierce than usual. But the knight was no threat … in fact he was dying. Luca recognised his sigil. This appeared to be Sir Florianus, a knight who had died a heroic death at the Crimson Tower, more than a thousand years ago!!! Dumbstruck we were unable to formulate anything really, and then we noticed that Sir Florianus was turning old rather quickly, right before our eyes. I summoned up the courage to perform my clerical duties and comforted the dying man and to guide his soul into the life beyond. He babbled about dying again and again, and I assured him that this would be the last time.
After Sir Florianus perished and turned to dust (as did his steed) I urged that we immediately trace the route the knight had taken and sure enough we found more remains of a portal: slag and crystals. Did Sir Florianus just wander out of his entrapment at the Crimson Tower and back into our plane of existence!? I sure hope so, for I shudder at the thought of the alternative. May the Lady of the Lakes keep us safe!
I hope Sir Florianus has finally found eternal rest. I can hardly imagine anyone who deserves it more.