Taloren

Wodehouse's journal
  • Master Enzo has returned. I am inexpressibly thrilled, as is my duty.
  • He brought with him a group of friends. Their appetites, unruliness, and general filth have filled my otherwise empty life to the brim with labour, my only permitted source of joy.
  • Master Enzo spoke to Master Alfredo about the magical hags he has been hallucinating in the wilderness, and now both are in foul moods. My old bones creak with delight beneath the weighty tomes Master Alfredo has had me carrying to and from the dusty corners of his library. Master Enzo has asked me to put on the Alfredo mask and fetch his practice daggers, so I can look forward to one of his little games.
  • The practice daggers were especially sharp today. I nearly wept with gratitude when I saw how clean the cuts were.
  • Prepared dinner.
  • Master Enzo spent the evening out, so I shut myself in my favorite cupboard and continued to weep with gratitude for most of the night. Eventually slept for an hour or two.
  • When Master Enzo returned, his mood was even fouler than before. He kept muttering about pursuing some impossibly quick enemy over the rooftops of Yhilport. Is he hallucinating in the city now, as well? I had assumed it was an ague of the countryside, but if he is truly mad, perhaps he will end his own life and have me buried alive with him to attend to his whims in the next world.
  • Flogged myself for an hour, in penitence for fantasizing about such an honor.
  • Prepared breakfast.
  • Master Enzo awoke with ideas about how to defeat his imaginary enemy. From morning to midday, shot at me with crossbow bolts with nets tied to them, but couldn’t get them to fly true. Even when I simply stabbed myself with the bolts, the nets proved less of a hindrance than the loss of blood. We agreed that a professional will have to be commissioned shortly before I passed out.
  • Awoke in the courtyard at sundown. Cursed myself for losing consciousness, allowing Master Enzo to become so bored that he left me bleeding in the grass.
  • Prepared dinner.
  • Mantovas departed for a party at the home of one of their impossibly glamorous friends.
  • Spent hours envying the host’s servants, currently attending to my absent masters and mistresses. Scrubbed the cesspit to raise my spirits.
  • Mantovas returned in distress, shouting about ghosts and corpses attacking the party! Master Enzo’s mania is catching.
  • Retired to favorite cupboard to gloat about party servants’ failure to diagnose, treat Mantovas’ mass hallucinations. I am still the best servant.
  • Slept fitfully in the cupboard.
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Enzo's letters: part eight
A parade of improbable perils

Dear Marina,
Today, the world decided that no matter what I did, it would find some improbable way to try to kill me. Right now, if I were to pierce myself with my pen and discover that this pot is filed with bituminous poison instead of ink, it would not really come as a surprise.

We passed through Iona and headed for Rona. You might expect me to say we were ambushed by brigands, given that introductory paragraph, but that is simply too realistic a scenario. We traveled in perfect safety until arriving at the labor camp. Then a mud puddle sprouted arms and tried to drag us into itself to drown.

I nimbly made my way onto and along a rooftop (after posting Vivaldi, of course — I’m not that nimble) to avoid the murderous muck. Then a ghost burst up out of the rooftop to make that a less-than-ideal vantage.

I clambered down on the other side of the building, out of the puddle’ s reach. So a neighboring building’s door exploded open, broken down by a giant monster sewn together out of normal-sized monsters. Charming.

I fled, skirting around the perimeter of the death puddle, but the creature was tenacious. In order to get away from him, I ended up climbing another building, jumping into the air, and seating myself on a magic staff I have that doesn’t fall when activated.

I was literally flying! What could possibly show up to kill me in the sky?

Well, I’ll tell you, but you won’t believe me. Out of the building whose roof I was perching on walks none other than Tristan Lovett. Yes, the one who was caught putting his you-know-what you-know-where on you-know-who an hour before their wake was scheduled to begin.

He has apparently become adept in some ludicrous form of murder magic that he immediately started flinging at me. There is little in this world that can turn my stomach, as you know, but I can’t bear the thought of what might have happened to me if he had managed to render me deceased.

To escape that repulsive fate, I dove straight through the roof. (Thatch, natch.) Inside, I would be able to hide, ambush the pervert, and fight on my own terms.

Or I would have, if he hadn’t simply decided to set the building on fire.

On the plus side, I managed to liberate a truly beautiful amount of wealth that he was planning to abandon to the fire. On the minus side, I succumbed to smoke inhalation, collapsed, and would have died if the dwarf didn’t leap into action with some timely mouth-to-mouth. (For a truly horrifying moment after reviving, I thought it was Tristan getting ahead of himself.)

Eventually, this parade of improbable perils ran out of unlikely existential threats to throw at me. I was able to get a bit of information about his hag mistress out of Lovett, but I did have to cut all of his fingers off, and he managed to kill himself rather than continuing the interrogation.

No great loss. At least he can finally meet someone special on equal terms.

I do hope that your preparations have gone quickly. It seems the hag is moving against Yhilport must faster than I thought she was. We will make our way to your defense with all possible haste. Frankly, I suspect I’ll be handing you this letter personally, but I do find taking a moment to write to you a pleasant habit.

