Nerull’s Will: The Emerald
As we approached the fallen tree which lay across the road, several of us were no doubt suspicious of the all-too familiar circumstances. This was not the first time we had been the subjects of such a predictable ruse by a desperate band of bandits – though I can be fairly certain it was the first time that this particular band of bandits fell victim to its own ambush. Garret slowly pulled the wagon to a stop and as he did so, we glanced nervously about at the bleak and semi-frozen landscape around us. To the south and west of us arose one of the few identifiable features in the otherwise flat and seemingly endless plains of Nova Vaasa. These were the foothills of the Balinok Mountains of Barovia known locally as the Howling Hills. Here and there could be seen small patches of scrub brush intermingled with the relatively short and stubby trees characteristic of the land and now rendered leafless by the harsh winter. Small puffs of steam issued from our mouths and nostrils as we exhaled into the cold afternoon air.
It was these same puffs of steam that helped to give away the positions of the bandits as they lay hidden in the scrub brush – that and the occasional slight movements of shadow or the tell-tale snapping of twigs and the rustling of dried leaves. Upon realizing the situation I called out to the bandits for them to throw down their weapons and let us pass unharmed. As I might have expected, the leader of the bandits responded by telling us to throw down our weapons along with any valuables, adding that there was no need for bloodshed. On this final point, I was in complete agreement with him – so long as the bandits did as I requested. I then moved towards the fallen tree intent on removing the obstruction, and as I did so the bandit leader ordered his men to open fire. Suddenly a barrage of arrows flew out at us from all directions, many of them finding their marks, and a bloody battle quickly erupted.
That was when the stranger first appeared. He stepped out onto the road all dressed in a strange suit of leather and brandishing a pair of pistols the likes of which we had never before seen. He pointed these pistols at the bandits with deadly accuracy, and without ever stopping to reload, began blasting away…
(Continued from) Friday, January 31st, 742 BC:
We emerged from the portal into a dark and narrow alleyway; a light fog clinging low to the ground. Looking about we noted a familiarity in the architecture and the crumbling walls of a crowded city in ill-repair. With a small measure of hope we emerged from the alleyway on to one of the city’s main thoroughfares, now glistening in the damp night air and illuminated by a number of moons in various phases of cycle. After a few moments in which we dared not speak aloud the thoughts running rampant through our minds, for fear they would turn out to be untrue, Peg broke the silence and asked if we recognized our surroundings. It was a source of great comfort, particularly for me, to then announce that we were indeed back in the city of Kantora.
But although we now found ourselves back where I had hoped we might, I was still rather anxious, perhaps even more so, and my anxiety would not be abated until I saw with my own eyes that which I so desperately longed to hold once again in my hands. And so with great urgency, I led my companions through the city streets back to the Maiden’s Scarf Inn and the stables there, where I quickly located the wagon we had left behind only a week before, though it felt much longer. I then hurried to the wagon, unlocked the back doors and stepped inside. There I located the secret compartment we had specially built and found within a long thin box with two locks on it, also specially built. I unlocked one of the locks with the key that I possessed and had Waylan unlock the other lock with the key he kept on his person. With trembling hands I then flung open the lid and was filled with great relief when I once again gazed down upon the object which had been so heavily weighing upon my mind – the staff known as Nerull’s Will.
With my thoughts now at ease, knowing that the staff was still safely under our keep, we proceeded into the inn where we learned that, despite having paid in advance for our rooms, the innkeeper had re-let them to others due to our unexplained week-long absence. So we were given other rooms, and here at last, after more than week, we are hopeful that we might finally get a decent night’s rest.
Saturday, February 1st:
I awoke in the middle of the night last night due to a nightmare I had, though all I can really remember about the nightmare was seeing the staff of Nerull’s Will falling from my grasp into an inky black void. Upon my awakening I found that I was sweating and there was a gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach. I could not shake the feeling that something had happened to the staff. So I ran downstairs and into the stables where I found the wagon and the long box within. But this was not enough. I had to see the staff for myself. So I ran back upstairs and dragged Waylan out of bed so he could use his key to open the box. Fortunately, my fears were soon proven inaccurate and the staff was still in the same place where we had seen it earlier. So we then returned to our beds.
Now, upon reflection, I realize that Waylan is convinced that my behavior last night was irrational. But such is the nature, I believe, of an artifact as powerful as Nerull’s Will. It occupies my thoughts always and often calls out to me, longing to be made whole once again. My only viable course of action appears to be to appease it and continue the search for its missing pieces. So on this day, I have done just that and resumed my research on the staff.
