We spent two days at the bridge waiting for a ship to take us downriver. Truth be told, I think it likely we could've walked to Hollowtown in that time, but the rest was welcome and we'd've had a good time trying to cross the triangle of rivers guarding Hollowtown if we'd walked. On the first day, I focused on drilling with Shin-Yao and Karath. We must act as a unit if we are to best dragons... Shin-Yao is prone to rash offense, while Karath is defensive and takes advantages of openings presented by others. As Lord Ingveh the One-Handed taught in the Granite Academy at Kathras, one should use one's men according to their temperament, and so I think it best that we plan on Shin-Yao making reckless charges into the enemy, with Karath and I following to support his advance. It lacks glory, but if glory is the price of victory, then glory we shall sacrifice. The next day was spent fishing, wrestling with the bridge-guards, and other such simple amusements.
Finally, around noon today, a boat arrived at the bridge, the Lieutenant Strange under the command of one Jeremy Jeremiah, a former hunter of whales. She was bound for Hollowtown, and so we decided to buy passage. More surprising, however, was the appearance of a tall, gaunt man in robes with a great pike on the deck. He introduced himself as Durnik, a priest of Kord, and claimed that Karath and Shin-Yao had abandoned him for dead after their battle with Adam. For their part, Shin-Yao and Karath did not recognize him, and things were heated until Barradin stepped in and invited him to join us on our quest. While this was taking place, I was approached by Arnie Tavern, seeking employment in our service. I offered him a wage of five pieces of silver each day and the title of Muleguard, and so we have gained a retainer. We therefore numbered six and a mule upon boarding the Lieutenant Strange.
I had not been on a ship before, and so went with some trepidation, but found the rocking motion strangely comforting and not at all as terrifying as many of my relatives had described it. The journey itself was uneventful, and we arrived at the docks of Hollowtown several hours after nightfall. Barradin and I secured room and board while Shin-Yao, Karath, and Durnik went carousing. For my part, I found it hard to believe that they would have much luck in a town that serves halfling-sized drinks. I was vindicated in this when Shin-Yao returned disappointed, though Karath managed to learn many rumors and Durnik returned in the company of a human harlot. I have little love for either men of the cloth or wenchers, and so finding that we had gained both in one person among our ranks was most disappointing. I retired to polish my axes and my armor; Mavrilith hungers, for this is a city renowned for its mages and arcane works. I hope I am not given call to feed it.
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 24th Day of Firefast
While breaking our fast in the inn, a squad of guardsmen came calling in search of Barradin. We were led under heavy guard to the palace of the Magelord; while the officers did their best to disperse the crowds that followed our march, many turned out to see Barradin, and one even shouted that he should be elevated to Magelord. I do not support this plan of action, for this would surely put an end to our current plan of dragonslaying. Fortunately, Barradin agrees, as was made clear in our meeting with the Magelord. The palace itself is a great stone structure, and the way the floor feels under my boots tells me that there are cavernous rooms below the surface as well. The Magelord himself, a fat, bejoweled little creature short even for a halfling, sat upon a powerfully warded throne and belittled Barradin extensively, accusing him of a plot to overthrow him and assume the Magelordhood. Barradin denied these allegations, but when his competence was insulted, he challenged the Magelord to a dual of arcane power to surrender rather than to the death. The lot of us were made to watch from bubbles of magical silence surrounding the hall's pillars, where the Magelord's bodyguards also waited. While it is wise to keep prying ears from private conversations, this cannot be good for their morale... and when I plied them with a flask, they seemed most undisciplined as well. Even among dwarves, drinking at one's post is not tolerated; it used to be, but we learned the hard way when the goblins attacked on Saint Vodka's Day. In any case, I was quite prepared to deal with them violently if necessary after this damning evaluation of their soldiering, and I quite expected to have to, as duels often escalate in just such a fashion. Fortunately, this was avoided when Barradin transformed into a great bear and mauled the Magelord into submission. Truly, a dwarfsome strategy; I cannot help but approve of this direct and violent method in contrast with the Magelord's own indirect and defensive witchery. With this victory, we had won our freedom... but Mavrilith began whispering most disturbingly that I should slay the Magelord and shatter his throne. My finger itched to take it in hand and do as it bid, and I was sorely tempted, for the man is clearly a witch and a tyrant and treats his soldiers poorly, but I resisted, for this would undo all that Barradin had won. As we exited the palace, it was greatly wroth with me, but I consoled it with the thought that we would likely return, and vowed that when we do, it shall feast upon the Magelord's throne.
