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Mental Ramblingsby Geoff Gander
"16th of Ambyrmont, AC 993
"I have made what is, I think, a remarkable discovery today. While perusing various texts concerning the rise of Salonikos and neighbouring city-states, I noticed a small, dusty package at the back of one of the shelves, revealed only because I had removed a number of books. Knowing that our caretakers are very dedicated, I found it rather strange that it should have lain there for as long as it evidently had.
"Naturally, I removed it from its resting place, noting that the paper in which it had been wrapped appeared to be papyrus - and very old at that. I recall thinking that it was very strange, for such material is hardly used anymore, save by a few scholars in Ylaruam, Yavdlom, and similar places. Not giving the matter another thought, I carried the package to my chambers and set about opening it carefully. Despite my precautions, the papyrus disintegrated as soon as I began to disturb it, revealing a slab of what appeared to be amber, measuring little larger than my hand. Encased within that slab was a metal plate inscribed with characters I had never seen before.
"Extracting the plate was delicate work, but before long I had prevailed, and held in my hands an artefact that surely predated anything I had ever seen before. Little thicker than a piece of parchment, the plate appeared to be fashioned of platinum, and I noted that the writing it held was tiny indeed, and covered both sides. Only the finest instrument could have inscribed those words. I immediately began work on translating the text, and what was revealed to me was so unexpected - and intriguing - that I dare not share my discovery until I can learn more.
"Should the plate ever leave my possession, I have copied its translated text here.
'It is right that the wise words of Irrub should be recorded, for it has been ordained that the time shall soon come when the seas will boil, and the lands will shift. Thereafter the walls of Ythlil shall stand no more, and her people shall be scattered to the winds. In their place shall come new cities and new people, who will rise in ignorance of all that has come and gone before them. So has it always been; so shall it always be.
'So now I shall write of the glories of Ythlil, and many other things, so that all may not be forgotten when the changes finally come to pass. Our city is the grandest in all the lands of which we are aware, rising in the mists of the delta of the River Bwr. Its mighty walls are built of rose quartz, and its towers are so tall as to afford views of the Sslith Range, which are all but impossible to see from the ground. It is here, safely ensconced, that our people - the Hlth'gur - grew strong and founded an empire that now stretches across much of Y'ruth. The other lands beyond the sea do not interest us, for they are too desolate for our kind, but other peoples inhabit them.
'Within our walls we prosper, and devote our lives to our crafts, and to the worship of Those Who Wait. They created the world to house us, seeded its lands and seas with insects and fish for us to eat, and finally placed us -Their chosen people - to enjoy the fruits of Their labours and venerate Them, until such time as They may return in all Their glory.
'There are other great cities in our realm, but none are so great, or as old, as Ythlil. Later shall I write of these places, and others besides, so that this shall be the greatest and most enduring record of the Hlth'gur and their works. Thus have I - T'rllk, scribe of Irrub - written, on this 16th Day of the Golden Mists, in the 815th year of the Empire.'
"Truly, I cannot fathom what I have read. I this some grand hoax? Or perhaps the fragment of something truly grand? My instincts tell me it is the latter, but I fear I shall never know until I find more such plates."
"27th of Ambyrmont, AC 993
"By all that is holy (and unholy, for that matter - for I prefer to hedge my bets), I have truly come against an insurmountable obstacle! I had wondered whether that mysterious package could have been left by chance; but Elthric, the Senior Caretaker, has given me his word that the entire collection is inspected regularly, and any covert deposit would have been found in short order. Thus, I am left to conclude that someone familiar with my habits left it for me to discover. But whom?
"Knowing that pondering such matters would avail me nothing, I resumed my study of the package itself. My preliminary examination still stands - the tablet's dimensions, composition, weight, and inscriptions are unchanged. The piece is not imbued with any magic. I even recast comprehend languages on the text to see if it might have changed in some way, but this met with no success. I fear that I may have to reveal the tablet's existence to one or more colleagues more versed in the magical arts than myself if I am to make any headway, but for some reason I am loath to do so. So here I sit, gazing at an evidently ancient artefact, which is only one piece of a larger puzzle. I need more pieces.
"One thing that can be done is to present it to Duric for analysis. He has been a friend for many years, and will reveal nothing if I ask."
"2nd of Sviftmont, AC 993
"Duric returned the tablet to me, and told me that it is indeed made of platinum, of such quality that he asked me whether I might be able to acquire more. He went on to say that he inspected the writing closely, and concluded that the text was not carved into the metal so much as burned into it. This confused him, as the heat would have had to be intense and highly concentrated; otherwise the tablet could very well have melted! Regardless, he was unaware of any dwarven techniques for such work. Before leaving, he mentioned in passing that, perhaps, a conversation with a man or woman of faith might give me the answers I seek, if I am reluctant to divulge what I know to my colleagues. A sound idea."
"6th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"It seems that Duric's curiosity about the tablet has been piqued, as well! He visited me unannounced the following evening whilst I was enjoying a nice glass of Chateau Faubourg (I really must get another bottle - the '72 vintage is truly superb!) in my chambers. Never one for big introductions or eloquent exposition, he pulled up a chair, and studied me intently. Finally, he nodded to himself and said in low tones that he had thought a great deal about the tablet, and felt I was on to something big, and potentially dangerous. He went on to say that, as an old friend, he could not let me embark on something - alone - that may well prove fatal. After letting that sink in, he quipped that someone had to clean up the mess, and it may as well be him, now that Andrejs is long dead.
"That remark brought a flood of memories back, some happy, but many sad. We had done much over the years - Duric and I, with Andrejs, Helmut, and even Ancalimon for a time. The places we visited, the people we saw . . . it seems like a lifetime ago (and in many ways it was). But Duric and I are the only ones left from the old group. I remembered a promise I had made, years ago, to write down everything we had done. Perhaps there is time yet to do it, before we, too, are gone. Thankfully the weight of those thoughts lifted in short order, and I even felt some measure of the old excitement pour into my body once more. Perhaps this would be it - one last adventure, one final journey, the end of which would reveal secrets untold about our world. Duric and I went to the brink before; we would so do again, and laugh about it!
"Duric cut through my reverie quickly enough - I had forgotten how direct he could be, sometimes - and quickly outlined his plan to secure an audience with a priest of Kagyar, whose purview over crafts and all things made by hand made Him a logical first choice for any investigation. I had known of the secretive dwarven clerics for some time, and knew that Duric was really investing himself in this endeavour if he was willing to approach his spiritual leaders in this manner. The dwarves are in many ways a closed society, and they guard their secrets well, and likely for good reason; yet he has never had any reason to trust any of my current colleagues at the College.
"At any rate, Duric has come to see me again. One of the senior priests has agreed to meet with us privately, and provide whatever aid he can. I am leaving now. I wonder what insights Kagyar might provide?"
"Late evening, 6th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"I have returned from my audience with Barrik Stouthelm. Very satisfying and frustrating at the same time, for, in receiving answers to most of my questions, more have arisen. One thing is patently clear at this point - I must leave the College for a time if I am ever to plumb the depths of this mystery. This is truly beginning to feel more like an adventure. Duric is assembling the kit we might need as I write this, but we shall hold off on any departure until our next steps become clear. But I am getting ahead of myself - I must record what we heard.
"Getting there proved to be a simple affair; the surprise was the Temple itself! It was a huge vault excavated under the cellar of a nondescript building! I cannot even begin to guess how they managed to dig it out - and reroute the neighbouring sewer tunnels, I am told - without the authorities knowing about it. Regardless, we were ushered into a side chamber, where we were greeted by Barrik, who introduced himself and immediately set himself to the task.
"After grumbling an incantation, he pulled out two small silver hammers, holding them up high. As I watched, the hammers began to glow, and he started speaking again, punctuating what I imagined to be significant phrases by banging them together. Each time he did so they glowed brighter, and small showers of sparks ensued. Were it not for the nature of our meeting, I might have enjoyed the spectacle more. Before long he had finished, and bade us present up to six questions that could be answered with a 'yes' or 'no'. I shall present them, and the answers, here.
"Is the artefact genuine? - Yes.
"Was the artefact fashioned by humans? - No.
"Are there other such plates in existence? - Yes.
"Are any of these other plates accessible to me? - Yes.
"Will I need to leave the city in order to find the other plates? - Yes.
"Are any of these plates in the possession of scholars known to me? - Yes.
"After thanking the priest for his aid, we took our leave. I do not know what Duric did to secure this interview, but it was certainly worth it. We must take our leave now, but where? Duric and I will discuss this on the morrow."
"9th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"On a country road somewhere - I haven't the slightest idea where we are. Duric assures me that we are well on the way to Thyatis, and I shall have to trust him. Rather strange that in all this time, I have never had any occasion to visit The City; but such is life. I must admit that I have grown rather unaccustomed to life on the road. Fifteen years in academia will soften a fellow! It is fortunate that I still had Ancalimon's parting gift, and doubly so that few people know of Nimbeth's springs; otherwise, the place would be overrun by ageing glory-hounds like myself. I am full of energy - and I shall need it!
"All this as a rather backward way of noting that we had a rather deep discussion of Kagyar's revelations. So, we are in search of more tablets fashioned by inhuman hands, which are currently in the possession of scholars known to us. This was frustrating, as I am in correspondence with no less than ten, most of whom are scattered across the Known World. I would not dare ask Duric to accompany me to Glantri to pay Magnus a visit; hence, our decision to try Thyatis first. I think I shall check in on Marcus first, and failing that Galfridus. I truly hope Marcus will have what I need; Galfridus is sharp, but he has dabbled in far too much of the darker lore for my liking. The last time I saw him he kept pausing to listen for something - refused to tell me what it was, though."
