Barradin and I departed the woods of the druids today, heading south for Mekbah. The interrogation of Somar was largely futile; we learned only that a mysterious wizard had given him the vile dagger in order to enable him to attack the druids. I suspect Ythir's involvement... He seeks the chromata, and the druids actively sought to guard them. Barradin left Somar under a powerful enchantment to aid Rielda in the rebuilding effort, and then we left while the day was still young. We made good time despite the rain and the weight of the wondrous bag, and I managed to down an elk along the way. The woods were eerily quiet, as though mourning the destruction of the druids; we saw very little wildlife, and even the birds were hushed. We arrived in Mekbah around nightfall, and were much lauded at the Hunter's Lodge for our catch, though Somak's absence was remarked upon and we had to retell the sad tale. Much drinking followed; I spent the night in the Lodge, while Barradin retired to Tavern's Inn.
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 16th Day of Firefast
After some debate, we decided to head for Malas Farngrey next; Barradin desires also to visit the Araduin Hills, but still fears that if he learns his past, he will be destroyed. Malas offers the opportunity for information and to sell some of the dragon's horde, as well as to perhaps acquire new companions. We spent today gathering provisions for the journey; it is about three days over easy terrain, and from the feel of my scars it should be warm, even for this hot season, but not unbearable. We have little need for foodstocks with my foraging, but we did acquire a mule to carry the bag, and Barradin as well. This should speed our progress considerably. I find myself quite liking the creature; it has an ornery disposition which agrees with my own. I was somewhat disconcerted, however, when it replied to my question about whether or not it had a name (evidently, Gorbowitz among mules, or Tom to humans). Apparently I have learned the beast-tongue recently... I suppose given how long I have lived in the wilds of the surface, away from proper civilization (one under the ground, where all towns have taverns that serve alcohol from proper cellars), this should be unsurprising. A more plausible explanation, to my mind, is that Somak, Speaker with Ravens, aids me from beyond his grave. This thought puts my mind at ease; gods, sense, and memory may abandon me, but the dead remember.
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 17th Day of Firefast
A long, dusty, and uneventful day. Barradin lamented the loss of Alonso, for he was a better conversationalist than I. Not as good for catching hares, though. We arrived at the shrine of Ffarlaghan near dusk and slept there after speaking with its keeper, one Pilgrim Joseff. He provided us some worrisome information on the state of Dehlia - it apparently has gained a mage-king overnight, and an elvish one at that. Worse still, he has been raising an army for purposes unknown. Barradin's inquiries about Araduin were met with skepticism, for apparently Araduin burned during the Goblin Wars. It appears the most populous hobbit town these days is Hollowtown of Three Rivers; it was built on an island in the aftermath of the wars so as to be naturally defended, and is ruled by a wizard-lord of some sort. A most defensible arrangement; the river make tunneling in from below risky at best, and goblins are hardly the best of sailors.
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 18th Day of Firefast
Another dull, hot, plodding day. O, for the underground roads of old... no sun, no dust, no rain, and edible mushrooms everywhere. Arguably the most interesting occurrence while walking was when Barradin posed the theological question "What is Saint Cuthbert even a saint of?" Dwarven doctrine holds that he was a saint because he performed miraculous feats of bludgeoning, including once bludgeoning a man to death with a rapier. We were unable to develop a better explanation, and so that one stands, at least until we meet a Cuthbertite to ask about it (though I for one anticipate a bludgeoning for even asking such a question). We reached a large bridge with an inn late in the afternoon, and decided to stop there for the night. Their prices for food were unscrupulously high, so I decided to try my luck with catfish wrestling. I met with great success, catching a great old beast of nearly my own weight, and a feast was had with the bridge guards. There we learned from Arnie Tavern (the brother of the Tavern of Mekbah's Tavern's Inn) of Sechet Peret, a halfling crime boss in Dehlia who apparently has been unusually cooperative with their new elven magelord, and that there have been reports of no fewer than three distinct groups of dragonslayers operating under the name "The Fists of Dehlia." This was surprising news to us, but perhaps we might find part of such a group and ally with them; if dragonslayers they are indeed, then I could find no better companions for my quest. I suspect that I am still not yet ready to stand against the great red terror of Kathras; there are murmurs of a green dragon deep in the Helheim woods, which might serve as a good blooding for a new band. If, as Barradin believes, it holds the green chromata, then all the better.
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 19th Day of Firefast
We reached Malas Farngrey this evening. The only event of real interest on the road was a chance meeting with a patrol of hobbits from Hollowtown. Apparently Barradin is known there, and was thought dead. His father was once the ruler of Hollowtown, but is now dead as well. Barradin was somewhat troubled by these revelations, but has decided to meet with the wizard-lord there in order to learn of his past. We did confirm at least that he is not a wanted man, which is fortunate for such a pursuit.
Our midday arrival in Malas, City of Temples, was uncontested; we are not wanted there either, it would seem. We set about looking both for strong company and someone to sell much of the dragon's hoard to. While I visited the Guild of Adventurers and 'inspected' several taverns, Barradin learned of the presence of one Quainman Malas, a very rich fellow obsessed with the acquisition of items of historical value. We shall pay him a visit on the morrow.
