Nerull’s Will: The Emerald
When the two steeds came within sight of us they abruptly came to a halt and began stomping their hooves. They then rose up on their hind quarters, their front legs kicking out at the air in front of them as they snorted and belched out unholy yellow, blue and white flames from their mouths and nostrils. Gazing into their sinister crimson eyes, I saw that they seemed to glow with an evil intelligence…
(Continued from) Tuesday, February 11th, 742 BC:
Initially, it appeared that none of us shared a common language with the stranger who had come to our aid, which I suppose should not have been all that surprising considering his unusual dress and the weapons he wielded. But after Waylan ran through all of the languages that he knew he eventually discovered that the stranger was familiar with Nidalan, though even that, according to Waylan, the stranger spoke with an unusual accent which at times was difficult to understand. Nevertheless, Waylan and the stranger found that if they spoke slowly enough they could comprehend one another.
So, while the two of them talked, the rest of us tended to other matters, the first of which was to see to it that the two bandits we had captured would not be going anywhere any time soon. I made sure of this by securely tying their hands and feet behind their backs, forcing them to lie on their stomachs and making it impossible for them to even stand up.
Garret meanwhile tended to our injuries, removing any arrows and healing the wounds by channeling positive energy around us, making sure, of course, to exclude any of the bandits. This was something that the stranger was apparently quite amazed about, seeing his injuries being magically healed. This then led Waylan and the stranger into a discussion on magic and other topics that the stranger was clearly unfamiliar with.
According to Waylan, the stranger, who goes by the name of Clint, is what we sometimes refer to as an Outlander, an individual from another world, drawn by the Mists into this world for reasons unknown – except perhaps to the Mists themselves. Clint claims to have wandered into a dense fog on the previous night upon which exiting some time later, he found himself lost in a strange and unknown landscape, where not even the night sky was recognizable. After wandering about for a bit, he decided to bed down for the night and the next morning he would try to learn more about his surroundings. This morning, he then continued his wanderings and eventually happened upon a group of bandits who were laying in waiting for their next victims. When we came along, according to Clint, he decided to assist us against the obvious outlaws in the hopes that we might assist him in return. Clint claims to have done his share of bounty hunting in the past, so fighting bandits was something he had plenty of experience with. However, in his discussions with Waylan, it soon became clear that magic was not something he had any real knowledge of. In fact, it seems that magic in Clint’s world does not even exist except in fanciful tales that are sometimes told to children. The same could apparently be said about monsters, and Clint was obviously quite skeptical when Waylan spoke to him of monsters and magic. He soon began to have some serious doubts about his previous beliefs however, when Waylan reminded him of the web spell he had cast during the fight with the bandits. Then to further support his argument, Waylan cast a light spell and then a mending spell on Clint’s clothing, repairing a hole where an arrow had pierced it. Seeing all of this, Clint was clearly now at a loss for words and the expression on his face seemed to say that he no longer knew what to expect from this strange world in which he now found himself.
While Waylan was continuing his talks with Clint, the rest of us gathered any valuables found on the bandits both dead and alive and placed them in a pile. A detect magic spell indicated that a few of these items had minor enchantments placed on them, including a chain mail shirt which we gave to Clint as a reward for assisting us against the bandits. In addition to the items found on them, we also discovered that each of the bandits had a horse hidden behind a low hill nearby. I suspect these horses had been stolen from a ranch somewhere but we
found no identifiable markings on them. Once all of these things had been gathered we then piled up the bodies of the dead bandits, gave them their last rights and set them ablaze. It was obvious that we would not be able to make it to Bergovitsa tonight, so we moved down the road a ways from the funeral pyre and set up a campsite there.
