Song of the Ages

Heaven is a wild forest

Now, look down in here, will you? You see how this stout’s head is thick and foamy like this? Helps you really see the quality without even having to taste it, though I’ll be doing plenty of that too. After all, someone needs to make sure that Bree’s not watering down her drinks. Word gets out that she’s doing that and our reputation will be just undone faster than… What? I was in the middle of a topic quite near and dear to my heart and you want to hear more about heaven? If you hadn’t bought me this drink, I’d be insulted. What’s with that look? Ah, I see, you don’t believe what you heard about us going to meet the Aegis, do you? Well, I can’t convince you, but I can tell you the story so you’ve at least heard it from the horse’s mouth rather than gossip.

So, we’d just come back from Hell. We had some trouble with a crystal that Fulgen brought back from there, mostly because Fulgen actually got possessed by it, but fortunately we found him, subdued him and exorcized him before he could get into too much trouble. After that, we were contemplating where to go and what to do now. We had two of the three relics we knew that northern lich was after, but we weren’t too sure where to find the last one or if doing so would be a good idea. I mean, we didn’t have much of a plan aside from interfering with that undead wizard’s plans, but what if we were actually doing him a favor by gathering the items, or what would we do once we actually had them? He’s undead, so he could just wait until we’re all old and feeble and he’d be able to grab them from us.

It was in the middle of these questions that we suddenly found ourselves snatched up and plopped into the midst of the Aegis plus some. Now, I’ve talked a time or two about how I feel about your surface gods and all, but when you’re standing and facing one, you’ve got to at least respect the pure power you feel radiating off of them like heat from a forge. I might not worship any of them, before or after meeting them, but doesn’t mean I don’t respect their might and their goals. They spoke long and hard, perhaps too long but who was I to complain in the middle of this? Summed up, they knew about the lich and his plan, and they feared his success could destroy the world. However, they couldn’t interfere directly and had to rely on us to continue with what we were doing, even granting each of us a blessing to help us in doing that. Additionally, we found out that the last relic we needed was somewhere in one of the heavenly planes and, once we had them all gathered, we’d have to take them to the City of the Dead, no less. At that point, the gods could destroy the War God’s heart to deprive the lich of his end goal.

Oh, I never mentioned that, did I? So, you know that the gods can die, right? It’s not a big secret since it’s happened twice in mortal memory. But what happens to the spark of their power, their heart? Apparently that can’t be destroyed. So, when old Eadwig went mad and had to be killed, they couldn’t destroy his tainted heart. Instead, the gods simply hid it in a vault hidden somewhere and locked up by three relics scattered across the planes and the knowledge of how to retrieve them hidden in five sacred tomes, yadda yadda yadda. But we’d gathered those tomes, we learned of the vault and already had two of the relics. So if we could find it, so could his Deadness up north. So the gods finally found a way to destroy Eadwig’s heart rather than let the lich have his way and ascend to ultimate godhood. We just had to open the vault for them.

So, yeah. That was the plan. The gods sent us to Arcadia and we spent… you know, I don’t know rightly how long we were there. Some time, but time is funny there. And I wasn’t fixed on keeping time, I was more fixed on the wild perfection of the forest there. One of the residents there even foraged up some fruit and shared it with us. I swear, I never gave much thought to how I’d like to spend eternity, but for fruit like that, I just might start hoping I end up there. I wish I had brought some back, if just to try to brew some brandy with it or something. Fruit like that deserves to be properly fermented.

Now, apparently the gods had long ago planted some special tree somewhere in the forest to hide the last relic and we had to find it, but once we did, what did we find but an actual dragon’s lair built around it! I understand that it must be hard to keep an entire plane free of all things evil and nasty, but you’d think the Aegis would notice if an ancient dragon had managed to slip into one of their heavens! Either way, we managed to put it down for them, though I’m not sure what would happen to the creature’s soul in that situation. If you die in heaven, does your soul just stay or does it still go elsewhere depending on your nature? I’ll have to pick the chapel priest’s brain about that thought.

