8th Day, 1st Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year
Waking up to the now familiar sight of my friends sitting comfortably in the keep’s kitchen in Mund’s expert care, I found that David had stayed the night. He said that he wanted to remain close to the rest for the first few nights while carrying the stone, until he was more comfortable with the charge.
I understood his reasoning, but at the same time was a little worried; the initial point of swapping duties carrying the stone was so that neither of us would be in the vicinity of the stone for too long. My proximity to the stone had now exceeded for more than a day. I reckoned this would have to do for now since we were about to embark on a journey to the High Pass, a journey which would see us in close proximity for at least several days.
Mund had already made careful preparations for our journey, gathering our food and trail rations as well as prepared us a luxurious breakfast. Our fresh food would likely run out before reaching the High Pass, so I decided to break my fast as best as my body allowed. Light fruits, warm water with ginger root, a bit of porridge with goat’s milk and small amounts of bread.
I am looking forward to next spring, when traders would arrive from Hulburg and Illinvur. I had been talking to Haëlla about preparing some mulled wine. So much cinnamon, so much nutmeg and so much honey. The amounts were very particular. Then raisins and nuts and dried berries, but absolutely no lemon; that was the rankest sort of Sembian heresy.
After breakfast I prepared for my departure by going over my things and deciding on what to take. The bigger things, like a thick blanket and my tent, I strapped to Donkey. Right when I was busy in doing that and getting together the feed that Donkey would need for such a long journey, Donkey got conscripted by the Lord in order to carry not just my own things, but other burdensome things as well! Godric, another companion on our travel, brought his own donkey, too, albeit brown instead of grey. It, too, became the focus of most of the burden.
Our group ended up consisting of the following people:
Quentyn, David, Jago and myself. Oh, and Donkey. The Glisterians Godric, Victor, Tove, Ægir and Hubert, together with Godric’s donkey. The Sembians Costas, Alphio and Adan, all three decided to travel with us a ways as they depart Glister. Why they would travel for the High Pass after being banished from Glister is beyond me. I suppose the are heading for Vaasa to pick up their trade as mercenaries. And then the Cormyrians Ser Fosco Ganivet and Yorick. The Vesperi Kusman who travelled with the settlers but originally hails from The Vast, north of the Vesperin river. Last but certainly not least was the Damaran Warpriest Gunnar. Quite the company, at six and ten, plus two donkeys let’s not forget.
We left wizard’s hill with little fanfare and the next two days we travelled into the Galena mountains to the north. Initially we followed a familiar path along the Stillwater and we came upon the falls where we had cut off the Sembians and fought the ogres and lizardfolk.
9th Day, 1st Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year
As we travelled beyond the falls the elevation changed and the surrounding flora started changing too. The trees started to become higher, change from leaves to needles and as the trees grew taller, competing for sunlight, the undergrowth changed to a steady amount of ferns.
Travel was relatively smooth. Jago had guided us from the onset, since he was most familiar with the area, and at the end of the day we had reached the edge of Jago’s familiarity. He had prepared well and had plotted our course for the next couple of days.
10th Day, 1st Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year
As the day progressed I heard more and more people voice some concern about the direction we were taking. After some conversations with Jago it seemed he had angled off too much to the west, leading us somewhat astray from our goal. Once we had course corrected it seemed we were about half a day behind schedule.
2nd Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year
Almost five days into our journey and the terrain became even more rugged. The foothills of the Galena mountains were behind us, and now we found ourselves in mountainous terrain the likes of which I had not travelled through myself. While sailing north along the Dragonmere lake, I had spotted some mountains that rivalled some of the mountains we saw off in the distance, but travelling proved to be a challenge.
We decided to set up camp early so that we wouldn’t have to move into the mountains at the tail end of a tiring day. We decided to eat the last of our fresh food. The last chicken was brought to slaughter and the meat and marrow was used to make a perfectly serviceable broth together with foraged mushrooms. Tents were erected and everyone seemed in good spirits. Even the Sembians, who essentially were accompanying the lord and his retinue who banished them from his lands, they seemed to be in friendly spirits.
