The Endless Road

Game 7 - The Kargat
Level 4

Jander,

Your information was good up to a point. Our target and his companions were, in fact, delayed in Stonecrest for a few days. This permitted us to set up an ambush far enough along the road so as to avoid pesky military patrols. 

The timing could have been better. The sun was still up when they arrived at our ambush location, but our mortal servants were able to delay them with some bit about being poor farmers whose wagon had broken down while the three of us lurked under heavy cloak in the pine forest nearby.

I was pleasantly surprised when the target, accompanied only by a wild-looking halfling, wandered off up the road. This permitted me to stalk them and prepare to take custody of him while his companions were otherwise distracted. 

I had everything under control. The halfling was mesmerized, and the target was nearly in my grasp. Imagine my surprise, then, when YOUR FUCKING DAUGHTER charged out of the brush with a flaming sword.  

Fortunately I was able to freeze her mind, but I know that trick doesn't last long, and the halfling's mesmerism could drop at any moment. I opted for discretion and fled after trying to sell the target on the plan in what little time I had before his companions came at me. He kept blathering on about this "Empress" as if I'm supposed to care about some wanna-be ruler of some backwater. Hopefully he comes around and realizes that he could rule Darkon (or at least enjoy being its figurehead ruler), a realm superior in every measurable way to this rural pigsty. I'll give him some time to consider it. After all, I can always find him again.

My lieutenants and servants, however, were less fortunate. It seems the target has found some powerful companions for protection. They were able to discorporate the other two kargat and left the human servants as throat-slit carrion. I have no idea if my lieutenants will reform here, or find their way back to Il Aluk, or what. It's regrettable, but their loyalty was always a bit iffy.

Speaking of which, I would be deeply hurt if I were to discover that your curious failure to mention your daughter's presence was some sort of attempt to usurp me or get me killed. I very much look forward to hearing your excuses in person.

Utterly Sincerely,
Your Lord and Captain,
Baron Metus

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Game 6 - The Rat King
Level 4

As eerie and disconcerting as the mind-speech of the Rat King may be, I am comforted by the apparent fact that they can't easily convey lies. Also, it doesn't seem like the Rat King understands why they would need to lie to their Chosen.

And so, as I sought healing in the aftermath of my near-execution I asked them if they had planned for this outcome. Rather than tell me the comforting lie that they had planned it all out and I was never in serious danger of spending the rest of my life in hard labor, or executed in a dungeon, the Rat King simply told me that this result was one of many possible results hinging on the very specific, and hard-to-predict legal morality of the Imperial Agent Jahandra.

And then, since I HAD just finished nearly dying to secure the safety of the colony, they took the time to explain events as their vast intellect had managed to piece them together.

They were wary, of course, when Jahandra and the legendary Butcher first arrived in town, but figures of authority or legend do not necessitate undue paranoia. The Rat King, however, considered it highly likely that Judge Rosen would seek to use them against us if given the chance. 

At first it looked like it wouldn't happen, that they were going to collect their companions and resume their journey west, but suddenly they were unpacking their wagon again and the colony increased their threat-awareness protocols accordingly. Sure enough, all six of them scattered throughout Stonecrest, ingratiating themselves with various groups. While the Rat King wasn't listening to all their conversations, circumstantial evidence suggested an intelligence operation aimed squarely at us. This was confirmed when Jahandra themself was observed covertly entering one of our flophouses on the tail of a mysterious scarred dwarf who may have been Caleb or one of the others under magical disguise, seeking initiation into the Colony.

While the Rat King themselves hadn't made a decision on what to do, some of our more hot-headed members started an intelligence operation of their own to gather information on Jahandra and the Butcher for a possible pre-emptive strike. Jahandra and their companions became aware of this operation with surprising speed, apprehending one of our outermost initiates and compelling him to bring them into the Undercity for the purposes of negotiating directly with the Rat King. 

At this point, the Rat King was forced to make a decision and I was touched by their mind and sent to meet the agents of the Empress. 

