From the Journal of Tang Zhen

Session 3

June 17, 5086, Tre Glyn ruins (continued)

I now proceed, as was my intention when I opened this journal (before my mishap of a few minutes ago), to relate the precursors, causes and results of today's travels.

Yesterday's relative peace held all the refreshment of a day's bed rest, as far as we were concerned. Our spontaneous company had planned to spend that evening at a conveniently cheap tavern. On our way, the unmistakable voice of Kawg addressed us from behind. I was the only one present who did not perform an involuntary, startled jump. At least three of the others have since made precisely the same claim of themselves.

Kawg, in the convincing shape of a handsome, dark-haired half-elf, asked us to walk with him in the woods. Or perhaps I should say, in the ashes. There, he explained that he and his associate Fraelagesh (another of the dragons whom we had met) wished us to investigate the disappearance of a tribe of goblins. These goblins had lived south of the elven lands of Iand Talath until roughly ten years ago. Kawg handed us a rough map indicating the two best routes we could take, though we were not sure exactly where to start looking. The plains east of Gabil Dûm are extensive. Tam recalled hearing that the goblins had been forced out by the elves. As the elves have not since encroached upon the (former) goblin lands, the circumstances of this, even if true, are still a mystery.

We debated the merits of taking the road east to the pass at Tre Bwlch, then following the rough trail south. But we preferred the idea of staying in the slightly more civilized lands to the south. Therefore, we will journey south to Caer Cefn, then east along the coast to the vicinity of Corstref, from which we shall strike out into the uncharted portion of the plains and begin searching. With luck, someone along the way may have helpful information.

After a night of sleep and a short day of unstrenuous travel, we have stopped this evening at the ruined inn at Tre Glyn. Though all of the buildings here have been burned out, we have seen no bodies -- aside from animal carcasses. This is odd, for I recall no refugees from this far south. I suppose they must have fled elsewhere, though I cannot fathom where. The escarpment along Y Mynyddau Gwawr blocks escape to the west, the safety of the mountains of Gabil Dûm is too far east to have been reached in time, the fire came from the south, and we would have seen them had they escaped to the north.

The cellar here has partly survived the fire. We have made our meal from what provisions we could find, and some of us are enjoying the wine. Delyra and I have left coins to pay for our fare. The others will pay if and when we come through here again, assuming the owner returns.

June 18, 5086, Caer Cefn

Just north of the port city of Caer Cefn, Tam left a note at a shrine of Tinandel, mentioning our journey. We arrived in the city in the late afternoon. The city has two distinct districts: At the ground level, stretching east from the main docks for some distance, is a shanty town, whose public establishments are fairly crude and whose citizenry includes sailors, laborers, and probably some seedier elements. A winding road and a more direct stairway lead to the affluent city and mighty fortress atop the cliffs overlooking Y Dylaniesin.

We agreed to meet at the Don't Drop Inn. Delyra and Pheldran climbed to the upper district, and learned that a great storm had coincided with the start of the fire (which could not reach here due to the intervening plains and the humidity, but which could be seen from here).

At the inn, Tam learned from the bartender that refugees from Tre Glyn had arrived in town just over a week ago. At least one was staying across the street: Cassandra, owner of the burned inn in which we had just camped. Tam also found and spoke with a group of sailors whose ship had barely beaten the aforementioned storm to port. Some of them had shortly thereafter seen the forest fire from the upper section of Caer Cefn. They explained that "dry lightning," coming from a storm over air so dry that the water never reaches the ground, could have started the fire. (My companions seemed reassured to hear this. They were likely harboring the same dark suspicion that I have been trying to banish from my consciousness: That the fire might have had a more deliberate cause.) The sailors invited Tam, and by extension the rest of us, to visit their ship.

We accepted, but first paid a visit to the inn across the street. The innkeeper was cagey regarding our request for Cassandra's room number, but our persistence and a tip won him over. Still, he insisted on escorting us, just in case we had malicious intent. I surely do not know what he could have done against us were that the case, but we humored him.

Cassandra answered her door. We explained that we had just stayed at her inn, and thanked her. N-Guuk asked her for the price she charged for a glass of wine; it turned out to vary from one half to five silver. He gave her ten gold.

She was eager for news of Dinas Felin; that the city had survived pleased her. When we asked how she had known to leave Tre Glyn, she told us that a druid (who was her semi-regular customer) had passed through, warning the townsfolk of imminent disaster, and instructing them to flee. They had heeded the warning and journeyed south immediately to Caer Cefn. She was planning to rebuild, but needed to gather supplies and contracts first. During the conversation, it also came up that she felt Sir Brannigan to be a pompous ass, though he deserved his reputation as a good fighter.

We then socialized with the crew of the Sara Jones. They told us of the gnolls along the coast to the southwest and the civilized cities beyond, of the wild elves to the southeast, and of the halfling civilization directly south across the ocean. The Sara Jones works seasonal triangle trades, variously involving Hendre Dylan, Caer Cefn, Corstref, and the halflings. They invited us to gamble with them, but we declined and disembarked. N-Guuk rejoined us. He had quickly left the ship, citing that the floor shouldn't move under one's feet. We pointed out that he would not see the effect below deck, likening the interior to a cave... that rolls around. Oddly, this only strengthened his refusal to board a ship.

We have decided to walk east rather than sail to Corstref.

June 20, 5086, Alapon Farm

We have walked along the grassy dunes of the coast for two days. A farm just north of our path offers food and lodging, so we will stay here tonight.