Wednesday, February 12th:
We were awakened in the middle of the night by Vadolus, who had been on watch, warning us that something was coming our way. By the time I got up and got a look around we could plainly see what appeared to be a series of flames dancing about in the darkness perhaps a hundred paces away and advancing rapidly towards us. But it wasn’t until these flames were a hundred feet away or so that we realized what they were. At that point we could see two inky black horses, a stallion and a mare I believe, both of which had manes, tails and hooves that seemed to be made of fire…
…It was a terrifying sight to behold and a chill ran up my spine as I gazed at them in horror. Waylan, in fact, was so frightened by their presence that he turned and ran back to the wagon where he locked himself inside. The rest of us though were able to keep our wits about us and quickly began taking actions to defend our camp. Garret and Baldo, realizing that the other horses were starting to get spooked, moved to calm them down while some of us turned our attentions to the approaching threat. It then occurred to me that I had read something about these creatures in my studies of Nova Vaasa and that they were quite appropriately known as “nightmares”.
As I recalled the fantastic stories I had read about entire herds of these nightmares terrorizing the countryside, I used the dim light of our campfire to my advantage and hid in the shadows. Then, while some of my companions drew their attention by meeting them head on, I circled around to flank them as they closed in to attack. From there I began pelting the hellish equines with stones. But as the nightmares drew close to my companions they belched out clouds of sulfurous black smoke which threatened to blind and choke anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in them, but which appeared to have no adverse effect whatsoever on the nightmares. Still we battled on, trying our best to stay clear of the smoke, which for some of us was virtually impossible. Vadolus took quite a beating from the nightmares. But eventually we caused enough harm to one of the beasts that it apparently decided to flee by turning ethereal. Its companion apparently tried to follow soon after, by using the same means of escape. But we were able to kill it before it got away.
When the fight was over, we found Waylan inside the wagon busily engaged in a futile attempt at opening the box containing the staff of Nerull’s Will. It is fortunate that he was unsuccessful in his efforts, for I shudder to think what he might have done with the staff had he succeeded. We were able to calm him down however and assured him that the nightmares were either gone or dead. Then Garret, once again tended to our injuries. And judging by the expression on Clint’s face at this time, I got the feeling that he was trying to decide if this was all just some terrible dream. Unfortunately though, during the fight with the nightmares, one of Clint’s pistols apparently misfired and now was in need of repairs.
The next morning, we gathered our things and continued our travels to the city of Bergovitsa. The two bandits we had captured, we kept their hands tied and forced them to walk behind the wagon. Then behind them we had all the bandit’s horses lined up in a train. Later on, we sold the horses at the first ranch we came to when we got near to the city. Unlike Kantora, Bergovitsa is nestled in the foothills and low mountains of the Balinoks which come out of the neighboring realm of Barovia, though in Nova Vaasa they are known as the Howling Hills due the large number of wolves that are so common to the area.
In our travels throughout Nova Vaasa, I have noted a feeling of danger that simmers in all of the country’s cities, thanks to the widespread crime and general discontent, but Bergovitsa has an extra element of chaos added to that already explosive mix. The Rivtoffs and the Vistins have long vied for influence over the city, and this struggle for power and status has boiled over into the streets. Of course, I assume that one rarely sees the aristocrats themselves suffering for it. Instead, gangs of thugs, hired by one of the noble families, harass and assault innocent commoners or merchants whose only fault is that they in some way represent (or are thought to represent) the interests of the rival family.
At the gates into the small city we used our usual cover as a group of merchants and hired guards, and told the guards there that we had two captured bandits with us. They told us we could take the two bandits to a guard station and gave us directions to it. They also recommended the Inn at Bergovitsa as a place to stay while in the city, saying that it was a favorite among traveling merchants. From there, we followed the directions given to us and headed directly for the guard station.
At the guard station, we turned the two bandits over to a sergeant there, who asked us several questions about the bandit attack. I got the feeling that it is not at all that uncommon for bandits to be turned over to the city guards, only to be released a short time later and allowed to return to their former way of life or perhaps even to be recruited into one of the many gangs of thugs that roam the streets. We asked the sergeant about a possible reward for turning in the bandits and were told that they would have to get back to us later on about it. So we told them we could be reached at the Inn of Bergovitsa. Upon reflection however, it has occurred to me that this whole affair with the bandits might actually backfire on us, should the bandits report to the city watch that arcane magic was used in their capture. Knowing that, like many of the people in these lands, Nova Vaasans have a deeply rooted distrust of arcane magic, which has been banned by the Church of the Lawgiver as being blasphemy, and that suspected practitioners of arcane magic are frequently imprisoned, we should probably try to keep our use of magic to a minimum.