The unpredictable variables were: 1) Would Jahandra be willing to talk at all or was this a trick to start the butchery of our people, 2) If willing to talk, how would Jahandra react to a straightforward account of the ways in which the law in Stonecrest has been twisted by Judge Rosen and the Council to create a system of legal slavery, 3) How would Jahandra react to an obvious sacrifice-gambit to maintain the status quo leveraging my status as a minor as a potential guard against summary execution, 4) What side would Jahandra take when Judge Rosen's need to take control of the "Rat King" and dispose of him quietly so as to avoid another uprising like the one 40 years ago inevitably pushed Jahandra into conflict with corrupted Guardsmen under the Judge's indirect control?

It was… disturbing… to realize how precarious my situation was, but I trust the Rat King and our people. I presented myself as "the Rat King" promising to give myself up to justice to save our people. It seems that Jahandra was, in fact, willing to talk, and they and their companions seemed to be angling hard for proof that Judge Rosen has committed crimes against the Empire. Sadly, Judge Rosen is usually quite careful to work within the law which she has complete control over. If she wants a thing, she merely makes it legal in advance. There was no evidence I could present, but the fact that this group of agents was seeking it was encouraging in that it meant they could perceive the injustices perpetuated by Stonecrest's legal system and were uncomfortable with them.

Jahandra and their companions seemed willing to accept the obvious sacrifice gambit, taking me into custody. This was already an optimal outcome for the Colony, if not for me, in that only I would face the law, but things got complicated when Sergeant Miller showed up with his goons. The Sergeant and his squad, of course, are well known to us in the Colony as dirty guards who will lie under oath and commit other petty crimes for money. I made sure my companions were aware of this as the Sergeant demanded I be remanded to his custody. The Imperial agents hesitated to outright assault officers of the law, insisting I remain in THEIR custody. Violence ensued.

Technically Caleb attacked first, providing the guards legal justification to defend themselves but I think everyone knew the guards were ready and willing to do what it takes to make sure I was taken alive or dead if necessary. In retrospect it's heartening to know that Judge Rosen still has no clue about the true nature of the Rat King, still believing them to be a single person who could be so captured. The Sergeant brought his witch with him and it looked at first like my escort would be overwhelmed.

During the fighting, Sergent Miller came to the decision that he couldn't guarantee my capture, especially after the Rat King sent a part of the Swarm to aid us. He rushed past the Butcher, who was actually working hard to protect my life, much as the legends say he protected that long-ago condemned criminal from rescue, but he was unable to stop the Sergeant's blade from cutting me down. Fortunately the halfling rat-talker healed me enough to spare my life, and that is when the Rat King chose to make themselves known.

I still don't know why the Rat King exposed themselves to the Imperial Agents. The safe move would have been to let me die, let my corpse be dragged before the Judge. The Rat King themselves admit that it was a risky gambit, but the calculation hinged on Jahandra's willingness to die fighting the Judge's corrupt guards, and the conviction that if one of the guards could be captured, it might provide JUST enough evidence against the Judge to provoke a cascade of events that might result in her ouster, or at least some amount of reform. I can't claim to follow the sequence-chain of calculated probabilities.

The Rat King neutralized the archers and through my mouth suggested a guard be captured. This was by no means a sure thing as, much to everyone's surprise, including the Rat King's, the otherwise-innocuous Lucy Talbot turned into a shadow beast and tore into the rest of the guards. Nobody knew if she would spare one from her horrific hunger. Certainly the young wizard-lad Phineas expressed to me the need to flee just in case. 

Lucy, it seems, had self-control, as did the others, and Guardsman Gerald Cooper surrendered, soiling himself in terror, promising to tell them everything, testify to everything. At that point Jahandra made eye contact with me, and the Rat King through me, and obviously and deliberately turned their back on me to interrogate Cooper. Phineas used magic to remove my manacles and we hurried away into the Undercity. 

Phineas is an… odd kid. Then again, so am I. I'm only a few years older than him, but he seemed older than me as he spoke of the Rat King, clearly academically fascinated. The Rat King was intrigued and offered him an… uncertain portent surrounding his companion Caleb, who is apparently some kind of "egg" from which something immense and disturbing may hatch someday. This didn't seem to surprise Phineas. I parted from him cordially and sought healing. The Rat King led them out of the Undercity by the most covert means back to their inn with their prisoner. 