"13th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"We arrived early this morning, and are now suitably accommodated. Duric will be meeting some friends of his own whilst in town, and so feels no need to accompany me. Suits me, as I tend to go long into the night with fellow scholars, which bores the pants off of him. Marcus is apparently in town, having recently returned from an expedition to the Hinterlands. I've sent a messenger to his chambers advising him of my arrival, and hope to hear back soon.
"Have just received a note - Marcus would be pleased to see me for supper. I have purchased two bottles of the inn's finest for the occasion."
"14th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"Dinner and drinks with Marcus was quite pleasant. I was happy to see that he has retained his sense of humour, especially in light of the unpleasant nature of the work he has been doing. The unfortunate turn of events in the Thanegioth Archipelago was particularly chilling; I am not at all surprised that he has decided to take a break.
"Nonetheless, he was very enthusiastic about showing me some of the artefacts that he had brought back from the Hinterlands - a handful of coins; a dagger whose blade was fashioned of a strangely cold, dark metal; and a ring. I have never seen their like before! The dagger repulsed me for some reason, and I could not shake the feeling that something was watching me while I has holding it. Very strange. The coins were gold, with inscriptions in no language known to us today - Marcus told me that they say, 'The Eternal Empire - Service Always to the True Lords'. No idea who these 'True Lords' might be, and if an empire existed in the Hinterlands, it either existed so long ago as to leave no visible traces today, or it was so utterly destroyed by an outside power as to make the lands which it occupied resemble a clean slate. The ring was especially interesting, as it appeared to be even older than the other artefacts (if that was at all possible), and its design was wholly different to the other items. What excited me more was that Marcus had found the ring in a small stone box, nestled within a leathery scroll of some sort. He shared his translation, which I am recording from memory below:
'For the enjoyment of Your Eminence, long may I bask in Your glory, I render unto You a token of my esteem. This ring I have recovered from a recent expedition to [unreadable], far from our most remote outposts. This ring, Great One, was found in a crumbling vault in the hills of that remote land. Of its extreme age there can be no doubt, but the inscriptions in the walls of that place told of an age before our own, inconceivable as that must be.
'Wondrous Master, whose very presence is as a gift from the True Lords, these inscriptions recounted the exploits of a wanderer known as T'rllk, a figure of some renown who ventured across a land known as Y'ruth, recording the deeds of its heroes and rulers for posterity. This 'Y'ruth' is unknown to us; not even our most ancient records make any mention of it. Naturally, we thought it must be some fantastic ruse staged by the hated [unreadable - perhaps food?], but why they should choose to do so in such a remote location was unfathomable. That race is truly mad.
'Aside from the ring, we found skeletal remains, but they were unlike any other creature we have ever seen before. Clearly, this vault was a tomb of some sort, and its occupant was not of our people, nor of the [food?]. As there are no other races of note on our world, this specimen must belong to a now-vanished species.
'By Your leave, my work continues. May I lie forever under Your greatness, and may the Eternal Empire rise over all.'
"Marcus found it all rather confusing, but I shared enough of what I had discovered to lead us both to conclude that this mystery is truly of an awesome scale. I have decided to keep Marcus informed of my progress as best I can, and I will - regrettably, I am ashamed to admit - contact Galfridus. His knowledge of the darker lore will be necessary, I think."
"15th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"I now have two more tablets in my possession, thanks to the generosity of Galfridus; I cannot wait to examine them further! Before I can do so, I should recount what happened, as the circumstances are both fascinating and tragic. I rather doubt I shall see him again.
"I had decided that it was necessary to visit Galfridus, as his knowledge of the more obscure peoples and periods of our world's history is largely unrivalled. He was where I had last seen him - in his townhouse; he rarely left it the last time I had visited, and his manservant intimated that he has not been outside in months. In all other respects he appeared unchanged: gaunt, pale, slightly unkempt, with a far-off look in his eyes. He was unaware of me at first, engrossed as he was in a thick tome; but a few seconds after his man announced my presence he came to his senses.
"Welcoming me with genuine enthusiasm, he immediately asked what brought me here. Without preamble, I told him everything I knew - I needed his guidance. He listened intently as I recounted everything I had read and heard, and, after I had finished, he sat quietly for a moment, and quietly asked his man to leave us. Once the door was closed firmly, Galfridus fixed me with his gaze. I had not seen him this focused in many years.
"He told me that what I had discovered was a fragment of a work known only as the "Ythlil Cycle", essentially the collected lore of an entire civilisation as chronicled by T'rllk, who by all surviving accounts was a leading scholar of his age. Until hearing my tale, Galfridus was aware of only six tablets; he had no idea how many there may originally have been. What truly shocked me was his educated guess - and I have no reason to doubt him - as to the purported age of the tablets. By his reckoning, the realm of the Hlth'gur predated Blackmoor by many millennia. None of the scattered lore of Blackmoor that he had read ever made mention of Ythlil, and the strange account found by Marcus in the Hinterlands only strengthened his belief. When I questioned him on this, he told me that his studies had led him to discover incontrovertible evidence of two great civilisations - one human, one not - that had both fallen into obscurity before long-dead Thonia even began its ascension. The strange report found by Marcus, he told me, was written for a potentate of one of those nations - the name of which, he added forcefully, ought never to be mentioned - and the fact that even they had no knowledge of T'rllk or his writings indicated that the Hlth'gur and their works had vanished long, long ago.
"I found all of this fascinating, and I could restrain myself no longer. I interrupted him, and asked how long ago he thought the Hlth'gur may have lived. He looked at me carefully in the eye, and said, 'The unspeakable city sank into the deeps some 8,000 years ago. But its inhabitants kept copious records; that much I know. For them to have no knowledge of the Hlth'gur, Ythlil and its people must have vanished no less than 15,000 years before our own time.'
"I was astounded! I was simply unable to contemplate such a span of time, and told him so! He merely smiled at me and laughed. To imagine that the world began with life as we know it, he said, was the ultimate form of hubris. He assured me that humans, elves, dwarves, and the other known peoples of the world were most assuredly not the first living things to dwell upon it; nor would we be the last. Before us, even before Blackmoor, he continued, was the 'Time of the Serpents' as he called it. The world in that era belonged to the various breeds of lizard-kin, and creatures such as ourselves were but recent newcomers living in the shadows of the great empires of the day.
"If I could but describe in words the mental pictures he painted! Teeming cities of basalt and obsidian rising from swampy deltas and misty jungles, great roads cutting through the wilderness, colossal monuments to the great kings of that period, and their deities. It was a world as vibrant and complex as our own, he assured me, and it was almost completely obliterated with the passing of those two ancient civilisations. In fact, he went on, that period marked the rise of the first great human civilisation, which, although long dead, still influences us today through our most ancient folktales and beliefs. When I questioned him about this, he smiled wryly, and asked where I thought the fear and dislike of snakes and other scaled creatures - which is by no means uncommon among the populace - might have originated. I must admit I could not answer that.
"He continued his argument - if the unnameable empire and its human counterpart could have been wiped clean from the world prior to the rise of Thonia and Blackmoor, could this not have happened beforehand, possibly many times? He went on to postulate that this process of wiping the proverbial slate clean might indeed be a normal process, as one form of life makes way for another. His explanation was cut short as he suddenly stopped talking and stiffened in his chair, cocking his head as he did so. Clearly, he was listening for something, and whatever it might have been, it was unwelcome. His face lost the little colour it had, and his eyes widened. He stood up, and nearly ran to a small cabinet buried in parchment. With shaking hands, he unlocked it, reached into the darkness, and withdrew a cloth bundle. This he dumped in my lap. 'There is little time. Please take this and go,' he said tonelessly, 'If you still have questions, go to the BlightSwamp, or north to the Moors of Chlyras. There you will have your proof, and you will see that my late namesake was correct in his second book.' With that he bellowed for his man, who nervously ushered me out. I tried to ask what it was that bothered Galfridus, but the man shook his head.
"Galfridus' parting words haunted me, and so without delay, precious package in hand, I made my way to the Imperial Library, where I knew a copy of the work he mentioned could be found. When I mentioned the title to the clerk, he looked at me askance, and asked whether someone could vouch for my character. I supplied a number of names, and was directed to wait in a nearby lounge. Few people know of the Precepts of Akh'All, written by Galfridus Cassius Cato in AC 627, but those who do are aware of its significance. Thus, when it - and similar titles like it, I imagine - is requested, their caretakers cannot afford to take chances. It was a small indignity that I was willing to tolerate.
"Fortunately, I had not long to wait. I was escorted to a secluded reading room, where the Precepts had been laid out for my perusal. I was unable to suppress a chill when I saw its black cover, the only adornment being a broken red circle leering at me like a diseased eye. I had read only a couple of pages once before - I could not bear the mind-shattering things that it implied - but Galfridus had read the entire book. It was what set him on the path to acquire more dark knowledge, and what ultimately, in my view, led to his madness and probable downfall. I now had to read Liber II, the fiendish second part.
"I dare not go into detail on what I read. Suffice it to say here that Liber II refers to Those Who Wait beyond the known confines of time and space, and what They wish. Thinking about what we had discussed that day, I found a section that, I believe, Galfridus had meant me to find. In light of the Ythlil Cycle, I shall write it here - may the Immortals forgive me:
"'Though They be restrained beyond the limits of what we may see and touch, They are always there. For They do not walk as we do, for They are not as we are. They do not need to be present, for just as the waking mind does not exist in physical form, but can range freely, so can They touch us in our dreams. But They have never been idle, for Their hands walk among us, and this has been so for time out of mind.