After leaving the guard station, we gradually made our way in the direction of the Inn of Bergovitsa. But along the way, we passed by a few stores and pawn shops where we were able to sell the rest of the equipment we had taken from the bandits, which turned out to be a tidy little sum and may end up being the only reward we can realistically expect for the capture and defeat of the bandits.
With this done, we finally arrived at the Inn of Bergovitsa just before sundown. We saw then one of the reasons why traveling merchants so highly recommend the place, for the rooms are quite good and the meals are excellent. But there is more to it than that, as we later discovered from other travelers that we eves dropped in on; apparently the innkeepers have long enjoyed an honest reputation, and ever since persons unknown robbed Sir Tristan Hiregaard here in his sleep many years ago a small discrete group of hired guards have made this the safest inn in Nova Vaasa. Though to be honest, we also, much later in the night, caught one of these guards taking a catnap in a corner booth near the front door.
We put our wagon and our horses in the nearby stables, where the inn also keeps a guard on watch during the night, and following a very nice dinner, checked into one of the inn’s large common rooms which can hold enough beds for the entire band. Despite this fact however, I have decided to spend the night in the wagon where I can keep a closer eye on Nerull’s Will. Clint, who tagged along with us up to this point, also checked into a room next to ours. But here is where we parted ways with the Outlander, which I thought might be for the best as I did not want to have to try and explain to a complete stranger what it was we were actually doing in Bergovitsa.
After our dinner, Waylan spoke with a couple of traveling merchants, by the name of Viggo and Rudolf, who sat at a nearby table and learned a few things about Bergovitsa. Viggo was apparently very familiar with the city of Bergovitsa including many of its residents. So Waylan asked him if he had ever heard of a man by the name of Horatiu Gregorovich. Viggo did not recall the name. But when asked, he did recall hearing something about Gregorovich’s master, Dimitry Velikovna. He told Waylan that Velikovna had purchased an estate just to the north of the city about six months ago which had been put up for sale six months prior to that, though he did not mention the name of the estate.
Following his conversation with the merchants, Waylan wanted to take a walk around town, I assume, to get a general idea of the layout of the city, though I am not certain if he had anything more in mind. We agreed with his proposal and soon afterwards we were strolling about in the dark streets of the city.
Waylan, since entering the city, had once again resumed his familiar persona as Lord Jotto, the well-to-do and rather pretentious distributor of fine cloth and various other items of merchandise, and was, as was necessary for the role, sporting his finest accoutrements. We, of course, realizing that his appearance would be a sure invitation for trouble, kept a wary eye out for anything suspicious, and it did not take long before we spotted a gang of thugs trailing us and attempting to stay hidden in the shadows. Seeing this, we decided to split up just a bit, with those of us who could likewise hide in the shadows peeling off into a nearby alleyway. The rest of then paused in the street to carry on a mock conversation and allow the thugs to get closer and make their move. When they did, those of us who were in the alleyway, jumped out and assaulted the thugs as they attempted to do the same. But these thugs were clearly not interested in a fair fight, much less a fight in which they were obviously outmatched, and they quickly turned and fled into the alleyways after several of them took some vicious hits. Suspecting these thugs to be of no real importance, we did not bother to pursue any of them. Instead, we resumed our walk through the city, eventually making our way to the north side of town.
There we came to a city gate that was smaller than the one through which we had entered. This one apparently led only to the farms and ranches that lay to the north of the city and was therefore not a major thoroughfare. It was closed however and two city guards stood on watch next to it. We approached the city guards who instantly became suspicious of us. But Waylan spoke to one of the guards, whose name was Karl, and cast a suggestion spell on him, thereby convincing him and his partner, with the aid of a platinum coin, to open the gate for us and let us pass. We then exited the city and headed north down an old farm road.