Waylan meanwhile, has expressed a desire to spend some studying spells which will allow me the time to continue my work while the others are given some free time on their own.
Monday, February 10th:
After more than a week spend searching through numerous libraries, most of which were private libraries for which I was obliged to pay out a considerable sum of money for the privilege of their use, I have found very little information that might lead me to the missing pieces of Nerull’s Will. Most of the leads I had found previously did not pan out as I had hoped. I did however come across numerous tales of magic and other unusual occurrences that might refer to the powers of the staff. But there is no way to be certain, and most of these tales are so very old and give no or very few clues as their present day whereabouts that they are effectively useless. Nor was I able to pinpoint any particularly promising locations of people or groups of people who might make use of the various missing pieces of the staff. But during the course of my researches, I did discover something I had not expected to, but which, merely by chance, eventually happened to catch my eye.
It was the name of a person; Horatiu Gregorovich to be precise. Having come from Barovia myself, I did not recognize the name, but I did recognize the name as being Barovian. And what truly struck me about this name was that I found it preceding me in a number of the libraries I visited and that the possessor of this name had examined many of the same books and records that I was now examining. It soon became apparent that whoever this Horatiu Gregorovich was, he, as recently as a month ago, had been doing the same research that I was currently doing. This, of course, I found to be of particular interest and I became determined to know the reason why he had been doing this research. So I returned to many of the libraries to learn what I could about Mr. Gregorovich. What I discovered was that Mr. Gregorovich was a meek, quiet and scholarly individual, perhaps in his mid-fifties, under the employ of a man named Dimitry Velikovna. Dimitry Velikovna, according to resources is a wealthy Barovian who, six months ago, moved into a mansion near the city of Bergovitsa. It seems that Mr. Velikovna had sent Mr. Gregorovich into Kantora a month ago, via carriage, to do research on Nerull’s Will, though here I am only speculating. Beyond that, I was not able to learn anything more. We will need to travel to Bergovitsa so I can continue my investigations there.
Waylan, meanwhile, has finished studying his spells for the time being and has also managed to find the time to craft a wand. So tomorrow we leave for the city of Bergovitsa.
Tuesday, February 11th:
We set out this morning from the city of Kantora and traveled southwest by the Prince’s Road, this time making sure to take with us our carriage and all of our horses. This road is the unofficial dividing line between the King’s Plain or Kesjermark, which lay to the west, and the Dommark, or Plain of Judgment. The Kesjermark is known for its wide fields of short golden grass with royal purple seeds, whereas the Dommark is known for being hot and barren with grass that is short, dry and brown. However, in the short but harsh winters of Nova Vaasa, such as now, these plains are just cold and barren. But regardless of the time of the year these plains are known for the bandits who call the plains their home.
As we left the city of Kantora, we passed by numerous farms separated by short stone walls. The peasants who work these farms live in squat, round hovels of stone, with thatch roofs made from the longer plains grasses. They’re a grim, stone-faced lot, yielding rich harvests from the soil only to see most of it taken as taxes by the nearest noble lord. Some few of these peasants own the fields they work, but most have been forced to sell them to the nobles to make up for shortfalls in lean years. These unfortunates end up working the land they used to own as “tenant farmers”, though “serfs” would be a more apt description. Just beyond the farms we passed by horse ranches, each owned by a noble or wealthy merchant. Because of the threat of theft or raids, workers on these ranches are always armed and aggressively unfriendly towards strangers. Later on we passed by the occasional crumbling stone ruins of peasants who tried to make a living in the more remote regions of the plains, only to fail and be forced to return to the cities.
By mid-afternoon we were drawing near a bend in the road which curved off towards the west when we came upon an obstruction that impeded our progress……With a score of bandits all around us, all firing their bows, several of us were struck multiple times. But soon the bandits began taking heavy losses as some of us closed in on them and started fighting them at close range. When Waylan jumped out of the wagon and began casting spells the bandits quickly learned they had made a poor choice for their most recent victims. Many of them were then caught in a web spell, including the bandit’s leader, at which point several of the bandits turned and fled while a couple of them threw down their weapons and surrendered. One of those who initially surrendered, the band’s leader, then tried to escape using a potion of invisibility to hide his retreat. He managed to break free of the web and we were forced hunt him down. He was a slippery one, but eventually we managed to capture him.
When the fight was over, we had two captured bandits and fifteen dead, though four of them got away. We also had a stranger who came to assist us, though he took several arrows in the process. When we tried to speak to the stranger however, we found that we had a bit of language barrier.