"As They may not be destroyed, neither can Their hands be kept away forever. Even though the world itself may be swept clean, there are always survivals that do not die with the passing of their days, but instead persist in darker corners to await the word of their masters.'
"I shall now read the two tablets Galfridus has given me. There is much to think upon."
"16th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"Not terribly sure as to the exact time; late, that is for certain. I have examined the two tablets and translated them - text of the first is as follows:
'By the decree of Irrub, I will speak of the people of Ythlil, and of other lands besides.
'Ythlil, the First City, Flower of the Bwr, Fairest of all Y'ruth, is home to the Hlth'gur. We, the dominant people of the world, have forged an empire that spans our continent, and extends to other lands; although we seldom venture inland. As children of the sea, the bulk of our people dwell along the mighty rivers of Y'ruth, or along its coasts. The Hlth'gur revere water in all its forms, and indeed we are born of it, and spend much of our youth in its embrace. For, in youth we are not as we appear in adulthood, being instead of an order not far removed from the fish upon which we feast.
'When the time is right, our children undergo a great change. They lose their mighty tails that propelled them swiftly in the deeps, and sinewy arms and legs grow from their bodies. It is at this time that they lose their ability to breathe water as do our prey; it is a great moment when, finally, our children take their first steps on land, and breathe the open air. They are immediately taken in and educated according to their caste, and afterwards perform their vital role for the empire until death.
'Our society, as befits our stature as the most advanced species, is highly sophisticated. Our people are divided into six castes - noble, priest, warrior, artisan, labourer, and servant - each of which plays a well-defined role in ensuring our continued survival. Within each caste one pursues a profession suited to their temperament, and after many years of dutiful pursuit one may become a true master. Masters of renown are relieved of their duties and become responsible for educating the youth, thus ensuring that a practitioner of their craft - whatever it may be - will receive the best possible instruction and perform to their utmost for the empire. This has ensured the ascendancy of the Hlth'gur.
'As I have recorded elsewhere, our people have built the greatest and fairest of cities; no other race matches our skill. This magnificence extends to all of our works - our weapons are both highly functional and beautiful, our tools remain serviceable for many generations, and our vessels are faster and range farther than those of lesser peoples. The mastery of the Hlth'gur extends even to the magical arts, for our priests' control over the elements is unrivalled, and their works are truly magnificent to behold. Truly, our civilisation is as a blossom that graces the world.
'But I would be remiss if I neglected to speak of the other peoples of our world. Beyond the confines of Y'ruth, upon whose shores only the Hlth'gur may dwell, there are three other landmasses. The first, which lies towards the far north, is the bleak and cold land known as Ahrrup. Its inhabitants, the obscenely hirsute Gok'ket, eke out a meagre existence fishing and gathering whatever edible vegetation they can find. Theirs is a crude, tribal existence marked by constant struggle, and it is well that they lack the intelligence and resources to build ships, for they would surely descend on warmer lands as locusts. As they make nothing we require, and as they have refused to adopt our faith, we are content to let them be.
'Further south is the much larger landmass known as Toleth, which, although blessed with tolerable temperatures, is far too arid for the most part for our needs. The Hlth'gur have only one settlement of note on that continent - Y'hantho - which lies nestled in a fertile bay. The rest of Toleth is the domain of the S'sothek, a race that has but recently attained civilisation. They build their cities underground or in cliffs, safe from the blazing heat of the deserts and badlands that cover much of the continent. Unlike the Hlth'gur, the S'sothek are not born of water, and can spend many days labouring under the Sun's harsh glare. Having strong tails instead of legs, the S'sothek can speed gracefully over the dunes, and they are possessed of an unnatural fluidity of motion. They are extremely strong, and their warriors are truly fearsome, being highly proficient with weapons and possessing a deadly venom which they may inject or spray from their mouths. Although dangerous, the S'sothek have accepted our guidance, and both our peoples exchange commodities highly valued by the other. As labourers and warriors, they are unequalled, and on occasion we have used them to great effect.
'To the south lies the largest landmass - Harrukik - a land of arid wasteland in the north and inhospitable cold in the south, between which lies a fertile band of rivers and swamps. Under our guidance, the S'sothek have begun to colonise the north, while we have claimed a number of fertile islands, deltas and bays for ourselves. It is the middle lands, inhabited by the barbarous Khas, that we covet most. Like the S'sothek, the Khas are not water-born, but hatch their eggs on land. Unlike our allies, the Khas are legged as we are. They live in crude, fortified villages in the deepest forests and on the tallest hills, which they defend with blowguns and spears. They follow a rudimentary caste system, and forge tools and weapons of passable quality; but they have refused to abandon the worship of their primitive gods, which - blasphemously - they claim to be capable of joining should they prove worthy. For this reason alone we continue to press the Khas, as they have potential as a race if we can prevent their ideas from spreading.
'The great oceans are home to civilised peoples as well, the most powerful of which are the Tlab'ek, who dwell in great cities on the seafloor. Their sages claim to have ruled the world at one time, but there is no way to tell if this is so. They venerate Those Who Wait - chiefly Ubbeth - and keep to their own affairs as we do ours. Out of respect, we do not claim the deeps as our own, and they have left the surface lands to us.'
"17th(?) of Sviftmont, AC 993
"Text of the second tablet:
'It is the wish of Irrub and the master sages that I relate the nature of our world and its lands.
'The world as we know it was made for the Hlth'gur. The better part of it is covered by vast oceans, and the bulk of the existing landmasses are bounded by well-watered territories through which countless rivers flow. The most majestic if these is the Bwr, by which our greatest cities have arisen; but there are other rivers of note on other continents. These I shall describe in due time. Beyond the luxurious margins where land meets sea, conditions become arid quickly. Misty jungles give way to scrubland, then meagre grasslands, and then finally rocky desert where one can see, disconcertingly, for countless miles. In the extreme north and south, the live-giving coastal regions rapidly become chilly bogs, and then bleak tundra that is unfit for habitation by any creature, save for the Gok'ket. As such, there is very little desirable land on most of the major landmasses, and thus we concern ourselves but seldom with these places. Instead, we have thoroughly explored and settled the numerous islands the lie east of Y'ruth and north of Harrukik. It is there where our extensive farms may be found, and many delightful provincial towns besides.
'I shall first speak of Y'ruth, the fairest isle. The homeland of the Hlth'gur lies east of Toleth, and measures no less than two hundred miles long and a thousand miles wide. It is graced with many bays and inlets, and along its spine rises a moderate mountain range - the Sslith Range - from which descend many rivers. The Bwr completes its descent in the west, and meanders gracefully eastwards before ending in a secluded bay, after passing beneath the twenty-nine bridges of Ythlil. There are two other cities of note on Y'ruth - the impressive port city of Lybb in the utter west, and Rud'gik, a centre of art that spans the Bwr upstream of the Greatest City. Other towns and villages, connected to the major urban centres by stone roads, lay nestled in the thick jungles.
'Between Y'ruth and Toleth are Isles of Blurup, which are properly part of the latter landmass, but which have been under the dominion of the Hlth'gur for over four millennia. In appearance they are much like Y'ruth; although the lay of the land is much gentler, with nothing greater than a large hill rising above the jungles. There are no settlements of note here, but in times past a number of great fortresses were erected on the westernmost isles, which deflected all but the most severe S'sothek attacks in ancient days. In the more peaceful times that followed, these defences were abandoned.
'The continent of Toleth is mountainous at its northern and southern extremes. The northern chain, which we call the Hussur Range, runs northwest-southeast and is snow-capped for much of its length. It is all but impassable save for in the extreme south, where there is a gap more than fifty miles in width. The Hlth'gur dominate all of Toleth east of the Hussur Range, while the remainder of the continent has been left to the S'sothek. In the far south, stretching along the Tolethian coast, is the lesser range known as the Ybb Rise. None of the peaks are capped with snow; although it is said that this range is slowly increasing in height. Bracketed by these two ranges lies the bulk of Toleth - a vast, dry plain broken by the occasional stretch of uplands. Meagre grasses grow on the western slopes of the mountains; all else is barren. It is said that wetlands may be found in some of the more remote regions, but no explorer has ever found them.
'Separated from the northern coast of Toleth by a narrow strait is the forsaken land of Ahrrup. This continent is graced with a low-lying range of mountains - the Gluur Peaks (I will not even try to approximate the inharmonious name given to them by the Gok'ket) - along its bleak northern coast, which we have but seldom visited. The southern coast is where one may find great, towering cliffs no less than a thousand feet in height in certain regions, below which extend rocky beaches that would almost be pleasant were it not for Ahrrup's inhabitants, who are often found scouring the tidal flats for food. North of the cliffs, the land descends gradually, across the breadth of the continent, towards the Gluur Peaks as a vast plain. Hardy shrubs and grasses may be found throughout, watered by many small rivers that flow south from the peaks. A vast bog or marshy lake is said to exist in Ahrrup's central region.
'Lying between Ahrrup and our own blessed land of Y'ruth are numerous islands - some large enough for habitation, others merely rocks jutting up from the seafloor. Those closest to our homeland have been settled - albeit thinly - and many of these are productive. Few settlements of note are found here, and most of the Hlth'gur who dwell here are solid working folk. Those islands lying close to Ahrrup have been claimed by the Empire, but the only sustained presence is provided by several penal battalions. As we do not consider this region to be unified, none of our cartographers have ever given the islands a common name. Nevertheless, they are commonly referred to as the Barrier Isles by common folk.