And so, here I am, unarrested, unimprisoned, and not yet facing execution or a lifetime of hard labor. It remains to be seen what Jahandra and their companions will do with their new witness. Will they stay to cause a scene or will they take their witness west to the Empress? Honestly I have no idea, and the Rat King declines to share with me their calculations on the subject. They seem to have a lot on their collective mind right now. I'm just glad I could be of service for the sake of my mother, sister, and friends. 

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Game 5 - Stonecrest
Level 3 - Level 4

When old Hubert came to me, white as a sheet, and told me that Sergeant Rene Ordell had just come through the East Gate in the company of Inquisitor Jarek looking not a day older than when he left us more than forty years ago I thought that perhaps the old fellow had been drinking on the job again. After all, there's a reason he's still a working guardsman despite his advanced years, drink having consumed what savings he might have had.

But sure enough, there he was, my old Captain… not that he ever claimed that rank, mind you. I remember once when one of the other lads had referred to him as "Captain" and he flipped his lid. It was the only time I can recall ever seeing Ordell act in any way that wasn't calm and measured. 

I sat and watched him with his… squad? Travelling companions? in the common room of the Blind Maiden Inn. He didn't seem to recognize me, but then again when last he saw me I was barely 16. I wasn't sure if it wasn't some sort of trick, but there were no ostentatious announcements, no attempt to milk his legend for money as I would expect some charlatan to do. 

It seems, in fact, that he was engaged in guarding a young woman suffering under a monstrous curse. I only learned about it when old Hubert alerted me that some of his fellow guardsmen had taken bribes from a prisoner, one Victor Bellamy, to smuggle in Ordell's companion Lucy Talbot. Apparently Bellamy and Lucy go back a ways and he sought to cure her of her curse from the safety of a gaol cell. I wasn't privy to the details, but things didn't go as planned and Ordell and his companions were on the scene with alacrity despite the fact that they were technically not authorized to enter the Hall of Justice's dungeons. 

Anyway, Lucy didn't kill anyone, and guards technically do have discretion over visitation, so I was able to smooth things over. They certainly could have gone a lot worse. But in the brief conversation I had with Ordell as they returned to their inn I was convinced it was really him.

Of course, the trial at dawn of Bellamy and Savra Sunstar was well attended. Judge Rosen herself took over the case from the magistrate, probably entirely on the rumor that Ordell would be testifying. Inquisitor Jarek made a thorough case, and the young lad Phineas St. Ambrose testified as well as or better than an adult twice his age, but everyone was really there to hear Ordell speak. The Sergeant was never much on public speeches, but in simple, straightforward words he told of a recent mission of his where his squad was slain by a monstrous being similar in all respects to the alleged victim, corroborating Bellamy and Sunstar's claims that they were acting in defense of themselves and the town of North Barrowdin. 

Judge Rosen ruled in Bellamy and Sunstar's favor and it seemed that Ordell and his companions were preparing to leave. In the midst of preparations, however, the elven Imperial Agent among them, Jahandra, returned with some news I didn't hear and they started unpacking again. While his companions scattered on errands, Ordell came back to the Hall of Justice and began to read the names of the fallen Stone Harts carved in the stone from that day, so long ago, when we all died nearly to a man in defense of a brigand condemned to die. It was clear that he was afflicted with emotion. I gave him what support I could.

I'm starting to piece some things together. That, along with some wild speculation, leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that Ordell is cursed. I remember the old Sergeant, and I see who he is now, and I wonder what he might have been before I was born. I just hope he can find rest someday.

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Game 4 - The Mother
Level 3

That bloody-minded maniac Liselle couldn't have known what she was unleashing when she rallied the people of Arborvale into abducting, drugging, and sacrificing random travelers for increased fertility. I advocated against it in the beginning but I admit that even I was swayed, albeit reluctantly, mostly by the prospect of finally bearing a child of my own. 