We retired to an unusually seedy bar which was rumored to have a nightly barfight in order to look for fellow adventurers, and had quite a stroke of luck. Late in the fight, a orcblood in adamant armor stumbled in and gave good account of himself, though he was clearly quite fatigued. Somewhat later, an elf in mithral appeared as well, and it seemed they were boon companions. Barradin called them over to our table, and we were introduced to the mighty Shin-Yao and Karath the Quiet, former Fists of Dehlia returning from the Nordham Reaches with little coin and fewer memories. We believe they slew a white wyrm, though they have no recollection of the battle. What they do remember, though, is that one Adam the Bard got his hands on a shield of purest white, and all of their attempts to slay him were futile. It would seem the White Chromata has fallen into the hands of an enemy... Troublesome. Shin-Yao seems a simple sort, motivated by a desire for glorious combat and caring not for riches, while Karath was unclear about his own motives; I suspect his past haunts him (though hopefully not as literally as mine haunts me). In any case, they are well-armed and capable dragonslayers, even if they do not remember it, and seemed willing to travel to Helheim with us and slay another after we told them our own tale and what we know of the chromata.
A most successful search, and fortunately so. I can no longer delay; preparations for the final battle are begun, and it must be soon. I have realized that while I no longer fear death, I still fear failure. If I fail, then all of my suffering will have been for naught. All the pain, and the madness, and the years in the woods living like an animal, leaning to fight again around my injuries... And yet, I must die fighting Anaximath; it is fated and foretold. And so I must fail in my oath to slay the dragon, unless I do it from beyond the grave, though I do not think there will be enough left of my corpse for that. My last hope for redemption, then, is that a companion, driven into the fight at my behest, in some sense wielded as a weapon by my hand against the dragon, will slay the beast after my passing. And so we come full circle...
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 20th Day of Firefast
We reconvened at the gates of Quainman's palatial estate in the mid-morning. The guards let us pass after we showed them a piece of the treasure, and we soon met with Quainman himself. He was somewhat... eccentric, and required that Barradin wear a cat upon his head during the bargaining. However, that condition met, he gave us exceptionally fair prices for all of our gilded objects from the hoard, as well as the ancient coins, which were somewhat over standard weight. We also learned that all of these objects date from before the beginning of recorded history, which is peculiar for a number of reasons. The dragon we slew was not more than a few hundred years old, and had only been in residence at Duskvale for five years, so the hoard was likely located at the site before its arrival. Stranger still, the various coins bore the likeness of a human emperor upon them, but one not known to historians. Perhaps the chromata were created by man using magics now long forgotten... ? I suppose we shall have to see if the horde of the Helheim Green reveals any more information.
We departed Malas for the bridge inn around noon, with the intent of there catching a riverboat south to Helheim by way of Hollowtown. Our progress was largely unobstructed, though our mule spooked a grazing triceratops (not native to these parts in my knowledge, but perhaps it migrated north for the summer). I ran at the creature, hoping to obstruct its path to the rest of the group, but when I got closer and realized just how large it was (fully the size of an adult dragon), it reminded me strongly of the goblin rhinobeasts I fought while seconded to the Thirteenth Pikesdwarves at the Battle of Forges Bend. The warbeasts had a nasty tendency to trample their way over entire phalanxes, and so I shouted a warning to Shin-Yao and Karath to avoid forming a straight line... which they promptly disregarded. On the creature came, just as the rhinos did, straight over me and Shin-Yao. The techniques I used then, rusty after near on forty years, held true again, and I struck at its belly as it passed. Shin-Yao did likewise with a great hammer; he is a well-trained fighter. We ran after it and struck at its rear while Karath sliced at its front and Barradin cast some sort of hex which greatly weakened its blows. It turned and charged over us again, but we were better prepared this time, and pursued again. Finally, on its last legs, I managed to gut it from below as it charged a third time. It is a shame that we had to slay it, but it was at least delicious. Tom the mule had bolted during the first charge, but was recovered easily enough, and we arrived at the Bridges Inn around dusk with triceratops steaks for all.
We were greeted happily by the bridge guards; they seem willing to overlook my scars if I'm able to procure enough food for a feast every other day. This did not stop them from asking about my face, though. Barradin aided me in avoiding having to retell that particular tale. There was some discussion of hiring Arnie Tavern as a mule-guard; as the battle showed, the creature is like to run off, and certain foes might take to eating it. Shin-Yao retired under the stars, while Barradin and I managed to secure lodgings in the guard barracks, and Karath slept in the Inn's exorbitantly-priced rooms. We will rest here until the next barge south; I must ask in the morning when it is expected. The weather for the next few days will be pleasant, and would make for good traveling; I should hate to waste it sitting. I suppose the time will not be wasted if spent drilling with Shin-Yao and Karath. We must be a cohesive unit if we are to triumph. I must also tell them what I know of dragons; they seem unfamiliar with the lore. In this as in all things, preparation in crucial.
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 21st Day of Firefast
To Part 6