'Harrukik, the largest landmass, lies south of Toleth and Y'ruth, and is indeed so massive that it spans the entire southern polar region. The northern coast is marked for the most part by sandy beaches and enticing lagoons, but scarcely a couple of miles inland what little vegetation there is vanishes completely into an unending sea of dunes. At the southern end of this wasteland, the land begins to rise gradually, and the Bay of T'reth brings life-giving moisture to the interior. At this point, grasslands replace desert, which in turn give way to light forest. In the extreme south, the forests give way once more to grasslands, and then tundra, before all succumbs to the great ice sheets. There are numerous rivers that spring from the ice, and wind their way down towards the sea. The Khas have numerous names for them; but we have chosen to name only three - the Ureth, which flows in the west towards the Bay of T'reth; the Ythik, which empties into the great Bay of Ythik; and the K'rll, which terminates in a vast swampy delta south of Y'ruth, and around which we have founded many colonies.
'Lying between Harrukik and Y'ruth is another vast chain of islands, which we have named the Hleth Archipelago. They are properly part of the Harrukik landmass, but have been under our dominion for more than seven millennia; as such, they are considered separate. In ancient times, they were the seat of the Talekh Empire, which once held sway over much of the south. For a time, its inhabitants - the hated Talgh'gar - cast their shadow over Y'ruth; but our faith in Those Who Wait, and our inherent supremacy, ultimately broke their power. In victory, we razed their cities and cast down their blasphemous idols, and they fled to the seas before us. It is said by some explorers that the Talgh'gar have established a new homeland amongst the remote isles west of Toleth, and even along the shores of forsaken Ahrrup. Such tales must be treated as such, for no proof has been found. Today, the Hleth Archipelago is a veritable paradise, with many beautiful towns dotting the forested isles.
'Thus have I, T'rrlk, presented the world as it is known to the Hlth'gur.'
"Truly astonishing. There are enough place names given that I should encounter little trouble verifying them. I only hope more clues may yet surface."
"19th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"As I write, Duric is getting our things together; time to be on the road once more. It seems that sometime after I transcribed the second tablet I fell into a deep sleep. It must have lasted for a great length of time, as Duric had been about on several errands, and I was still dead to the world when he returned to our rooms. He insists that he tried to wake me, but I was too deep in slumber to be roused. He did mention in passing that I was mumbling; although he was unable to make any sense of what I was saying. When I pressed him, he recalled that I uttered nonsense words like 'Yeer-ruth', 'Hlooth-goor', 'Yeerth-lil' and many others. He asked whether I had been dreaming about our old adventures up in the Wildlands, as the sounds emanating from my mouth were very much like those uttered by the frogfolk.
"That offhand remark caught me off guard. Everything Galfridus had said during our final encounter suddenly came back to me in full force - that I should go to the Blight Swamp or the Moors of Chlyras should I desire proof! Of course! How could I have not seen it? The frogfolk of that cursed land had little knowledge of their origins, but it was clear that theirs was an ancient culture. Could they be in some way related to the obviously froglike Hlth'gur - perhaps even their direct descendants? The passage that I had read from the accursed Precepts would indicate a strong possibility. I related what I had read from the tablets to Duric, and he thought it made some sense. He then went on to suggest that a trip to the BlightSwamp might be in order; he had had enough of the City, and was eager to move on. I was quite inclined to agree, and he gave me the broadest smile I had seen in years - it was the one he customarily made before a big battle. He relished our fights up north, as he claimed that the frogfolk 'gave him a good run for his money.'
"Despite the fearsome nature of the locale, it will be nice to make a side trip to the Shires first. It has been a good while since I last passed through Eastshire, and I would like to see how old Rolo is doing."
"24th of Sviftmont, AC 993
"Currently in Mallowfern - expect to see Rolo soon. I shall recount our most interesting experiences - there is much more going on than I had thought!
"Not wishing to lose any time, we booked passage to Specularum from the City - the voyage itself took only two days, which was highly convenient. From there, we bought the services of a young skipper who operated a much smaller vessel - little more than an oversized rowboat, really - to take us to Silverbend, as it was the closest accessible landing point to Mallowfern according to my map. At the mention of it, the young man grimaced slightly, and asked if we were sure we wanted to be let off there. I insisted that we did and the man shrugged his shoulders, and then went about his work, saying in passing that there were much 'cleaner' places to go ashore, like Nob's Boots, or Wardlestone across the river.
"Perhaps it was the nature of what I had been reading of late, but I stopped him, and asked very pointedly what he meant. He seemed reluctant to meet my gaze, and said in a low voice that those who know Eastshire do not drop anchor there, and that most 'proper maps' make no mention of the place. I countered that, despite the region's proximity to the Blight Swamp, Eastshire was still a very safe place, and that I could not understand his reluctance - and I was paying him to take us there. He assured me that he would do as we asked, but insisted that we pass through as quickly as we could; for, in his own words, 'No good-hearted hin'll have anything to do with 'em, 'cept burn 'em!'
"The journey was uneventful. We sailed close to the coast until we drew near the Black Eagle Barony, whereupon the skipper took a westerly course across the bay, before skirting around and heading north to the mouth of the Wardle. As we drew near Nob's Boots he looked at me questioningly, and I told him to press on. He shook his head, but he and his small crew did as we asked. Only a few miles upstream we came abreast of another vessel - much smaller, and crewed by hin - which drew up beside us. Both vessels dropped anchor and the two skippers conferred quietly. After a few moments they shook hands, and our man gave one of the hin a small pouch that jingled noisily, after which a handful of other hin came aboard bearing small bundles, which were stowed in a tiny hold I had not noticed before. Once the business was settled we were underway once more, and the skipper eyed us intently, one finger on his lips. Somehow I was not surprised that the man was a smuggler - how else does one purchase the finest Shires tobacco in Thyatis?
"Before long, we were drawing up to a sagging pier jutting into the river, from which a weed-choked path wound its way up a hill. Flanking the rotting dock where what might have been warehouses decades ago, but the roof of one of them had long since fallen in, and ivy had claimed the crumbling walls of both. Not a person could be seen. Beyond this bleak view, the other dominant impression was the smell - the stench of rotting fish hung heavily.
"The skipper indicated that this was Silverbend, and asked whether we would like to be ferried across to Wardlestone instead. Seeing that he was eager to leave, I paid him the balance owing, and told him that we would be disembarking here. He paused - apparently in thought - and told us that he would be passing downstream at noon tomorrow should we change our minds.
"We went ashore, the pier creaking ominously underfoot, and we waited a moment to get our bearings. With no other place to go, we trudged uphill, and after cresting the top we saw the village of Silverbend. Clearly, it must have been a prosperous river port at one time, as evidenced by the numerous buildings that were once inns, taverns, and counting houses. Even the houses themselves, which had been built in the human style and presumably with considerable delvings underground, looked like they had been quite grandiose in their day. Whatever prosperity Silverbend had enjoyed, it was long gone now. By our count, no less than a third of the buildings were in ruin, and many of those that were still inhabited were in poor repair.
"The few people we saw in the streets behaved very strangely. They seemed to lack any sense of purpose in their actions - they shuffled rather than walked, and rarely looked at anything that was not right in front of them. When I approached one of them to ask where we might find a tavern, he turned slowly to face me, and suggested curtly that we try the Flying Tadpole on Wardle Street. Without even waiting for me to thank him, he was off. Very much unlike the usual courteous treatment one receives from the hin! As we sought the tavern, Duric asked me whether I had noticed anything odd about the villager. When I replied negatively, he said that the hin looked like he was suffering from some kind of disease, as his exposed skin was quite lumpy and had an almost greenish cast to it. Intrigued, I casually scrutinised the other villagers who passed us, and Duric was right - everyone we saw had lumpy skin, as though they suffered from numerous boils. Some must have been feverish, as their flesh had a faint sheen, too. I must admit that I did not notice any green skin; although some did have an unhealthy pallor. I also noticed that a number of the locals' mouths appeared abnormally wide. Very off-putting.
"The Flying Tadpole was in better repair than most buildings, but that was not saying much. We could see nothing through the grimy windowpanes, and the common room was very dark - almost like a cave - and the smells from the kitchen were no more welcoming. If anything, the pervasive fish smell was stronger here; although the locals must have been used to it. The two hin sitting at the bar seemed content enough. One of them detached himself from his stool and shuffled over to us, asking in a raspy voice whether we wished anything to eat or drink. As we were both rather hungry, we asked for whatever was in the pot. The hin nodded and shuffled through a doorway, presumably into the kitchen.
"Soon enough he returned bearing two steaming bowls of stew, a small loaf of bread, and two tankards. The stew - fish, vegetables, and something chewy neither of us could identify - went down well enough with the bread and ale, so long as we refrained from breathing through our noses. The other diner was completely silent, and made no move to talk to us. The only noise, in fact, came from the guest rooms upstairs. It sounded like someone was throwing around a heavy sack, then dragging it intermittently. We paid and left, escaping to the comparatively clean air outside. We walked about, and noticed the complete absence of any kind of industry. Duric wondered how the locals sustained themselves with no trade, and I thought long on this. The decision to move on to Mallowfern - and quickly - was made for us soon afterwards.