And now I have left everything behind… my husband, my relatives, the only life I've ever known, because to stay was to risk the ire of the sisters of the slain being I had thought was our god.

My first inkling that everything had gone wrong was seeing the soldier, Rene Ordell, stand in the doorway of the Widow Cooper's house, apparently unfazed by the sleeping draught she was supposed to have given him. As the more… enthusiastic members of our community moved to overwhelm him and bind him in preparation for the Rite he stood like a mountain, holding off truncheons, staves, and even thrown rocks providing the cover needed for Caleb to melt cousin Arthur and his father in acid. He followed that up with a gout of flame that dropped two more villagers.

I could see the resolve failing in about a third of us, none of whom anticipated a body count on our side. But when the Imperial Assassin slashed my ankle tendons and then exploded High Priestess Liselle's throat, that really put the fear into them. Our group of enthusiastic villagers began to rout. With Liselle dead I was the highest ranking member of the Mother's Children and I started to plead with my fellow villagers to stand down. 

What ultimately convinced them all to flee, though, was the horrific shadow creature that emerged from Lucy Talbot. It ate Faros's heart and nearly killed her own companions before she was put down. That monster-hunter Victor Bellamy showed up just long enough to do nothing useful. Apparently he had been hunting Lucy. I was too busy trying to bring order to the village to pay much attention to that reunion, but he left almost immediately thereafter. 

Once calm returned, Katra who was Given and some of the braver Mother's Children tended to the fallen. We were fortunate to have lost only four villagers in the fight. One to Caleb's acid, one to Caleb's fire, one to the shadow-beast inside Lucy, and another to the battle fugue that came over Rene right before he was overwhelmed. I tried to convince these Imperial Agents that the frenzy to sacrifice them had mostly been Liselle's plan coupled with a general distrust of outsiders and a desire for children, and that we no longer were going to hurt them. We showed our good faith by healing them all of their wounds, but to ensure peace I kept the villagers as far away from them as possible.

As they spoke among themselves, they began to discuss the assumption that the Mother isn't a goddess at all but a malign faerie entity. I didn't really believe it, but I knew we had to present SOME sort of sacrifice to her at midnight, even if only of grain and fruit, and I felt it only proper to permit these agents to accompany me. After all, the Mother seemed specifically interested in Katra, and Katra deserved to know why.

I performed the ritual in the cave beyond the Arbor at the appointed time and the Mother appeared, as she always does. She was benevolent and kind as she always was, promising that Liselle's bloodlust, while it would have indeed brought more births to the village, was her own idea and the Mother accepts whatever sacrifice we're willing to offer. I admit to shameful relief, knowing that we could all go back to normal.

My companions were not so easily placated. Katra begain questioning the Mother and the Mother couldn't maintain her kind and benevolent facade. It was clear she HATED Katra for some reason, recognized her, claimed that she had KILLED the Mother more than once, and vice versa, a statement I found hard to… comprehend. Then Jahandra burst from the shadows to stab the Mother only to reveal her to be an illusion.

At that point a hideous creature made of sinew, slime, and wood emerged from nothingness, her eyes a swirling void, and my companions engaged in violence. I was incapacitated almost immediately when I foolishly attempted to use my gifts as one of the Mother's Children against the creature who, it seems, was actually the Mother. The creature threw lightning around along with other powerful magic and my companions were nearly slain but eventually Caleb's fiery breath burned her to embers. 

And that seemed to be that. The Mother was slain. I was just starting to try to process this when the young man who, for some reason, accompanied us uttered a profanity he shouldn't have used and told us that the Mother had two sisters. No sooner had he uttered this realization than the lanterns all blew out in a chill wind and eerie singing filled the cave. Two voice, speaking in sylvan, swore eternal vendetta against Katra before fading on the wind.

I'm not sure if they chose not to reveal themselves out of fear or if they weren't present at all, merely projecting their ire from some other far villages they have in their sway, but I knew my betrayal of the Mother would not be forgiven. The other villagers have deniability. I made sure of it by leaving them all behind. They might, conceivably, escape whatever Doom the Mother's sisters have in mind. But I knew I needed to leave.