A great crowd had gathered about the palace awaiting Barradin's return, but they were forcibly dispersed by the palace guards and we returned to the inn. One of the guard captains conveyed to us that they had been given orders to slay us, but that they refused to carry them out for fear of their own lives after the duel, and that we had but a few days to flee the city. We therefore arranged, by way of a most expensive wager with a most disreputable human by the name of Gorb of Chovis, for a ship to Helheim Green. Gorb refused to go himself, or to book us passage, considering it a suicide mission, and so we wagered him that we would not return, such that if we did, then we were to keep his ship, and if we did not, he would have thirty thousand pieces of gold from the black dragon's hoard, held by a reliable bank in Hollowtown in the interim, with a halfling accountant by the name of Lazy Highcharts. Gorb consented on the condition that we provided five of those thirty thousands upon completion of the deal, and this we did, and so gained a ship, though it is not yet named. Convincing the crew, represented by one James Firstmate, was easier, though they required an odd term in their hazard pay contract. With these dealings done, our treasure was nearly as exhausted as we were, and so we retired to the inn for a final night in Hollowtown.
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 28th Day of Firefast
We embarked as the sun rose upriver to Helheim. We had two days of uneventful sailing as the woods grew darker and thicker and the climate hotter around us. This is kilt-and-breastplate weather, if ever I have felt it; I have been in forges colder than this (and fitting too, for the turning of the month). The crew is terrified of the jungle, but my companions seem to be holding up well (except for a few who are having trouble with the sea-sickness), and Tom the mule is downright unconcerned. I spent yesterday fishing off of the rear of the ship (the aft, I believe the sailors call it?) and today drilling with Tavern. He is not a terribly skilled fighter, but I have seen worse, and in time he may be made dangerous. It unsettles me that I sometimes think of people as weapons to be wielded against the dragons, but here the likeness is strong; this weapon requires sharpening, but is made of good steel.
At the end of the second day, we arrived at the mouth of a great lake with banks of black volcanic sand, from which the river flows. The crew were greatly afeared of this place as well, due to tales of great crocodiles and worse monsters, but we saw none, and weighed anchor a hundred yards from the coast. We resolved to head east into the trees in the morning, then bedded aboard the ship.
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 2nd Day of Forgefeast
We awoke early and headed into the jungle before heat of the day came; the crew was sad to see us go, but we left Tavern and Tom with them. Shin-Yao has been entrusted with the carrying of the useful consumables from the bag, which was likewise left with Tom; to the crew's knowledge, it is but a common saddlebag, not a powerful artifact full of more powerful artifacts.
We traversed many miles of terrain, with Barradin deploying magical eyes throughout the forest while Shin-Yao tried to keep us from quicksand and other hazards. For my part, I searched long and hard for signs of the dragon's presence; at its adult size, it must be quite large, and so I should expect to see holes in the canopy from its passing through, or great swatches torn through the undergrowth, in addition to the chemical-stinking corpses of its victims. Despite my best efforts, I found none of these, and am convinced that this area of jungle must not be part of its territory; if it were, I would surely have known. This was, however, part of the territory of a mated pair of tigers of great size, which attempted to ambush and devour us. They were easily-enough detected, and Shin-Yao and Durnik went after one while Karath, Barradin, and I went after the other. The one fell beneath Karath's blades and my axes after inflicting some superficial injuries on Barradin, but the other pounced on Shin-Yao with terrible strength, dragging him to the ground, tearing at him fiercely. He was badly wounded, and we had to drag him out from beneath the beast's corpse after it was felled by a spear-blow from Durnik.
I skinned one and made of it a crude cloak, and also cooked and ate its heart; only after the fact did I realize that there is something in this place which awakens in me a savage nature which has slept since my memories returned. I have been having... flashbacks, I suppose, throughout the day. Terrible atrocities of which I have no memory, and yet which I believe I may have committed in the Norwoods after Kathras' fall. These thoughts disgust me, but I cannot avoid them - if these are things that I have done, then I must know them. And yet... for all that this place and my savagery is horrific, there is something beautiful in them as well. This is a place of predator and prey, of life and death, constant growth and decay, of perfect balance upon the razor's edge. This is the true nature of the world, writ large; no hesitation, no mercy, only the strong and the dead. The wonder I feel for this place is only amplified by my newly-found beast-speech. After Shin-Yao and I constructed a wooden sleeping platform in the trees, I spent an hour just listening to the frogs. They are many, and their thoughts, while simple, are... eloquent, I suppose is the word. This place is as much a city as Kathras ever was, and I am as at home here. For here, strength determines one's place in the hierarchy rather than appearances and tact as among humans, and I have strength to spare. The thought that the humans on their boat fear this place perplexes me... for an instant, it marks them to me as prey.
I hesitate to sleep, for I dread what horrors I may dream in this place. It is truly a strange thing, to hope for the burning dream...
- Journal of Fjolkir the Beardless, 3rd Day of Forgefeast
To Part 7