"We were passing by an alleyway between two relatively intact houses, and Duric spotted a hunched form rooting through a pile of refuse. Even here, there must be those who are even poorer than the average. I had thought to call out to the person, and offer some food, but he chose that moment to turn halfway towards us, evidently hunting for something. Still paying us no heed, he sifted the garbage until he had found what he was looking for, at which point his tongue shot out from his mouth and drew back, bearing with it a squirming rat! He did not chew his meal, but with a sickening gulp swallowed it whole, and licked his lips with his abnormally long tongue. I was stunned, and even Duric's normally steady nerves must have failed him, as he dropped his axe (which he must have unconsciously drawn) with a loud thud. The vagrant whirled to face us and immediately leaped further down the alley. It was no mere jump - the hin easily leapt more than ten feet into the air and cleared a distance of more than twice that! He leaped again after landing, and disappeared behind a building.
"The true horror behind the malaise that hung over Silverbend, which surely must have been part of the reason why no outsiders ever came here, dawned on both of us. We gathered up our belongings and fairly dashed down the half-overgrown road to Mallowfern, and did not look back until we could no longer smell the reek of the village. That there is a link between the Hlth'gur, the frogfolk, and the degenerate hin of Silverbend, there can be no doubt - someday we shall return and cleanse that place."
“25th of Sviftmont, AC 993
“Rolo greeted us warmly, as he always has. It appears that word of our passage through Silverbend had preceded us, and Duric and I were quite delighted by the ready offer of a few stiff drinks once we were safely ensconced in his home. Although not nearly as close to that unfortunate place as Wardlestone, Silverbend’s reputation is still well known by the locals, who shun the vanishing road leading there. After we had unwound ourselves suitably, Rolo enquired as to the nature of our visit – appreciated as it was, he hastened to add. Not wishing to say too much, yet unwilling to offend our old friend by keeping too many confidences from him, I explained that a mutual acquaintance had pointed out a potential peril in the Blight Swamp that might need judicious treatment, and that we had thought to use Mallowfern as a launching point.
“A magician and scholar I may be; an actor and con-man I am not, I am ashamed to admit. Rolo took it in, but it was evident that he had not bought the entire story. He looked to Duric, who had known him much longer than I, for some confirmation. Thank goodness Duric and I were on the same page; with a slight nod from the dwarf Rolo settled back in his chair. Evidently, my paltry explanation would be enough for him for the time being. My sense of relief was shaken by Rolo’s next words, which under the circumstances I rather think I shall never forget, ‘I s’pose it’s good enough for now, Rundel; but I say ye’ll need a man to speak for ye summat more direct-like down the road, given ye banter as ye do. I’ll allow that it may please the stuffed puddings in the cities who’ve more money than sense, but for most other folks – decent, hard-working sorts, mark ye – ye’ll need a different delivery.’
“Needless to say, I knew Rolo saw an opportunity to get himself involved into whatever we were doing, and he thought his natural ability (‘gift of the gab’, as he called it) with words would ease his way. As I recall, that was how he attached himself to our group the last time – which turned out very profitably for him in the end, judging by the tasteful furnishings in his home. I knew that, despite Duric’s taciturn demeanour, he was quite fond of the hin, and would certainly enjoy his company on whatever path we would be taking. There was nothing for it, I suppose, and so we proceeded to relate the facts to Rolo as we understood them, with especial detail on our discoveries in Silverbend.
“After taking it all in, Rolo mulled it over, and shared his thoughts. He had, it seemed, not been enjoying as peaceful an early retirement as we might have expected. Rolo was Eastshire born and bred, and grew up hearing the many colourful stories surrounding the BlightSwamp and the surrounding lands. That Silverbend, as the closest hin (although many locals might contest that last point) settlement to the swamp, should have an unsavoury aspect to it did not surprise him in the least. In fact, he told us, as a yallaren some 50 years ago he spent some time adventuring along the fringes of the swamp, and had visited Silverbend on occasion. Around that time he had heard a story about a cult – purportedly called the Servants of the Great Frog – that was active in the region, and had allegedly been responsible for a string of disappearances of hin youth from neighbouring villages. The krondar were unable to resolve the issue, and Rolo took it upon himself to put matters to rights. He had remembered seeing suspiciously high levels of activity around a dilapidated warehouse in Silverbend during his most recent visit, and assembled a party of would-be heroes to investigate it.
“Needless to say, a cult was indeed active in that warehouse (which, as it turns out, was the first building Duric and I saw in that accursed village), and Rolo related only the barest of details as to what went on there. I shall only say that this cult venerated frogs above all other things, and had erected a massive altar in one of the underground storage chambers, upon which those who were captured were sacrificed in horrific ways. A number of the senior cultists possessed frog-like characteristics, and Rolo recalled feeling a strong sense of revulsion whenever he came close to them; and their blood, when it flowed, was of an unnatural colour. Although Rolo and his band came out victorious, some had fallen in battle, and unsettling sounds – reminding him of a mass of wet flopping and slithering – began to emanate from a hand-hewn side passage. They gathered up the surviving abductees and fled Silverbend, and to his knowledge no concerted effort had ever been made to finish what he had started. He concluded his account by saying that tales of disappearances along the margins of the Blight Swamp have persisted for decades, and he would not be surprised if some ancient evil, perhaps the cause of Silverbend’s corruption, might be festering in the midst of that forsaken land.
“We pondered Rolo’s tale in silence, and agreed to discuss plans in the morning. To think that Duric and I walked right by that pit of horror. On top of other matters I have no idea how I shall sleep soundly.”
“28th of Sviftmont, AC 993
“Once again we are on the road, now accompanied by Rolo and a handful of his closest cousins – all strapping young hin who have but recently completed their time as yallaren. I know Rolo recited their names several times to me, but in all honesty I cannot disentangle them in my mind. All pleasant, eager lads, though, who hung on their elder cousin’s every word. I must admit I found the spectacle rather amusing, as it was evident by his strutting that Rolo relished his elevated status. My training in manners and bearing are too well entrenched to permit me to reveal that I know the truth, and so I shall remain a gentleman (or a ‘stuffed pudding’, as Rolo says it). I thought I noticed Duric smirking at the spectacle now and then; though with his beard one can never be too sure.
“Making our way to the Blight Swamp from Mallowfern was a straightforward affair – we left town and in short order found ourselves in a trackless moor. Having studied the maps of the area many times, I knew this morass was nothing compared to the Malpheggi of my misspent youth, or even the Moors of Chlyras, in terms of size; but looking at an obstacle in the abstract, and finding oneself in the midst of it, are two entirely different things. The place has a definite feel to it. Whereas the Malpheggi sags under the weight of its history, replete with battles and betrayals, the Blight feels unsullied, but nevertheless has an intense brooding and expectant air about it. The feeling reminded me of the time I was taken to visit my grandfather at his estate in rural Thyatis. He had the place built to resemble his old home in every respect, even to the point of bringing in stones from near Ansimont. Everything was laid out as it had been – as though daring anyone there to suggest that anything had changed. But the strongest memory of all was his study, where my grandfather would sit for hours gazing out the window over the countryside. There, by the door, he always had his travelling kit – clothes, personal bags – laid out. To a casual observer, it would seem that the man was simply ready to go out for a ride. But I knew better. My father had told me why grandfather had ordered his kit to be arranged for travel – it was because he expected to go home. And that sense, that palpable aura of expectation, filled the whole house. That same feeling was what I sensed when we entered the Blight Swamp. I was not (and am still not) reassured.
“Within an hour the track we were following had dwindled to nothing, and solid ground became something of a precious commodity. We pressed on, wandering the swamp in search of something significant. Rolo asked several times if we were sure we knew what we were looking for, but the best answer I could give was that we would know it when we saw it, and when we did, we had best be ready to act. It failed to satisfy him, but the young bucks had a good time telling tall tales and sharing lewd jokes, so he let it be. Duric, evidently taking a shine to the lads, shared some jokes of his own – including the one about the magic mirror seller from Sundsvall. That one lightened the mood. ‘Mirror, mirror on the door…’
“Soon enough, we reached a natural clearing – a treeless hill rising from the swamp – which seemed the perfect place to camp for the night. There are signs that this place has been used often in the past, and I shall investigate further.”
“Some of Rolo’s lads are on watch – allowing me to examine the site more thoroughly. We are nestled in a shallow, bowl-like depression at the summit of a low hillock rising from the swamp. There was once a structure here – bits of formed stone poke up like jagged teeth from the ridge in place, where they have not been buried by leaves and other detritus. What this building may have been I cannot imagine, but it appears to have been roughly circular, measuring 20 feet in diameter. There is no evidence of there having been a door or entranceway; thus I must surmise ingress was achieved by an underground passage, by magic, or by air. Duric suggested half-jokingly that, if frog-folk or their ilk built this place, they could have leapt in.
“The stone itself is very substantial – the walls would have been two feet thick at their base – suggesting this structure could have been rather tall. There is no time to dig down to find a stone floor, should one have ever existed. I mentioned earlier that there is evidence of passage, or rather use, here. We have located numerous footprints – hin, I should add – all of which appear to have come from the west and congregated here for some purpose, and then continue eastwards. What they did here is a mystery, but that some form of ritual was conducted here I have no doubt. Several large stone slabs, each measuring a foot square, have been laid in the middle of the bowl to form a rough circle. In the midst of this circle is a crude altar, formed perhaps of debris from the original structure, judging by the quality and colour of the stone. Mounded on this altar is a pile of ash, bone fragments, and scraps of charred leather and cloth. Rolo and the other hin looked sick upon the latter discovery, for there can be little doubt that a sacrifice was made here. But for the lack of any other suitable place to camp, I believe Rolo would have insisted we leave immediately – and I could scarcely fault him for doing so. I offered to help him lay the remains to rest, and this we did with solemnity on a lower, smaller rise not too far distant. As we bundled the remains in some spare sacking, Rolo found a blackened ring – a token of one of the lesser clans near Mallowfern. He would not say which clan it was, but from the set of his jaw I knew he recognised it. He placed the ring in his pouch, and, looking me in the eye, told me that debts would be paid dearly.
