Thursday, August 25, 2005

Chapter 3. Mar 24, 2005.

Back in Hammersdale, we gave a full recollection of our adventures to Lord Jodmar. We also presented the three items, which had been recovered in Dire’s Cove: the wooden statue of Saint Drayan (which upon closer inspection was discovered to have a ceramic head), the book (which was titled Diem Lux Vincem et Mortem and written by one Drayan of Eastroth) and the magic wand stored inside the coffer. At the dwarf lord’s request, the three items were handed over to Elÿas, Taliesin’s uncle and the sage of Hammersdale, for further examination. And thus our charge ended.

We were not to dwell long in Hammersdale, though, but almost immediately set out for Glamis. It was in particular Anarion, who urged us not to linger but to press on, as he was most anxious to continue his ongoing search for the great elven weapon master Eirwin. Unfortunately, Eirwin’s last known residence is a secluded monastery in Talaron more than five hundred miles away by land and that is a fair and possibly dangerous journey by any standards. Consequently, Anarion’s plan was to employ the services of a Wayfarer in Glamis, who would transport us there, by means of teleportation, if we all decided to join him that is. And so the elf quickly arranged passage, through the harbormaster, a dwarf named Ethor Boatswain, for all of us to Glamis, on one of the underground riverboats the dwarves use to transport weapons and other goods to the markets. This boat was scheduled to depart three weeks later, though, and so in the end we left for the city on foot, a mere four-day hike.

Before leaving Taliesin got news from his uncle about a man from Glamis called Arakk, who apparently was searching for a small group of adventurers to retrieve an object of historical interest. Piecing the story together, partly from memory and partly from the information provided by Elÿas and later Arakk himself, Taliesin had a strange story to tell. The object of interest was a cloak or cape by the name of Fiend’s Embrace. This cloak was supposedly a gift from the demon lord Graz'zt to his concubine, the witch queen Iggwilv, and made by a great artisan of the Abyss out of the hide of a pit fiend slain by Graz’zt during the Blood War. Iggwilv was later to have passed on the cloak, which magical powers had not been recorded, to a human lover, who eventually suffered a violent end and was then lost. A renowned collector of old things, however, Arakk had recently discovered a journal hidden in an old desk once belonging to the wizard Zarlag, indicating that the cloak was presently to be found in an abandoned keep called Blackstone Keep. Zarlag’s journal stored a collection of notes, written partly in Abyssal, Infernal and in Common. Many of the notes were excerpts from a book called The Demonomicon, while others were travel notes and observations. According to the notes, Blackstone Keep is located in the north end of the Blood Marsh; the great marsh located south of the snow elf settlements in the Shilthindast forest and a good 2-3 weeks from Glamis. According to legends, the marsh once saw a great battle between an alliance of men and snow elves and a great host of orcs, led by the demon Galantos. To the south of the marsh there is a city, Eru-tar, which seems to be a likely starting point for an expedition. Between the city and the marsh there is a bridge, referred to by Zarlag as the “Ghoul Bridge”, where the presence of undead is particularly strong. Closer to the keep, inside the marsh, lives a hideous and monstrous woman known as “The Potion Maker”, who apparently is prone to flattering and sells potions readily. And somewhere further to the north, there is apparently a place where evil treeants are roaming freely!

Upon arrival to Glamis we rented rooms for the night on the “Golden Lion”, an inn of high repute and high prices too! Asking around, Taliesin discovered that Arakk was well known to the frequenters of this inn and a man of high regard. Taliesin therefore eventually went on his own to meet with Arakk in his city residence to hear the terms of the offer and learn more about Fiend’s Embrace. He returned with the translation of the journal, made by Elÿas. Afterwards, Taliesin and Anarion visited the Monastery of Dusk to find a Wayfarer named Yuan.

Our feelings about whether to accept the task put forth by Arakk, however, were very mixed. While Paheri felt the quest worthwhile, he was not convinced by the sincerity of our employer. Likewise, Taliesin was intrigued by certain aspects of undertaking this journey without being entirely convinced that it was worth it. The most critical was Anarion, who argued long and rightly against it. In the end, though, we decided to visit Arakk in order to all hear the story from his own lips.

Arakk turned out to be a man in his forties, proportionally built and with long black hair. He was dressed fashionably in a tailor made suit and sported a few discrete pieces of jewelry. Retelling the story of Taliesin, Arakk added that the Keep was sinking into the marsh and therefore time was of great importance if the cloak was to be retrieved. Moreover, he told about another expedition, he had just learned was on the road, an expedition apparently sponsored by the Black Hand, a mystical organization of monks and assassins worshipping the demon lord Graz’zt (their symbol sports a black six-fingered hand, just like the one we found in Dire’s Cove)! Arakk went on to offer to cover all our “reasonable” travel expenses as well as pay the market price for the cloak, which he expected to be 2000 gp. Swayed, but still not clear about the true intentions of our would-be sponsor, Paheri asked Arakk directly, whether he would agree to leave the cloak in the hands of the church, and await it’s decision on whether it was an item of evil or not. He refused adamantly and thus the negotiation was over on our part. His disappointment by our refusal was as great as his anger at Paheri´s evangelizations, though these were soon to be replaced by sadness as we left the house, determined to launch an expedition of our own to retrieve – and possibly destroy – Fiend’s Embrace.

And so on the very next day, we left Glamis by means of Yuan’s magic (our purses considerably less heavy!) in order to beat the expedition of the Black Hand. Our destination was the city of Eru-tar, but as the wizard had never been there, there would be a risk that we could end up somewhere else! Holding hands Yuan wrought his powerful spell … and suddenly we were in a small, rural town populated by people wearing furs. But where were we exactly…?

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