The Imperial Agents agreed. We returned to Arborvale to retrieve Rene, who had been left behind due to his fragile state of mind. I collected some few effects, said a tearful farewell to Aaron, gave the other villagers an extremely concise summation of events, and departed. 

We crossed the river at the ford, and for the two days it took to journey back to the road we heard no animal noises. A sense of malevolent watchfulness followed us the entire way. Upon arriving at the road, we saw Imperial Engineers repairing the bridge and helping that Inquisitor and his wagon across. In my opinion, the more stout companions we have on the road the better I'll sleep at night. 

And so my exile begins. I don't know what I'll do. Maybe something will present itself in Stonecrest.

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Game 3 - Arborvale
Level 3

It's been five years since the last child was born in Arborvale. Five years since anyone in the village had the courage to give their life to the Mother so that new life could spring anew. I know that the Widow Cooper intends to make the sacrifice this year, and that takes a courage and conviction I can only hope to match someday. But if our village is to survive, we need fresh blood.

High Priestess Liselle has taken some… extreme steps. Sabotaging the bridge and placing me nearby to divert hapless travelers to the village is a lot more… active than we've been at procuring sacrifices for the Mother in the past, but the High Priestess promises us many children this year if we can bring in enough outside revelers. Widow Cooper can enkindle but one womb. We need more.

At first I worried. The Inquisitor's wagon, complete with prisoner and half-dozen guards, would have been perfect, but he refused to leave the Road despite every promise of feast and revelry. Fortunately, only two days into the festival, another traveling party happened along. This one was also Imperial but much more… diverse. They also seemed much more amenable to spending a few days in peace and revelry and took to my invitation readily. I sold a flower wreath to the highborn Lady, the lock of my hair woven into it permitting me to watch their movements upriver to make sure they made it to the festival in time.

I nearly despaired, though, as they turned around less than a mile away and returned. Apparently the Inquisitor's prisoner and her alleged crime was of sudden interest to these other Imperials. They convinced the Inquisitor, somehow, to permit the child among them to perform surgery on the victim's corpse, a task to which the lad seemed… disturbingly competent. Apparently they found enough evidence in the corpse that matched the prisoner's story to convince the Inquisitor to free her from her chains, although she was still bound to accompany them to Stonecrest for trial. The prisoner, Savra Sunstar, was… strange. I got goose-pimples when she would look my way. I really don't think she would be a suitable sacrifice for the Mother.

Fortunately, after completing this task, the band of Imperial agents turned back toward the festival and made good time. I lingered by the bridge for another day, but no additional people appeared to take my offer, and I didn't wish to miss the festival. My Aaron and I have been hoping for a child for six years now and I want to try to see if one of the sacrifices might enkindle my own womb at the festival. 

I arrived shortly after the first Maypole dance. The visitors were having a good time. The lad seemed to have taken up with the four children of the village and was engaged in all manner of childish shenanigans. Obviously we won't be sacrificing him. He's too young. I don't yet know what we'll do with him when this is all over, but perhaps he could be convinced to join us with no adults to look after him any longer. The Imperial Assassin seemed… extremely awkward in social situations. Getting that one to partake in the sleeping draught would be extra difficult I suspect. The dwarf with the strange tattoos had, according to Widow Cooper, been extremely kind and helpful. She was saddened that his life would be sacrificed for the future, even if resigned to it. The soldier will probably take to the sleeping draught, if my knowledge of soldiers is any indication, and should give us little trouble. 

That just leaves the halfling, Katra who was Given. One would think she would be favored of the Mother, and perhaps spared, but when I spoke to High Priestess Liselle I was assured that Katra was the highest priority. The Mother wished her soul above all others, and would bless three wombs for her small life alone. I don't know what it is about Katra that has elicited such desire in the Mother, but I am hardly going to question such generosity.

Well. I should finish this diary entry. The evening Maypole is about to commence. The Widow Cooper assures us that she will drink the draught along with as many of our guests as she can convince to drink it. We will perform the rites shortly thereafter.