After a walk of about half an hour, we eventually came to a large estate which lay to the west side of the road with a spiked, wrought iron fence surrounding it. A little further on we came to a gate in the fence, above which stood an iron archway that read “Faraway Estate” in the local language of Vaasi. Off in the distance inside the estate, we could see a mansion with a few windows dimly lit. We could not be sure if this was the estate that Dimitry Velikovna had bought six months ago, but since it was the only estate we had seen so far which lay to the north of Bergovitsa, we were fairly certain it was. However, now that we had found the place, we were unsure of how to proceed from here. Waylan wanted to further investigate the place. But I was opposed to trespassing onto a property based merely on the fact that someone inside the mansion had apparently been doing the same research that I had been doing. There was a definite possibility that one of the gems of Nerull’s Will lay within that mansion. But this was only a guess on our part, and even if one of the gems was in the mansion, it didn’t mean that it was being used for ill purposes. There simply was not enough information just yet to warrant the illegal entry into someone’s home.
As we were debating what to do at this point though, we noticed some movement just outside the mansion. It appeared that someone was preparing to leave the estate in a horse-drawn carriage. So we ran and hid in the bushes on the far side of the road just opposite the gate and waited. We then saw the carriage pull up to the gate with a driver at the front dressed in a black top hat and coattails. An identically dressed footman who stood at the rear of the carriage hopped off and opened the gate, let the carriage pass through, closed the gate, and hopped back on to the carriage. The carriage then sped off in the direction of the city. As it passed by us, we got a good look at the carriage. It was a very nice coach painted in gleaming black with gold trim. The two horses that pulled the carriage were also solid black and appeared to be of high quality, though their eyes were hidden from view by blinders. The inside of the carriage was also hidden from view by a set of dark burgundy curtains, one of which however, was momentarily pulled aside, revealing the face of a handsome and distinguished looking gentleman in his mid-thirties with dark hair and long sideburns. He gazed out at the countryside and did not appear to notice any of us hiding in the bushes. From the description we had been given of Horatiu Gregorovich, who was said to be in his fifties, we assumed that the man in the carriage was not him, but rather his master, Dimity Velikovna. With this thought in mind, and now very curious about where this gentlemen might be headed to so late in the evening, I told my companions of my intentions and took off after the coach.
Aware of the fact that my companions would not be able to keep up with me and the carriage, I assumed they would follow along behind me at their own pace. But I also wanted to be sure that I stayed far enough behind the carriage so that no one in the carriage would notice me. Moments later though, as I was running along, I suddenly sensed that I was not the only one running after the carriage. A quick glance to the left and right confirmed my suspicions. For on both sides of me I saw and heard several black shapes flitting through the dark moon-lit shadows and keeping pace with me. I could see their canine eyes glaring back at me and hear the heavy panting of their breaths. I realized then that I had attracted the attention of a small pack of wolves. Not wishing to deal with them at the moment, I decided to increase my speed and run past the carriage in front of me. It did not take long before I had left the wolves in the dust behind me and was soon approaching the carriage. The footman at the back of the carriage was facing forward and did not notice me until I was right beside him, at which point he appeared to be quite startled at seeing a man racing past him. I shouted out to him, “Wolves!” and pointed to the rear as I ran on by. I then continued running until I was well ahead of the carriage. Then I quickly ducked into a row of bushes at the side of the road, where I hid and waited for the carriage to pass on by. When it did, I waited a bit longer to see if the wolves were still following. Unfortunately, they were. So I decided I needed to deal with these wolves before I could continue on after the carriage. I then jumped out in the middle of the road and waited for the wolves. When they arrived, I used my hands and feet to quickly pummel all six of the wolves into unconsciousness. Then, once again, I took off after the carriage.