Later that evening, before watch had been decided and people had retired to their bedrolls and I had laid down in my tent, Jago returned from a scouting run in the area. He reported seeing lizardfolk around the camp. He had tried to bring it down with bow and arrow but the elusive creature escaped him. That turned the mood of our group; despite the merriment, people ended up going to sleep feeling ill at ease.
3rd Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year
The bleak mood that we were left with the previous day stayed with us throughout the following day. We were getting closer to our destination and all the dangers we were like to encounter, and having spotted the lizardfolk so close to camp had reminded everyone we were likely marching towards battle at the High Pass Keep. Whatever Lord Balta’s scouts had found there had taken them and we would likely have to confront that evil.
While travelling we kept following the precursor to the Stillwater. The river was nothing more than a stream of ice cold water now, with several other source brooks and streams leading towards it. Often we could simply cross these waters, but sometimes it meant travelling upstream for a little while before finding a serviceable crossing or ford. This forced us to double back on occasion and lose some time in transit.
Some of the more perceptive members of our company had been keeping a keen eye out on the area and had spotted the lizardfolk keeping track of our progress. They never came too close to our party, our group likely being too large for them to comfortably raid. They seemed happy for us to simply pass through their territory under observation.
Later, Jago remarked that this was likely the wrong conclusion to take since the lizardfolk rarely travelled this far north, away from deep or open waters. This was not their territory so their presence baffled him.
4th Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year
We finally were able to spot the high pass. Two large mountains forming a wedge shape on the horizon. Would could just make out a hill at the bottom of the pass with a tower on it. Once I saw the placement of the tower I began to understand why Lord Balta had made a move to secure it. The pass was one of two easy routes through the Galena mountains, the other being the Low Pass, and the keep was strategically placed to easily hold the pass it was in.
5th Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year
When the sun began to disappear behind the mountains and we were about a day away from the keep we started to make camp. Jago came to me and asked me to take a look at some of the tracks he had found in the surroundings. He wanted to make sure we weren’t being followed by the lizardfolk, and he had stumbled on something odd.
The tracks were that of two donkeys. I don’t know why, but immediately my mind went to a bleak place, concocting a scenario in which we had been walking in a circle and we were looking at the tracks left by our own donkeys. I quickly verified that the tracks did not belong to our donkeys, which had very unique hoof prints that we could use to rule them out. No, these were different donkeys.
Jago was especially concerned with a strange, slithering track that seemed to be following the two donkeys. I concurred, judging by the tracks, it definitely looked like a large snake was stalking these two poor donkeys.
6th Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year
We were almost upon the keep. As we travelled in the shadow of the mountain range, the air was cold, but as the rays of sunlight peaked past the mountain from time to time, the entire area was awash in a glorious golden glow.
Vegetation had become sparser and the trees looked sickly and small and I was once again reminded of the influence the demon in the bloodstone once had before we imprisoned it. Arable yield had increased significantly and what had happened in Glister might be happening in the High Pass, too. Rumours had it that the keep was haunted. Perhaps the evil that held the keep also laid waste to the fertility of the surrounding lands like Nar-Narg-Naroth once had.
The terrain started to flatten out and the brooks and streams of water seem to flow through muddy gullies. Eventually it struck us all that the lands seemed to be cultivated and that perhaps the gullies were used for irrigation. We saw some old drywall fencing which likely used to be the way farmland was marked. Perhaps these lands were all part of the keep’s domain. A well garrisoned keep needed food for their soldiers after all.
We finally came upon the start of a well worn path which meandered up the round hill sitting in the path of the high pass, choking off part of the pass on one side. The tower sitting at the top of the hill was surrounded by a sturdy, well-maintained wall. David remarked that the placement of the keep meant it was sun-starved for most of the day, regardless of the season, and so it would need a lot of cultivated land, much further out from the keep than normally.