Maybe after I’m done with testing this mug.

Fulgen's Magic Notes

Sketches don’t cut it for the anti-you-know-who sigils. We need this or we’ll die pretty much instantly.

The positive and negative energies need to be balanced. The black dog chases the white cat. Looks like it needs hard truths, powerful and relevant. This is painful to manifest…

Wyllow: I’m envious of the storybook hero you’ve turned out to be. Being able to see it and tell the story takes the edge off.

Yun: Seeing you two fills me with regret. How much more could I do for my sister?

Mosey: Every setback feels like the end of the world to me. I’d curl up and die if I went through half what you went through.

Faron: I get angry every time I see you and think of what she threw away. I guess that makes me a hypocrite.

Belfren: I fear the gods because they narrate our lives. If I was in that position, wouldn’t I want drama more than peace?

Me: ~

I really could use a drink

So I’m captured by a bunch of devils and taken to this large castle in their city. Alice seemed calm enough with the whole thing and I suppose I wasn’t too worried about what tortures awaited us. I’ve felt pain, quite a bit of it actually, so I’m not worried about that. Maybe I was concerned about the fate of my soul, but that’s still a bit removed from my mind at the time. The fact that I’d been seeing things that weren’t there? Now, that shook me to my very core. After all, if there’s something wrong with the body, I would be able to at least know it. If there was something wrong with my mind, how would I know?

I spent a lot of time in that cell with those thoughts running through my mind, getting nowhere fast. As a matter of fact, I was nearly overjoyed when they trotted in the rest of my friends bound in chains. Alice could see them, so I knew they had to be real enough and who cared about them also being prisoners at that point! They were real and that was more than enough for this worried dwarf. Once our jailers left, they quickly produced a key and began letting everyone out of their cells. Turns out they’d struck a deal with one of the denizens down here (and don’t even get me started with how bad of an idea that sounded like) to sneak them into this castle, where we were supposed to be able to find the item we’d come down here for. Their brilliant plan? Be turned over to the castle with a way to get free. Can’t say I liked the plan, but fortunately I wasn’t there to complain about it. I was just fortunate that they’d ended up in the same jail as I was.

We freed ourselves, killed a jailer and found our gear. We then wound through the hallways of the keep until we found ourselves in a throne room. Now, I’ve seen a few devils in my time, more than I care for, but most of them at least look ferocious. Fangs, claws, that whole thing, you know? The bloated creature on that throne was far from that. Not that it wasn’t scary in its own right, but it was just so ridiculously fat and yet smaller than most of the devils we’d seen so far. It almost screamed at us to underestimate it. I suppose I did since I spent most of my time hammering away at the other devils that appeared to aid the fat one, but those of my friends that did go after that blob found quite the fight on their hands. We were fortunate to be able to put it down and I only found out afterwards that it was none other than a general of Hell itself. Not what I’d expected for such a daunting title.

Hanging over the vanquished blob’s throne was the item we came for, the axe of none other than Eadwig himself! And what an axe it was, so massive that I wasn’t sure anyone else in our party could even lift it, needless to say wield it. I lumbered on up, grabbed the thing and we used Fulgen’s magic to flee back to our realm before more devils came to avenge their fallen general. I was more than glad to be rid of the place, and we even managed to bring both Alice and a small child along with us too, so you could even call it a rescue! I say that calls for you buying me a round!

Hell is a state of mind

So this next bit is weird. And believe me, I’ve been so far down into the Deep that I’ve come out the other side. I’ve been to every country worth calling itself such and some that deserve hardly a moment’s notice. But this part was just weird.

So, we finally finished gathering those books imbued with some goddess’ missing wits, but now we were supposed to go around and find what she referred to as ‘keys’ so that we can foil that northern lich once and for all. The first one wasn’t bad. You remember us going to that besieged fort? Yeah, there was one in the hidden tombs underneath it. The next one? Well, apparently it was in Hell itself. Yes, I said Hell. Now, mind you, we dwarves don’t put much focus on the place. That’s where you go afterwards, not us. Granted, the lines a bit blurry with some saying we could end up there and others saying we’d have our own all to ourselves, but Hell itself doesn’t get brought up as often as I’ve heard you surfacers do. So the thought of intentionally going there just filled me with all kinds of heebie-jeebies.