Tomorrow, we will have a choice: Either we pass straight through 'Gator Swamp, emerging near our destination, or we turn southwest and pass the outskirts of Corstref. There are established trails both ways. Corstref sounds much more hospitable, but will cost us half a day's travel. And even assuming that 'Gator swamp is aptly named, I suspect we have little to fear: Alligators rarely attack people. Tam expects to find strange and perhaps annoying people at Corstref, many affiliated with the Grand Temples of Faynwan and of Unil-Gal. Oddly, Dunbarton himself prefers to avoid the Grand Temple of Faynwan. Even Jasper seems happy to give the swamp a chance. So I imagine we will do that.

June 21, 5086, Corstref

We did indeed enter 'Gator Swamp. Its waters were swollen from their apparent usual level. As we walked, our path, though raised, was itself submerged by over two feet. Our best guess is that the unseasonable easterly winds have caused the Duine Calen river basin (on the east side of the Gabil Dûm range) to collect the moisture that should have belonged to Ystrad Aeron. In any case, 'Gator Swamp turns out to not contain alligators after all. They are crocodiles; beautiful and impressive creatures they are, and one of them nearly took Tam's leg off. (I learned in the process that the verbal component to Delyra's Grease spell sounds suspiciously like "Greasy grimy gopher guts".) Crocodiles have a mild taste, a bit like chicken and a bit like fish, which was no real encouragement for us to have pressed onward.

We retraced our steps, turned southward, and unwound at a tavern outside of Corstref. There, an evangelical worshiper of Unil-Gal attempted to save our souls. This was made especially urgent by our keeping company with a paladin of the death god. She told us, to my best recollection, "Unil-Gal is the guide for all morally decent and upright folks, whether they know it or not! Pray, do not let the seekers of death mislead you! They will happily see you earn your own deaths! As you live and breathe, choose the god who nourishes all life! Here, have a pamphlet. This one explains how the sun provides us all with nourishment. This one explains the bliss of being forever with Unil-Gal in the next world. I know that you will come to see the light, for you see His light every day!"

I hope that the church does not pay its writers much.

Our evangelist almost tripped over Jasper in her enthusiasm at one point. Pheldran shortly bought us respite from her good intentions: He cast a simple Light spell upon his mug of ale, then shouted, "Oh, lawdy, I see the light, I SEE the LIGHT! Give me ALL of your pamphlets! I do believe!" The rest of us collapsed in raucous laughter.

"I will pray for your souls," the evangelist threatened, as she took her leave.

Later, I overheard Jasper mention quietly to Pheldran that he has a problem with the followers of the Sun God. I hope he doesn't mind that I have trained my hearing to great acuteness at the Li Xiang monastery.

June 25, 5086, the middle of nowhere

We have traversed these plains for over three days, but have seen no sign of habitation.

June 27, 5086, the middle of nowhere

Some of my companions are low on patience, and we may soon turn north to make inquiries among the elves.

June 29, 5086, Eryn Rusc

Our questions have yielded this much history: Ten years ago, the goblins sent a strike force toward the elven capital Ost Talath, but were defeated amid the outlying villages. The elven forces gathered, then struck a decisive blow at the remaining goblin army on its own turf. The Goblins have learned their lesson, and slunk back into their holes. They're cowering in their hiding places in such fear that they haven't even tried waylaying merchants along the roads since then. Life has been better in every way.

We seek a warrior who fought in that final battle.

June 29, 5086, Eryn Rusc (later)

We have found our guide: Aradel, who now works as a town guard.

The story, as she tells it, is thus: The elves tracked the goblin force back to its disgusting home town, and slew every goblin who resisted. The goblins, being cowardly, started shouting and running away once the battle was clearly lost, but the elves caught up and lopped off their heads, or put arrows in their backs. Once there was no one left but women and children, Commander Flaxenhair (a warrior/wizard of no small repute) sent most of the elves (including Aradel) home, but kept a small force for cleanup and interrogation. Not long after, Flaxenhair disappeared. There were rumors, officially denied, that he vanished inside a locked room in the palace at Ost Talath.

Aradel has agreed to guide us to the old goblin home, provided that we cover two expenses: Twenty gold for her fee and compensation for two weeks away from her job, and fifty gold for a current Iand Talath trail map (which we could then keep). The latter bears some elaboration: The government of Iand Talath changes the maze of trails that serve as trade routes throughout the empire every spring. They charge a great deal of money for the updated trail maps. This is partly to make money, partly to discourage invasion, and partly naked xenophobia. Walking the untracked plains is not at all difficult, but wagons would fare badly doing so.

We lacked the funds to cover these expenses, so Delyra offered to sell her bow. Even so, that would only have covered half the amount, had not Aradel offered to take the bow at its original market price. We are perfectly clear on the fact that she has done us a favor. We have also pitched in to compensate Delyra as best we can for her sacrifice. (That is sadly little on my part.)

Aradel spent some time away, gathering provisions and obtaining a trail map from the local chamber of commerce. Tam looked on with interest as she superimposed the new map with an old one she had saved from the year of the goblin battles. Thus, she figured out the way to the point at which her force had originally left the bounds of Iand Talath. She is confident that she can find her way from there, once she sees that place.

We leave in the morning.

July 3, 5086, south of nowhere

Our guide led us to the overgrown ruins of the goblin village. The flora here are more lush than we have seen, the grass taller and a brighter green. I wonder whether the filth in which goblins are reputed to live has had a lasting fertilizing effect on the land. We found many collapsed huts, and the remains of three large, crude buildings. Pheldran picked one at random to search, and almost immediately smelled cool, damp air from a pile of rocks near one end. We moved enough rocks to expose a passage into the earth.

Our dinner is ready; I shall describe Dunbarton's transformation and our encounter with the two strange creatures later.

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