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Game 2 - Prologue
Level 2 - Level 3

It seems I still struggle against the shackles of this place. I have not yet resigned myself entirely to the Doom that my beloved uttered so long ago. The Hooded One still feasts upon my power, drip and drabble, piece by piece, and yet there are those who would resist him still.

Poor fools.

It seems some part of the Hooded One's cult captured one of my ancient coins. The leader of this particular cell was more ambitious than most. He sought to siphon a much larger portion of myself into the ever-hungering maw of his lord than usual in a ritual requiring blood sacrifice.

The idiot didn't see what was right before him. The patterns of this place have a way of playing out, and his nefarious intentions were simply the catalyst whereby the Six were assembled. Of COURSE the cult would seek out travelers upon the road exhibiting signs of a greater destiny. The cult's mistake was in assuming that this destiny would not overwhelm them.

The Six, no longer separated by happenstance and tragedy, slipped their bonds and slew their captors. They met, and spoke, and discovered their shared purpose. They found my coin. And in so doing reignited a small glimmer of my old hopes. Perhaps these Six will succeed where the last failed… and the ones before them.

And so I opened my treasury to them. They took what baubles remain to me with my blessing. Perhaps these Six will actually succeed, actually reach the Golden City. Perhaps they won't.

In any event, at least I have my coin back. 

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Game 1 - Preludes
Level 1 - Level 2

My Master,

In the archives of the Monastery of St. Ezra there are many enigmatic texts espousing esoteric mysteries or, at least, the pretensions of such mysteries. You have sent me here on a specific task, however, and I was not idle. 

In three different tomes I discovered three different tales. They were fragmentary, and perhaps exaggerated, but I believe they may well describe the early escapades of some of the individuals who have recently caught your attention. Because the monks would not permit me to take books or to copy them directly, I rely upon my memory in paraphrasing the tales I discovered.

I.

The first tale centers upon an otherwise nondescript orphanage of St. Ambrose in a minor trade town far to the east. The tale was told by one Daisy, a traveling mercenary who, some years ago, as a teenager, found herself the leader of a gang of orphan pickpockets and thieves. 

The tale begins with the arrival of a strange new orphan, seeming to casual inspection to be around twelve years of age. Daisy and her fellow orphans did as such children tend to do, hazing and testing their new comrade, wondering to what use they might put him in their clandestine activities. 

Although Daisy didn't make the connections at the time, with adult hindsight she wondered aloud whether this young man, Phineas, was entirely what he appeared. He clearly knew magic, and admitted to literacy. He was intelligent and cunning around adults in a way few children are. Nevertheless he seemed most interested in doing whatever he could to draw as little attention as possible to himself. 

These efforts were thwarted by a gang of ruffians and would be brigands calling themselves the "Guttersnipes." Out of a desire to swell their ranks, these older criminals sought to absorb the younger gang into their number by force if necessary. In the altercation young Phineas was most vehement in refusing to be conscripted. Here the tale might have ended in an all-too-familiar story of beaten children if not for the intervention of a surprising new variable. Jahandra, agent and assassin of the Divine Empress interceded. Who knows how long they were watching the situation, but their interest in Phineas was clear. 

Once the ruffians were put to flight, Jahandra, in no uncertain terms, conscripted Phineas from the orphanage and that's the last that Daisy saw of them. 

II.

The second tale was collected from a farmer deep in his cups by the name of Reggie. He told a monk a startling story.

He and his wife Beatrice live on an otherwise unremarkable farm in the middle of nowhere. His talents with a farm implement and her smattering of arcane learning do well enough to keep the wolves at bay. 

One morning a young woman staggered into their fields. She was dressed in fine clothes the likes of which were not to be found within leagues of the farm and she was drenched in blood, although none of it seemed to be hers. She was polite and clearly in dire need and so these rural folk took her in, bathed her, cleaned her clothes, and gave her food and a place to stay for a while. She seemed unable or unwilling to tell them much about where she was from or how she ended up in these straits.