By the time I caught up to it however, I was very near the walls of the city. I looked around and did not see the carriage. But I did see another road that intersected the one on which I had been traveling. It led off to the east and to the west and appeared to circle around the city walls where it would eventually connect with the roads leading into the city at the larger east and west gates. I tried to locate the tracks of the carriage, but in the dim light I could not distinguish the tracks of that carriage from any others. So I took a guess and headed towards the east. A short while later, my guess proved to be correct. But by the time I spotted the carriage again, it was parked along the roadside near the gate and it seemed fairly evident that the coach’s recent occupant was no longer present. The footman was tending to the horses and the driver could no longer be seen. From the body language of the footman I got the sense that the footman was alone. So I decided to hide behind some foliage at a distance where I would wait to see if anyone else came along.
I waited for some time. But nothing else happened until I spotted my companions walking up the road behind me. I signaled to them to come and hide where I was currently positioned. They then told me that on the way back they did not encounter any wolves, though they did find a spot in the road where a recent struggle appeared to have taken place, which included a few small puddles of blood. So I am assuming that the wolves regained consciousness and fled before my companions arrived at the scene. They then questioned the guard Karl at the north gate, he said he had seen a carriage pass by and headed towards the east gate. They also told me that Karl would only be at the gate until midnight. So we would have to return to the north gate by then if we wanted to get back into the city. It was now about ten o’clock.
We decided to wait for about an hour and did so. But nothing else happened during the whole time. At eleven o’clock the footman and the carriage were still waiting patiently outside the gate. So we returned to the north gate and re-entered the city. From there, we walked back to the inn, where eventually we turned in for the night. I, of course, have taken the time though, to update my journal. Tomorrow we will see if we can come up with some other method of looking into the Faraway Estate and its owner, Mr. Velikovna.
Tuesday, February 13th:
This morning, after a late breakfast, we came up with a plan of seeing if we could get an invitation into the Faraway Estate. We asked the innkeeper, Olav, if he could tell us where we might be able to find a library or a book dealer that dealt in hard to find books. He gave us the name and the directions to a book seller by the name of Mikaal who specializes in rare books. So we immediately set out to find Mikaal’s book store. When we found it a short while later, we saw that it was a small, out of the way place which likely had very few regular customers. We also found that Mikaal was a small gray-haired old man who seemed more at home with his books than he was with people. We asked him about Horatiu Gregorovich and Dimitry Velikovna, and he claimed to have dealt with Gregorovich in the past and had known that he was employed by Velikovna whom he had never actually met, though he could be fairly certain that it was Velikovna who was truly interested in rare books. He told us that Velikovna had been seeking a number of books and that he had been given a list of these books in case he should happen come across a copy of one. Fortunately, Mikaal said that he had just recently acquired one of these books, a book on alchemy, and that he had not yet notified Velikovna about it.
We made an offer to buy the book from Mikaal, but he refused to sell it, saying that it was reserved for Velikovna. But he did tell us that he would let us deliver a note to Velikovna, letting him know that he had acquired the book. This was something that Mikaal would ordinarily pay a delivery boy to do. But we offered to do it for him, as we hoped it would give us the opportunity to meet with Velikovna and learn more about him. He then wrote out a short letter addressed to Velikovna, sealed it with wax and handed it to us.
We then asked Mikaal if he could tell us anything more about Velikovna or if he had anything written by him. But all that he could give us was a vague description of Velikovna’s seal, which was a castle tower over which was inscribed the letter V.
We also asked Mikaal if he might have any spellbooks among his rare books. But at the mention of spellbooks, he seemed to reveal an expression of concern as if he were trying to judge whether or not he could trust us. Apparently deciding he could, he then pointed out a small collection of books at the back of the store, which had a number of spells cleverly concealed within several pages of ordinary text. Once again reminding us that the use of arcane magic is banned in Nova Vaasa, he then offered to let Waylan copy a number of spells for a fairly steep price. But Waylan was able to talk him down to half his asking price, as it was obvious that Mikaal could really use the business. He did however make Waylan promise not to reveal to anyone where he had acquired these spells. Unfortunately, it would take most of the day for Waylan to copy all the spells he wanted into his spellbook.