Imma share a secret now, something that might cause people to avoid this place if they knew about it even though it shouldn’t be an issue now, but in the cellar here there’s a room that had a Hellmouth, a literal portal to Hell. We found it soon after we took over the keep and had to kill something that had just crawled out of it, but just plugged it up as best we could until we found out we had to go there. It’s not there anymore, so don’t hop up outta your seat on me, but it still was when we found out we had to go there, so we decided how else were we going to go there? We prepared as best we could, then shuffled over and started jumping in. As luck would have it, I was the last one in and, for whatever reason, the Hellmouth was having trouble swallowing me.

Yeah, I know how that sounds. Believe me, it felt worse. You may be thinking it was just some portal, but this was more a literal mouth and throat that connected the two places together. I’m sure scholars can explain why it’s like that, but I’m not them. So, it’s just how it is.

So, I’m sliding down this massive gullet and I somehow get stuck. It’s squeezing me hard, the place reeks of all things awful and I’m already on edge just knowing where we’re headed. Not my best day. Well, that’s when I decide I’ll attack the damned thing. Can’t say how I thought that’d make things any better, but I can’t say I was thinking clearly at that point. I start biting and clawing, I mean hitting, all around me. Next thing I know, I’ve ripped a hole in the side of the throat and I get sucked out into darkness. Somewhere between this world and the next and I’m just twirling off into the void, yelling and cursing until I black out.

My bad day had just gotten worse.

When I wake up, I’m at least happy to see I’m not alone. Most of the others are with me and we’re in some kind of stone maze. Winds are howling as we begin to explore and occasionally we run into other things wandering the maze, but looking back I’m pretty convinced that they were just lost in there, like I was. We leave some alone, we kill some, but after what seemed like only two days, we finally find an exit to the maze and I’m left standing on a cliff, overlooking something that was both less and yet more than I’d expected. I’d expected a lot more fire and brimstone, what I got was an endless plain where the ground itself seemed to be made of flesh itself, like I was just a flea on the back of something rotting yet somehow alive. I could see a few buildings, most made of the same flesh beneath my feet, but some made of honest to goodness stone. Doesn’t matter that those buildings looked like ruins or twisted versions of something you’d see in this realm, I nearly started crying to see actual stone in this insane world of skin.

I only found out after the fact that I’d been wandering around in a place called Pandemonium and had finally come to the Abyss, with Hell located somehow within the Abyss. I didn’t know that then though, so I was just lost. My friends had been behaving oddly ever since we’d entered that maze and though they were able to help me fight and kill some of the monsters we’d come across inside, their magic wasn’t working the way it should have been. Fulgen could conjure food and water, but I couldn’t touch the stuff, somehow. I’d ask them questions and would sometimes get answers, but nothing that, in hindsight, I didn’t know myself or couldn’t have figured out myself. I wasn’t paying attention to that though, but do keep it in mind because it threw me for a loop later on.

We made our way down the cliff and out onto the Abyss itself and met a human who had accidentally found her own Hellmouth. She was at least armed and armored, but she had been down here longer than I had and was more than a little touched in the head, if you know what I mean. I’m not sure how much of it was being in the Abyss and how much of it was from her formerly-mad goddess, but talking to her was odd in the extreme. We’d be talking and she’d seem at least sane, but then she’d start ignoring my friends and not responding to their questions or suggestions. I figured her mind was misfiring just like Fulgen’s had been when we saved him from the lich’s trap, so I didn’t push it.