We started up the path and took several hairpin turns before stumbling upon an old campsite. We found an old campfire, five bedrolls and a host of small belongings as well as three dead bodies, horribly burnt.
It is difficult to find the words to describe the scene. Of the three bodies, one was sitting up against an old, withered tree around which the camp had been erected. Another was laying at a small distance from the tree, and the third was a ways outside of camp, laying in the bushes. Only the last one seemed to show signs of distress, having thrashed around, leaving scorch-marks upon the ground, before collapsing where we found it.
I found the scene to be utterly fascinating and started to investigate, beginning with the man (at least I think it was a man) sitting up against the tree. The burns he suffered were severe. I judged the intensity of the heat to be enormous, which made the unmoving nature of the body a double mystery.
From the smell of the body, I made out that he had been doused in lamp oil. He was also missing much of the flesh off the inside of one of his hands, which I later found sticking to the body of the second burn victim. It seemed as if the first victim had grabbed onto the second victim, which caused the second victim to catch fire.
The first victim was also clutching a small brass coin, which miraculously had survived the heat of the flames. A quick examination of the coin revealed it to be magical, which explained its survival. Gunnar, David and myself discerned the coin to be a Suntoken, items created with the express intent of vanquishing undead by priests. Another remarkable discovery was that the first victim had at one point been wearing a necklace, which was missing.
The third victim was still a complete mystery to me.
I suspected the first victim to be a priest. It would fit with him carrying the Suntoken. And it fit the lack of birds and animals, the sickly growth, the rumours of the keep being haunted. It all pointed to an undead infestation. I quickly sent out Blackwing to call back the others from investigating the keep.
We caught up with the others and shared what we had found. Ser Fosco had stayed behind with several others to set up camp and guard our findings. We ascended the path further toward the keep and found signs of fighting. Weapons, bones, etc. Jago had found a symbol of Lathandar, the Morninglord, in the bushes, probably belonging to the first victim downstairs.
Soon we found ourselves ambushed by two emaciated undead humans. After a short fight, in which Quentyn was hit several times and later reported an unnatural, icy feeling gripping him by the throat when he was hit, I started to form a scenario of what happened back at the camp.
The first victim was the priest of Lathandar. The other two were likely the same type of emaciated undead creatures that attacked us. He was left without his holy symbol and therefore next to powerless. He resorted to self-immolation, both as a method of defence and offence. It had worked, but at what price?
As we continued to ascend the path towards the keep, we kept being beset upon by these undead creatures. Even though the others were doing a very good job of defeating the rather mindless creatures, I was curious to see how my magic would affect them. As it turned out, it worked rather well.
Ag voth yol nol haali
Burn with fire from my hands
After another hairpin we were beset upon by four others. David had said he wanted to use his divine power to turn the undead away. He succeeded in scaring off three of them, but I wasn’t going to let them survive:
Ag ko faal toor do Dinoksetiid
Burn in the inferno of the end times
Finally, there was another battle. Against five undead creatures, this time. I stood back and watched them decimate the undead. David fought impressively with that wicked looking chain of his. He kept hooking the chain around the legs of the creatures and pulling them to the ground, only to break their bones with the blunt end of the chains.
I came to the realisation that I am ill equipped to use my magic in these chaotic, combat situations. I might well have the time and wherewithal to cast my offensive spells while the enemies are distracted by the swords and spiked chains of my companions, but I doubt I’ll perform very well when I’m the one they’re focusing their aggression upon. I must find a way to make myself more useful in combat. To increase my chance of survival at the very least.
Also, I’ve been so immersed in the study of different Tanar’ri that I have completely neglected my studies of the undead. I was completely incapable of identifying the emaciated creatures that attacked us. Was it a zombie? A skeletal warrior? A wraith? A wight? A banshee? I have no idea. I think I could have been of better use to my companions if I had at least been able to identify the creatures and share possible vulnerabilities.
I am so useless at fighting that I at least have to help my friends in other ways. If I can’t help them, why would they ever agree to help me when I’m in need?