“So angry were the hin that there tore apart the altar and threw the pieces into the swamp, and afterwards uprooted the slabs and hurled them into the muck, too. I did not try to stop them. Duric and I shall let them grieve, and I will say nothing of my discovery for now.
“I had the opportunity to quickly examine the altar when we first arrived. There were markings on the sides, which resembled the style of writing found on the strange tablets that started me on this unexpected quest. That they are related there can be no doubt, but I only had time to make a couple of charcoal scrapings on parchment before that less savoury discovery was made. My familiarity with the dead script used by T’rllk must be improving, as I recall having had less difficulty translating what I had copied.
“'By the glory of sundered Y’ruth and fallen Ythlil, we remain true. Through rain of fire and shadow of empire, we remain true. The way shall not be forgotten, and the True Lords shall be welcomed once again. Let the current order pass, let false ways be cast aside.'
“Obviously this was written after the time of T’rllk, if Ythlil and Y’ruth are described as being no more. I suppose the reference to the rain of fire can only be the fabled Great Rain of Fire that destroyed Blackmoor, but the empire reference confuses me. What empire? The only ones of which I am aware are Thyatis and Alphatia, and neither have ever held sway over this particular region. That covers a period up to 1,000 years before the crowning of the first Thyatian Emperor, so that would therefore leave a centuries-long gap between the Great Rain and the Alphatian Landfall, in which another empire might have flourished in this part of the world. But there are no records of such a thing. Perhaps it refers to a petty empire of no record, but I think not – everything else written of in these works has been grand in scale. No, the inscription must refer to an empire that predated Alphatia, which held sway in this part of the Known World. Another mystery.”
Content alert - this entry contains some violent scenes
"5th of Eirmont, AC 993
“I lie wounded in our makeshift camp, somewhere midway between the dark keep and the welcoming confines of the Five Shires. Our brave company is reduced, but defiant. Rolo has declared that the fallen shall be remembered, and that there will be a reckoning visited upon the inhabitants of Silverbend, for there can now be no doubt that there is a connection between that foul village and what has been happening in the Blight Swamp. Duric, my stalwart friend these many years, standard-bearer to my father during the Rebellion, says nothing. But I have known him far too long. He is a dwarf of few words, and those he utters are well-chosen. But what does not escape his lips lies graven upon his face – he will fight, if asked. As will I. I must recount every detail before it fades from my memory. There is much to record, and then I must study our newest finds. Another tablet, a fossil, a strange sword, and a ring.
“After finishing the sad work of the 28th we resolved to move on, for the ruined tower had become a place of misery. Rolo told us that he wished (should he not return from our journey) that the islet or hill upon which the tower was built should be called Black Sorrow Hill. I cannot think of a more appropriate name. We left that hill behind and plunged further into the swamp, following the newfound trail.
“The following day, as we continued to follow the trail, we saw a massive pillar – easily 20 feet in width and 50 feet in height – topped with the remnants of a stone platform. A few minutes later we came across another (this one only 20 feet tall, with a broken tip) and four more after that. The latter four each had remnants of platforms, and the last two were still connected. It was then that we realised that we were walking in the shadow of a great bridge from some bygone era. Who could have built it, we had no idea, but Duric noted that the builders possessed engineering skills far superior to anything existing today.
“Further on, shortly before setting down to camp, we found ourselves in a massive clearing – a region of bare rock that looked as though it had been scraped clean, with a great ledge measuring a quarter mile or more to our north. A massive earthquake had taken place at some point in the past, Duric told us, as the rocks themselves had been fractured, and the part on which we were walking had subsided considerably – no less than 50 feet! For such a drastic change to happen, he said, the earthquake must have been terrible, perhaps something that radically altered the shape of the land for many miles around. While the others stood in awe as they imagined what the quake must have been like, I thought I saw something interesting embedded in the exposed rock face. Upon closer observation it turned out to be a large number of fossils – but they were unlike anything I had seen. I called Duric, and he looked at them with interest. To me, they looked like legged worms, or perhaps some sort of centipede, measuring between one and three inches in length, with a series of spikes arrayed in a “V”-like format on their backs. Or were they stiff-legged creatures with soft tentacles on top? Either way, I could not discern a head, antennae, or any other appendage that would indicate how one was supposed to view them. If I had not seen the fossils, and someone described them to me, I would have told them that they had hallucinated them. Duric had never seen anything like them, either; although he speculated that, judging by their position in the rock strata, they would have to have died long, long ago. Long before the time of Y’ruth, he assured me. I immediately questioned him on that point, and he said cryptically that the dwarves knew the true age of the world, and it was older than any other people might possibly imagine. At any rate, I took several samples – I might never come by here again, I reasoned, and the long-dead creatures did look fascinating.
“Sometime that night, we were awoken by the blast of a horn. Aside from our quarry, we could not think of anyone (or anything) that might produce such a noise. We hurriedly gathered our kit and followed the sound, which repeated at regular intervals. After an undetermined period of time, we heard a low, rhythmic thumping sound (drums, I thought) that accompanied the horn. We were getting close. We pressed on through the mire, and soon our footing become surer – we had happened upon an old causeway of sorts. Who built it, we knew not, but we were silently grateful as we sped through the night. If there were any other captives among our quarry, we would free them, and put an end to this nightmare.
“On we ran, and soon clear voices could be heard – chanting, in a language I had never heard spoken before, but one which held a certain amount of chilling familiarity. I shall transcribe it as best I can: ‘An chagoth wath kem! Sek peram! Sek ith kesh reshah hematee!’ In response to which we heard many voices shout the same words in response. The original speaker then repeated the words, much louder, and the others did likewise.
“Suddenly, we came out of the rank forest into an open space of sorts. Before us was a massive, crumbling pile of black stone. At first, I thought it was a bare hill, but upon closer inspection I noted the remnants of battlements, straight walls, and other features which showed it to be a ruined fortress or some kind. Surely it must have sat there for ages, and I cannot think of any people who would have built such a thing – let alone in a region otherwise devoid of civilisation. Yet, we had already found the remnants of a great bridge; perhaps the two were related. I had little time to think these things, as the sound of a scream punctuated the chanting and drumming. Smoke was arising from behind the nearest portion of the ruins – perhaps a gatehouse or similar building. We had no time to lose.
“We raced up a long stone ramp, up to what must have been an imposing gate in its day. Those gates were long gone, but the archway in which they stood was massive – easily 30 feet tall, and covered with hundreds of well-worn carvings which caused me to shiver as I passed, though I do not know why. We crossed a short hallway and burst into a courtyard. Here, vegetation had tried to reclaim the land, but everything that grew here was sickly and stunted. Still, it provided us some measure of cover, for which I am thankful, as we had the luxury of surveying what lay before us. Beyond the diseased shrubbery lay the bulk of the courtyard, which measured more than a hundred feet on a side. At the far end rose what must once have been a massive fortification, with a wide ramp ascending to a pair of massive rusted metal doors, before which was a landing. On that stood a hin, dressed in a long black robe. His arms were raised to the heavens, and on the ground before him was a large brass bowl. At the bottom of the stairs, strapped to crumbling stone slabs, were seven struggling hin, surrounded by a small crowd of onlookers. All of those assembled were hin, most dressed in shabby clothing; but some wore robes in a similar style to the one on high, except that theirs were green.
“As we took this in the shouting continued, growing louder each time. By the time we took up positions behind suitable cover, the hin were fairly screaming – loud enough to drown out the wails from their captives. Suddenly, the hin in black raised his hand, and the crowd grew silent. Addressing them as his children, he thanked them for gathering at ‘this most sacred holy site that even Time cannot wholly destroy’. He went on to say that the appointed hour had come when all must give thanks to the ’Sacred Frog Brethren’ for their guidance and protection. The crowd chanted something I could not make out. The hin raised his hands once more, and silence reigned. He then turned towards the doors behind him, and implored upon these ‘Frog Brethren’ to show their favour upon their loyal children by accepting the gifts that had been presented to them this day. With that, he bowed low and descended backwards. Once he reached the bottom there was an ominous clang from behind the door, which began to open with ear-splitting squeals and scraping noises. What came through that portal was beyond my wildest fancies, or my worst nightmares.
“From within the cavernous opening there emerged a white, flabby creature that resembled nothing less than a dwarf-sized frog. It hopped to the edge of the landing and surveyed the crowd massed below, while standing on its hind legs. It then raised its own arms and uttered a phrase in a croaking voice, at which point four more of the loathsome creatures, each holding a long pole with a barbed tip, emerged. The newcomers arranged themselves around the opening, and from within came a beast unlike any that I had ever seen, but which recalled the strange fossils I had seen earlier.
“Although it was far away, I could tell that the beast was larger than a man lying down – perhaps ten feet long and five wide. It was roughly oval-shaped, had what looked like a hard shell, and moved on many legs. It was amazingly fast, and it scurried down the ramp, while the frog-like creatures followed, nudging it with their poles whenever it moved too close to the edges – evidently, the thing was going to feast on the captives.