The next day, however, events repeated themselves. Another stranger appeared on the farm. A man, bedraggled and worn, also covered in blood and also lacking any wounds upon his person. He was less polite and more unstable, but a sip of liquor seemed to calm him. The farmer and his wife brought him in as well, giving him a bath and food, and wondering what strange events were afoot to cause two such strangers to appear in such close proximity.

Just as all involved were settling down for the evening a trio of soldiers knocked upon the door.  Their leader, Rene Ordell, treated the farmers with all courtesy, and asked to speak with the second traveler, the bedraggled man. Once the three soldiers entered the farmhouse, however, the bedraggled man underwent a sudden transformation. His fingernails became iron claws, his teeth grew, and his eyes burned with a baleful fire. He leapt to battle the soldiers who found their weapons useless against the creature's demonic flesh.

Rene Ordell sought instead to grapple and immobilize the beast while the cleric in his party began a ritual upon the beast. The farmer Reggie bravely used rope to tie as much of the beast as he could while Beatrice used her small training in magic to hurt and distract it. In the struggle, the beast was able to slay one of the three soldiers and things were looking grim.

That's when the first traveler, the lady, Lucy Talbot, returned from the kitchen wielding a teapot of scalding water. As soon as she entered the room where the cleric was praying, however, she also underwent a terrifying tranformation becoming a wolfish beast of living shadow. She leapt upon the demonic second traveler whereupon the farmer and his wife wisely retreated from their own house expecting to need to abandon it to monsters of the night.

Some time later Rene Ordell emerged from the house, the only one of his trio to survive. He reassured the farmers that the threat was over. He carefully beheaded his slain soldiers and burned them, along with the corpse of the demon-mad man. As for the young woman, Lucy, Rene took her with him and the farmers knew no more.

III.

The third tale involves the monastery itself, and was written by Brother (now Abbott) Hieronymous of the Order of Ezra. The tale speaks of a strange traveler, a dwarf named Caleb, upon whose flesh was written words, symbols, and glyphs that would change with every passing day. The monks of Ezra, being already inclined to esoteric navel gazing, and primed to perceive every strange and mysterious thing as a sign from their god, took Caleb in, offering him room and board in exchange for the chance to study the ever-changing mystery of his skin.

A few weeks into this arrangement, however, the monks perceived a portent of doom upon Caleb's flesh. Soon strange things began to occur. Chickens were slain in their pen without any damage to the pen. The trees of the forest moved overnight to encroach upon the monastery's fields. Strange thorny ivy grew spontaneously upon the walls. Rather than cause the monks to expel their mysterious new visitor, however, these events caused frantic and endless debate among them as to what the signs might mean. 

On the fourth day a young halfling woman named Katra who was Given came whistling down the road. She looked like a wild thing from the depths of the forest and the monks, primed for the arrival of a doom from the natural world, reacted in fear. This reaction was even more justified when, in the midst of treating with Katra, then-Abbott Lucien was impaled by a spike of holly that shot up from the ground forming a living holly tree around his corpse. 

Fortunately for Katra, she acted as shocked and horrified as everyone else, leading the monks to conclude she was not the source of this bloody event. She was, however, able to identify the magic used as druidic, and used her own talents in that area to send a message by bird to the local circle. 

A druid named Equinox, along with a tentacled feline of the wilder parts of the forest, emerged claiming that the circle had lived with knowledge of the monks for decades and had no issue with them. It was their sudden fascination with Caleb that caused the circle concern. The druid named him "the gate made flesh" and claimed that studying him, or worse, worshiping him would usher in the doom of the world. The druid claimed that they simply wished to drive Caleb away and had not problem with the monks.

A resolution was reached. Caleb promised to depart on condition that the druids cease harassing the monks. Equinox appeared placated by Caleb's lack of overt malevolence but charged the young druid, Katra, with escorting the enigmatic dwarf to the Empress, the only being who might unravel the doom he represents. The pair departed the monastery shortly thereafter and the monks knew no more.

It is my hope these tales, fragmentary though they may be, have provided what insight you require, my Lord. I will continue my travels and see if I can learn more of these Agents and how they came together into one traveling company. 

Yours,

Varney

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