Alice, that being her name and all, and I did follow a group she’d seen in the distance that did sound a lot like my own. We went to one of the nearby ruins only to find yet another Hellmouth. Not knowing what else to do, we went it and, luckily for us and for it, it spat us out where it was supposed to- Hell. Again, not as much fire as I’d been picturing, but the place was indeed hot. Felt like walking around inside of a forge. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a whole city down there! Granted, it seemed full of nothing but devils and, upon entering, we killed an imp because why not? It’s an imp! That’s what you do around here, right? Turns out you don’t do that down there. We ended up surrounded by devils demanding our surrender and my friends just up and vanished on me, leaving just Alice and me against a whole city of fiends.

Yeah, my bad day just kept on going, didn’t it?

So we surrendered. Now here’s the real kick in the head. Remember when I said that maze was a place called Pandemonium? Turns out it’s a place brimming with madness and hallucinations. My friends who helped me get out of there? All in my head. Yeah, Alice was crazy, but it didn’t make her wrong when she told me I came out of those caves alone. So, I was now prisoner to devils in a city in the pits of Hell, with only a madwoman by my side and I couldn’t even be sure if what I was seeing was real anymore.

My bad day had just hit rock bottom.

I don’t think we’re getting out alive...

Found myself in a place I’ve always wanted to explore: the abyss. Only place I can kill fiends and they’ll stay dead.
Can’t say it’s been pleasant. The experience has taken a toll on everyone and I don’t think we’ll all be getting out alive.
I’m concerned about completing our quest. Getting the axe may not be possible without some serious sacrifices.
If it comes to it, than I’ll do what needs to be done.

Another Entry From Fulgen's Journal

Abyss, Day 1:
Brought a pound of salt to help with the conjured food. Best decision I ever made.

Day 2:
Yoon likes it here way too much

Day 3:
If I get trapped in the Abyss and only get to bring two things with me, I’m taking Wyllo and this bag of salt.

Day 4:
Bag of salt is now a serious contender for top adventuring equipment. I might have to make it more important than crowbar.

There's too many paramilitary groups in this border nation

Alright, Yaavys, lets talk about The Lighthand. I really hope the our good steward can see how installing an extra-national, private army in The Hold weakens Sutherland’s sovereignty. I understand how more soldiers on the front is a temporary necessity, but I’m worried about the long term ramifications. What will be the nature of the agreement between Sutherland and the Lighthand when the current threat recedes? And, more importantly, what can we do to make sure the outcomes are beneficial to Sutherland, to Fort Dax, and to the Black Foxes?

See, Yaavys, I think that the Black Foxes, in order to show our support of the official government of Sutherland, should accept titles. This will strengthen the perception of Sutherland as a proper nation, with a robust organization and the authority to grant titles. Rather than simply the army between the civilized south and the barbaric north. It will also set a precedent for how Sutherland deals with unaligned groups occupying military fortifications. It allows Sutherland to demand the The Lighthand either become loyal to Sutherland or make their stay temporary. It looks much better for the interior security of this country to be maintained by “Countess Willow and her Black Foxes, the Knights of Sutherland” than by “The Black Foxes Mercenary Company”.

Other than the titles being recorded and some symbolic estates being awarded, nothing needs to change. The Black Foxes are already protecting the people by hunting rocs, vampires, and giants. We have dealt with cultists and bandits that threatened the people of Sutherland. We are already establishing an environment of industry, security, and trade that will benefit Sutherland for many years to come. We come to the defense of Sutherland when required, just as we did the recent assault on the Hold. We will only be more effective in all of these areas with the official enforcement of the Steward and the Grand Marshal.

I really am worried that The Lighthand will use Sutherland as vehicle to expand their power to the detriment of the people of Sutherland.

Not like they're saying

So, I admit, this next part was pretty strange for me. You know how the Hold’s defenses buckled and for a while the northmen took the place, right? Well, we were part of the forces that marched up there to retake it. Granted, we had a little something extra in mind we hoped to do while we were there, but overall I found myself marching with a large group of troops intent on taking a border keep.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought it would. The last time I was doing such a thing, it ended with such a slaughter, nearly ending me along with it too. Granted, when we went back there, it wasn’t so bad since it was a small group that time and we weren’t retaking the place, just killing what had taken up residence. But this time? It was eerily similar to the last time I marched with an army. Had me on edge the entire time, I tell you.