“My attention was drawn to an angry cry. One of Rolo’s cousins had broken cover and was running towards the crowd, his hand axe flailing. Those at the crowd’s edge turned towards the young hin, startled. Something happened then. Three more ran towards the crowd, screaming threats. I looked to Rolo and saw grim determination, his hands tightening on his sword hilt. He was not going to call his cousins back. I did not have the time to say anything – he was up and running, urging the rest of the hin to spill blood for vengeance. My eyes met Duric’s. We both knew it was to be a battle, and so we joined it. The pictures are so clear in my mind. I do not want to recount every detail, for many good hin died that day, and I do not wish to insult their memories by detailing the ways in which they fell. But recount I must.
“I am neither a great warrior nor a mage of repute. In my youth I studied for a time under the last of the sword singers, and spent time in Alphatia seeking to strengthen the spark that supposedly lay within me. But I never got far, and so never mastered the higher magical arts. As Duric says, I may be a master of nothing but book learning, but I am handy with a blade. I could not lay the enemy low with a spell, so I pulled out my old friend, Harrower.
“Duric and I rushed in while the beast was approaching the lower reaches of the ramp. Rolo and his cousins had already stirred things up by the time we had arrived – many of the less courageous members of the crowd had fled; but some, including the robed hin, remained. Once I was close enough I realised that the hin we were fighting had the same corrupted aspect as those we encountered in Silverbend. By the furious expressions on our companions’ faces, Duric and I both knew they realised it, too. At first things went easily – we cut a swath through the nearest worshippers on our way to rescuing the captives. My sword sliced through flesh easily, but the greenish cast of the blood as it spilled gave me momentary pause. Not so for Duric. Most of our opponents, armed with knives or clubs, were outclassed.
“But then the green-robed hin entered the fray. One, bearing a strangely barbed knife, slashed under the guard of one of our boys, a blond-haired hin. The youth crumpled under the blow, and the robed figure twisted it violently while uttering a guttural chant. The boy shuddered and fell to the ground, writhing in agony. I tried to close in, to drive the attacker away, but the way was blocked by another. I cut him down without a thought, shoving the body aside, but the robed hin had moved on, and one of Rolo’s cousins lay dead. I felt a sudden flash of white-hot pain streak up my leg and looked down. A similar knife was embedded in my thigh. Its owner looked up at me and his hood fell back, revealing a hin face with flabby, greenish skin and an abnormally wide mouth. My assailant drew air into his lungs and I knew then that he was about to utter something – a command word that might slay me, just as the other had done. In fury I punched my attacker in the face; I could feel strangely brittle cheekbones crumbling as my knuckles penetrated his flesh. His grip on the knife slackened and he stepped back, and I turned fully and drove my blade just below his collarbone. I impaled him nearly to the hilt and he fell, sliding off of my sword, leaving a trail of greenish muck on the blade. He still lived, and I saw nothing but him, and I thought of nothing but the certain fact that he would have killed me, had I hesitated another second. Heedless of the others around me (as Duric later recounted) I stepped onto his stomach and drove my sword into him again and again with both hands.
“I looked up and saw Duric cleaving a robed hin nearly in two. I saw Rolo, bloodied but screaming curses, standing back-to-back with two of his relatives, fighting off a small mob of degenerate hin. I saw two more of our group fighting one of the strange froglike creatures. I saw another of our band crumple to the ground as a hatchet bit into his stomach. I saw the other frog creatures leaping up the ramp, evidently leaving their worshippers to face our wrath alone. And I saw bloodied corpses, and dismembered body parts, littering the base of the ramp, where even now the beast was making its way to one of the captives. It had already feasted on two.
“Losing no time I cast a light spell at the eyes of one of Rolo’s opponents, at which he recoiled in agony and clawed at his face. His screams were cut short. I ran towards the creature, heedless of the growing agony in my leg. I had no choice but to ignore the screams of its victim as the beast’s unseen mandibles descended. I struck with all my strength at the monster’s shell, and my blade nearly bounced off. I staggered and struck again, and this time I attracted the beast’s attention. It looked at me with what I must assume were its eyes, for it was truly unlike anything that I have seen – though it reminded me somewhat of a horseshoe crab. It flicked an antenna at my forearm, and I nearly dropped my sword in agony. It skittered towards me, ignoring the occasional blows that rained down upon it as it ploughed through the battle, following me as I backed away. The black-robed hin followed behind, chanting in that unpleasant tongue, goading the thing on, by the sound of it. He saw that I noticed him, and he leered at me.
“I hit the beast several more times, careful now to avoid its antennae. Duric saw my predicament, and he hacked at its shell from the side. Although he managed to do some damage, our foe lumbered on – but Duric did succeed in attracting its attention. It turned to face its new attacker, and in doing so it reared up slightly – enough for me to glimpse softer tissue. I leaped towards the thing, my sword thrust forward like a lance. I recall hitting the ground with a loud moan as the impact jarred my wounded leg. I was just short of my target and I stretched my arm as much as I could, and felt grim satisfaction as Harrower’s tip bit through flesh. The creature convulsed and reared up in pain, and Duric leaped forward, sweeping his axe in a broad arc. He cut a wide slash across its underside, severing legs and spilling brown ichor on the ground. The priest, who had backed away when Duric first attacked, let out a scream. He began backing away, and turned in full flight. I started to pursue, but the pain in my leg was too great, and Duric was occupied in finishing the beast. I turned to find Rolo and saw him, now with one other hin, and called out to him. His eyes met mine, and he saw the fleeing priest. He reached into his belt and pulled out a throwing knife. He hefted it for a moment, and whipped it at his target. It flipped end over end four times before it bit into the priest’s shoulder. He screamed, staggered, and tried to pull it out, but Rolo and his man were on him before he could do so. I had thought to shout at them, to urge restraint should we need to interrogate the priest, but the hin had already fallen under several axe blows. My grip on Harrower slackened and I stood mute watching my two companions, their faces waxen, hacking away at the prone form of their foe.
“Realising I could do nothing more I turned to survey the scene. The earthen ground was churned, and had acquired a reddish tint, and everywhere I looked I saw prone forms. Of our band I counted Duric, Rolo, and three of his cousins; none of us were unscathed. There had been ten of us. I ran to the base of the ramp where the slabs lay, Of the seven captives, only one lived – those who had not been devoured by the beast had had their throats slashed by cultists during the fray. I cut the hin’s bonds and called for help; I could not lift him in my condition. The others came, and he was gently removed from the slab and carried to the gatehouse through which we passed. We then returned for our fallen, and the slain captives, for none of us would ever leave them to rot in that accursed place. Rolo, weeping tears of sorrow and rage, insisted we carry them all back to Eastshire. I told him, gently as I could, that we were too few and too weak to do so. It would be best, I suggested, to find them a suitable resting place out of sight of the dark keep. Rolo shouted, he cursed my name and my house, and he cursed the events that brought us here. The other hin sat silently throughout, and Duric looked away. Eventually, like a sail losing its wind, Rolo sagged, and he wept. I sat with him as he begged his lost cousins for forgiveness, for they would never see home again, and he turned to the last surviving captive – Brandel – and looked long into his eyes. Brandel met his gaze, and told him that as long as he could return to the Shires and tell the full tale of what happened, those who would remain lost would never be forgotten. They would understand, he said.
“It seemed then that something happened in Rolo’s mind. He straightened, breathed deeply, and asked us all to find a suitable place. Over a ridge to the west of the keep there was a large, bare hill, on which grew a single oak tree. Under its shade we dug the graves, and interred the fallen so that they would face towards the Shires. Duric found a large mossy stone to serve as a marker, and we rolled it up the hill to rest by the tree. I do not know how we found the strength to do so. Rolo and Duric chiselled the names of each of the fallen. By then it was late evening, and we could go no further. We rested there, with our fallen, under the tree. I felt protected.
“I cannot write more, for the pain is too much. After more rest I shall recount what happened thereafter.”
I haven't forgotten about this storyline. I thought I'd post stats for the critter in the last episode:
Armour Class: 2 (6 on the underside)
Hit Dice: 7
Move: 60’ (20’)
Swimming: 120’ (40’)
Attacks: 2 whips or 1 bite or 1 trample
Damage: 2d4 x 2 + paralysis, 1d8, or 3d4
Number Appearing: 1 (1d4)
Save As: F 7
Treasure Type: None
Swamp trilobites are descended from a variety of the better known (and much smaller) marine trilobite that migrated into sheltered marshes and river deltas, and miraculously avoided extinction. Having no natural predators in their new environment, these trilobites adapted quickly, and diversified. Over time, some varieties grew in size and became predatory. The modern species averages 12 feet long, six feet wide, and four feet tall, and can be found in most tropical and sub-tropical coastal swamps, where they are often the apex predator. Small populations can also be found in more temperate latitudes, where the ocean currents bring milder climates.
Swamp trilobites are carnivorous, and will eat almost anything that crosses their paths. Most of them lurk just under the surface of brackish pools or sluggish rivers, and use their antennas to whip their prey. Once paralysed, the victim is quickly devoured. Although they have gills, they are capable of leaving the water in pursuit of prey, and may remain on land for an hour or more – longer if the air is moist, as is frequently the case in swamps.
In combat, or when hunting, swamp trilobites will try to immobilise their prey first with their 15 foot long antennae (anyone hit must save vs. Paralysis), and then move in to feast in the next round, unless under attack. When cornered, or if it has lost more than half of its hit points, a swamp trilobite may trample one or more opponents – the DM should determine the direction of travel, and roll to hit each opponent along that path. Anyone hit will be run over by the beast.