Now, most of the troops were going to be used like troops are- marched together until they die or kill. They would assault the walls of the Hold, but let’s be honest here. That place was meant to withstand any attacks like that, so what good was this going to do? It was practically throwing lives away. So why did they decide on that plan?

Turns out the generals had a plan and the dying soldiers were to provide a distraction for a small team to sneak into town and kill the invaders’ leader. Guess who they picked for that small team. No, go on and guess. Don’t give me that look, just humor me. Why yes! How did you know?! The Black Foxes had the honor of slipping in during a pitched battle and killing whatever passed for a leader in there. I think I’ve already heard a ballad or two being composed about it already, and let me tell you, none of them were like the real thing at all.

First, there was very little resistance getting in. We didn’t gut watchmen and hide bodies, we just slunk inside the fortress and then slipped up onto the main keep’s roof without having to slit any throats, bind any foes or gag any guardsmen.

Second, I hear people talking about us raining down on that giant and his guard like death, but believe me, it was nothing like that. None of it was impressive, since most of us ended up falling into the middle of his war council. They probably were more confused than intimidated. We certainly weren’t making a good showing at first, which is probably why they didn’t run or call for more guards.

Now, I will give those song-writers props on the giant himself. They got that pretty spot on. Except for the axe part, he didn’t have one of those, just two large shields he kept hitting us with. But he was certainly a sight to behold. A towering behemoth of steel, smoke and rage, I like that description and it fits. Or it did fit until all the fighting died down. Nothing is really towering after having its head cut off. Guess we’ve become quite adept at dealing with behemoths.

Once that was done, we paraded his head around the fortress, scaring off most northmen that we came across. From what I hear, the battle on the walls really turned in Sutherland’s favor once news got out that their general had fallen, but we didn’t really stick around to see. You see, we had another reason for being there and we hoped to be done with it by the time our troops retook the crumbling fortress. What was that reason, you ask? Well, buy me another round and I’ll tell you, but let me give you a hint, it involved the crypts and a lost, holy relic.

Yeah, you want to hear that part of the story, don’t you? So about that round of drink…

The Worst Adventure Of Fulgen's Life

Fulgen smashed his mug down hard on the counter, shattering it. “You don’ unnershtann’, Bree!” he bellowed. Then he fell off his barstool, mostly on purpose.

“Shorry! I’ll fix it, jusht…” He rolled over and started picking up shattered pieces of the mug off the floor, ignoring the cuts in his fingers. “Ish too outlannish! It breaksh the audienshushh shushpenshunn of dishbelief! Ish one thin’ to shay, ‘oi, yesh, we killed a draggnnn’ ‘coz when people hear that they shay ’shure, a fire-breathin’ draggnnnn’, I can believe that, but prolly werenn’t ash big ash he shaysh.’”

Fulgen crawled back up onto the bar and scraped all the shap pieces of his mug together in a pile. “But thish thin’, tooootally diffren’. You tell them you hash a jaunt off the globe, three trialsh, an’ a chat with a god, nnnobody believesh it. Ish just a fairy tale. Thish ish the worst adventure of my whole life! My whole life, Bree!”

Fulgen spread his fingers and put both his hands on either side of the pile of shattered ceramics. He closed his eyes, and hummed a tune that sounded almost like a lullaby. He stopped after a few notes, frowned, then started over and hummed all four bars of it. The mug stood up in an instant and was in one piece again. “An’ nobody up there even tellsh me why the ghosts ish followin’ me ’round… I really wanna know… Might make a good shtory…”

Things officially got weird

So we plugged the books into the machine, and got transported to Elysium. Fought an angel. I died. Wyllo offered to take my place, luckily it was a test and I was brought back to life. Met the Red Flame, and made her uncrazy…

Yeah… it’s been a long day


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