15th of Eirmont, AC 993
“We have been resting at Rolo’s home for a few days now. It is past midnight , I think. I can hear Duric’s snoring down the hall, and a low muttering coming from Rolo’s room. I must write while the memories are still fresh. Perhaps then I shall get some rest.
“After laying the fallen to rest, we made our way back to the Shires. Mercifully, the journey was relatively quick, even in our condition, and we encountered no pursuers. Although I am still beset by pain, I have managed to translate the latest tablet, which we found amid the altars on that fateful day. I am perplexed by the other things we have found, and will write on them in time, but what I have discovered compels me to relate it now. For I have found no less than the final prophecy of the Ythlil Cycle, and a drawing!
‘It is by the dying wish of Irrub, long may he rest, that I, Onullk, recount what has been, and what is to come.
‘The history of our world is governed by cycles. Everything arises, becomes dominant, declines, and is superseded by that which is inconceivable to those that have gone before. So it was with the children of Ubbeth, whose great undersea empires are no more. In their greatness, they did not imagine that anything of note preceded them, nor did they ever think that anything would surpass them, for there was no life of note on land, save for plants and lowly insects.
‘But we know that they were cast down by the hated Talgh’gar, who smashed their cities, cast their idols into the abysses, and remade the world in their own image. Never before were great cities erected on land, and so it was that the Talgh’gar attained undreamed-of levels of power – all in service to their blasphemous deities. But they did not imagine that such as us, the Hluth'gur, would supplant them. For many centuries our empires fought, and for a time even Y’ruth was under the Talgh’gar heel. But supplant them we did, and in secret we marshalled our strength and overthrew our enemies. For 500 years our peoples warred, but finally they were diminished, and our race became supreme.
‘For two thousand years we wandered the world as we wished, erecting our cities and settling those lands suitable to us. Always, our frontiers extended outwards, until we encountered resistance in Toleth. The S’sothek were mighty, but primitive, and though we were able to hold our ground our citadel at Y’hantho was lost for a time. We were also countered by the savage Gok’ket, who had begun appearing in Toleth by unexplained means. On these two fronts our forces were tied down, and the great empire of Y’ruth expanded no longer. So resilient were our enemies that we were even forced to abandon our plans to conquer Harukik. But in the end our supremacy could not be denied, and we regained Y’hantho and much of Toleth that we had claimed for ourselves, while winning over the S’sothek as allies. We turned our attention to the Gok’ket, and ventured to Ahrrup in force to punish them. But we could not slaughter enough of them, and so returned to the confines of our empire.
‘So it is now, on the 24th day of the Whispering Breezes, in the 6017th year of the Empire, that the Hluth'gur remain the mightiest of all races. But the time has come to recount the last utterance of Irrub, the words that his most trusted scribe in the empire’s early years did not dare write down. I shall write them as they were related to T’rllk, who uttered them to his scribe, and so on down through the years.
‘All things are impermanent. Today the mighty towers of Ythlil know no equal, but there shall come a time when no one living shall speak the wondrous city’s name, nor shall they dream of the many bridges that run above the scented waters of the Bwr. They shall speak of other lands, and cities yet undreamed, whose own towers shall grace the skies in times unknown – and unknowable – to anyone living today. For I speak of the great changes, which shall unmake and remake the world.
‘There shall come a time when a star shall fall from the heavens and strike the earth. So mighty, and so terrible, shall the destruction be that much of the firmament upon which we stand shall be no more. And in that time the seas shall churn, and the warm breezes shall be replaced by icy winds, the like of which none save the Gok’ket may know. Where there are mountains, there shall be plains, or open sea, and where the sunlit sea surrounds Y’ruth there shall be a great uplifting, as the entire mass of land upon which Ythlil now stands shall be seized, twisted, and folded. Towers shall fall, and the Bwr shall flow no more. Even the great sea that divides the south from the frozen north shall be reduced to nothing.
‘Much that now lives shall pass, and on that day Y’ruth shall be no more. The works of the Hluth'gur will be broken, and what remains shall be dust before civilisation returns to the world. For in our wake shall come other beings, who will forge nations, raise cities, and venerate what beings they wish. But our time will have passed, and ever after we shall exist on the margins dreaming of dead glory, for none shall remember in whose shadow they arose.’
“The drawing on the back of the tablet is incredible. Through some assuredly long-lost means, the writer (Onullk?) has inscribed what must be nothing less than a map of the world in the time of Ythlil! Yet it is more than a mere inscription, because Onullk has coloured it somehow. The spaces intended to represent bodies of water are a vivid blue, and the landmasses are coloured according to their vegetation – Toleth, which has been described as primarily desert, is mostly a sandy brown colour. I also notice that the map is topographical – I can feel the mountain ranges as ridges on the tablet. The colouring does not appear to be painted on; if I were to guess, the metal has been transformed somehow, as the colouring seems to be in it.
“My first impressions on viewing the map is that the world of the Hlth’gur is a watery one – compared to what I have seen of Azlum Swith’s maps, I would guess that this ancient world had one-third less land than today. Much of the land that exists is in the far south (Harrukik), while Toleth and Ahrrup appear to be small continents. I note numerous archipelagos, with Yruth being among the larger islands. I suspect the tiny ruby embedded in Yruth is intended to mark the location of Ythlil.
“I suppose this world is so fascinating because it is both so alien and familiar. It looks so different, and was filled with creatures unknown today, yet I know that this watery world and our own Mystara are one and the same. This leads me to wonder what became of these landmasses. Harrukik is obviously a forerunner of Davania, and I even recognise similarities in the northern coastline with the Adakkian Sound region today (although the sound did not exist then). Truly, some portions of Davania’s coasts are ancient! Toleth is likely ancient Brun; although I will not even guess what portions survive today. Ahrrup must, therefore, be ancient Skothar, which has, since that time, moved southeast. Vast amounts of seafloor must have been uplifted to produce the continent we know today, or perhaps it swept up many of the islands that existed back then.
“Given these suppositions, where would Ythlil be today? I shall have to examine my map collection when I return from this journey. If, by some fluke, something of that ancient city remains today, then I must make every effort to see it.
“Here is my best effort to reproduce that map.”
“I then looked at the strange sword that we recovered from the battle. I had never seen anything like it, either in design or materials, but was more than familiar with its use, having seen its wielder severely wound one of Rolo’s companions with it. To spare his feelings I had it hidden in my pack, and we waited until he was asleep before examining it. The sword is somewhere between the size of a short sword and a long sword, and vaguely resembles a scimitar, but the blade curves like a scythe roughly one-third of the way along its length. The hilt is long enough to accommodate one or two hands, and there is no hand guard. I am unfamiliar with metallurgy; Duric was naturally best placed among us to have a look at it. He held it for some time, balancing it in his hand and trying a few practice swipes. It is made of a type of steel unfamiliar to him – slightly heavier than standard grade, with a vaguely oily or greasy texture to it. He had no idea whether this was a property of the metal, or some form of treatment it had undergone after forging, but he suspected it protected the weapon from deterioration. In terms of the actual manufacture, Duric believed that the sword was the work of a skilled weaponsmith, as the metal had been folded many times during the forging process, which would make it highly resistant to breakage, and help it keep its edge for a long time. He was unable to even guess at the weapon’s age.
“Duric did notice one other detail. At the blade’s very tip there was a tiny groove which, he said, could have been used to hold a small quantity of poison. Used in this manner, the wielder would swing the sword backwards at a foe, achieving the same effect as a scorpion stinging its prey. Truly, a nasty weapon; but it is fortunate that none of our opponents had any poison to use against us.
“Finally, I turned my attention to the ring we recovered from the battle. It was worn by the hin whom I had assumed to be the high priest. The design was very unpleasant, yet strangely familiar – though there is no reason why this should be the case. The band itself is fairly plain, yellow gold, with no markings on the outside or inside. At the top of the band – the ‘shoulder’, Duric informed me – there was a tiny inscription, in a script that I could have sworn I had seen before. Above the shoulder, the ‘head’ (one must appreciate dwarven logic) was plain gold, inset with a single ruby.
“I sat fiddling with the ring for quite some time, when finally I remembered where I had seen the tiny script before. During my meeting with Galfridus, I recalled the artefacts he had shown me – the dagger and coins, specifically. Some of the characters on those coins were identical to those on the ring, which led me to the realisation that the ring was probably not of the same antiquity as the tablets. The fact that these items were all found in the degenerate hins’ possession means that the Hluth’gur and the creatures who fashioned the ring, despite being separated by millennia, served the same spiritual masters, or at least worshipped entities who shared common interests. Not a pleasant thought, given the conclusive proof we had just been given that such entities - these so-called ‘True Lords’ – are still being venerated today. I remember the utter fear in Galfridus’s eyes when I departed, and now I understand. This matter is more than academic.
“I shared my thoughts with Duric, and he said, rather bluntly, that if we have leads to other places where such dark cults might be operating, we owed it to ourselves, and the world, to venture forth and destroy them. I believe, ‘put the boots to them’ summed it all up on his part. We went over my notes, and very quickly uncovered a number of promising locations – the Moors of Chlyras in the far north being one. However, the frog creatures we had seen in the ruined temple still lived, and no doubt the degenerate hin were regrouping as we sat there discussing matters. We simply could not leave the Shires without finishing the job. I will discuss it with Rolo in the morning – perhaps I can convince him that there are more debts to repay.”