Best of luck,
Enzo

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Enzo's letters: part seven
Grave news and a call to action

Dear Marina,
While I prefer to keep my correspondence light in tone and conversational, today I must bring you grave news and a call to action. My own adventures have been relatively straightforward: kill this foul-smelling troll, size up that foresty elf person, ride Vivaldi yet farther into the tattered borderlands of civilization.

But as we discover more about these hags, it is becoming clear that their overall goal is not simply to stir up trouble among the peasantry and the prison population. These tiresome magical beasts and undead are being assembled into an army capable of striking at the only target in the valley worth conquering: Yhilport itself.

Consequently, I must reluctantly ask two things of you. I hate to think of our beautiful homestead being put into disarray, but it is absolutely critical to our family’s long-term prospects that you secure our most valuable possessions and prepare the household for possible attack. You’re the only one of us with the persuasive gifts to get the whole clan working as a unit.

Speak to father’s territorial instinct and mother’s pragmatism. Cosimo will leap at the chance to prove himself at arms. Gisela will think the whole thing terribly exciting. Even Alfredo will for once be useful: any lore about the creatures I’ve described that he can prize out of those dusty old books of his could prove useful.

This brings me to my second, and altogether more awful request. Please ask Alfredo, in the most respectful terms possible, to see what he can find out about “night hags.” (I asked Soris, to make sure I was getting the name right.) I know, as does anyone who has been in earshot of him when he’s in a bragging mood — which is to say, any mood — that his pre-eschaton library has few equals in Nimre. Gods know he has spilt enough from the family purse amassing it that there ought to be something useful in there.

In particular, I need to know how to fight these creatures. Any stories of them being defeated, trapped, tricked, or bargained with could prove useful. If you can convey this information to me with all possible haste, I will once again be in your debt. If anyone can get him talking — about something of interest to anyone other than himself, I mean — it’s you.

Enzo

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Enzo's letters: part six
Information for narcolantern carcasses

My dear Marina,
This morning, I woke up from a drugged stupor, tied to a chair. Before you tear up this letter in disgust, know that it’s not what you might expect. I’m not sure Llorcas has an active enough nightlife for such scenarios to naturally arise. I was knocked out and kidnapped by a gnome. (Don’t ask me how the physics of that worked.)

It was Prank, the hoarder I mentioned in my last letter. Suspending him by his toes turned out to be quite unnecessary; he couldn’t have been more eager to share his story. Unfortunately, he wanted to talk to the entire informal group that I’ve been traveling with, which meant I had to find them and:

  • Explain the situation through the haze of a soporific hangover
  • Formulate a plan through the haze of a soporific hangover
  • Talk certain straight-and-narrow dwarves out of a knee-jerk law enforcement response through the haze of &c.

You see, Crank claimed that he was merely a patsy for a more nefarious manipulator. Given certain suspicious details of the situation, especially the gnome’s clear inexperience with skullduggery of any sort, I was willing to entertain the notion. Moreover, in the event that he was attempting some convoluted trickery, the last thing I needed was more dimwitted law-and-order types around to interfere with my response.

Of course, my natural powers of persuasion, plus a few strategic retreats into feigned insensibility and a spectacularly dapper hat, carried the day. We met with Plank per his instructions. He claimed to be controlled from afar by some witchy magic that I am certainly going to be learning more about. He was forced to arrange the dog-man attack as a distraction and then left to take the fall.

I didn’t want to say so in front of my companions, but father uses disposable patsies in exactly the same way all the time. The setup was plausible, and Drank identified two specific people who could confirm or deny the cover story. You know, in exactly the way that every Mantova is drilled not to from the time we learn to speak.

So we sought out these witnesses — a pair of nestofantlers, I think he called them. I don’t mean to brag, but the vim with which I gutted one and intimidated the other won me the admiration of a demon the pair had summoned to aid them. My companions mostly just stood aside and gaped.

The demon wasn’t a bad beast, apart from his atrocious table manners. We established a fair rate of exchange, information for narcolantern carcasses, and learned that we’re up against a coven of hags. They’re a kind of fey, which is apparently a kind of old elf. My grasp of the details is imperfect, but I suspect they’re what Alfredo, the bookish twerp, resorts to for female companionship.

We also have some indication of where to start looking for these hags, so we can stop them from destroying the valley I’m trying to turn a profit in. I guess we’re also clearing the gnome’s name. He’ll soon discover that he owes me for that.

I’ve enclosed the measurements of Vivaldi’s head, by the way. I would be obliged if you could go to the haberdasher and get him something smart. I trust your instincts in the matter — just don’t let them forget the ear holes.

Yours,
Enzo

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Enzo's Letters: Part Five
Most problems solve themselves

Dear Marina,
I know that Father and Cosimo are great fans of pit fighting, but I confess, I fail to see what all the fuss is about. We went to an uncivilized place, tossed the dwarf into the jaws of some ravenous beast, and lined our pockets with the spoils of his survival. This is little different from how I spend any given evening since arriving in Llondor.

That is to say, I don’t see the appeal for the spectators. As a man counting the profits from a gambling table and a few well-placed bets, these events are appealing indeed. The locals who manage the fights are quite reasonable and open to new business ventures, given a respectable commission changes hands, so I’m sure I’ll be seeing more of them.

So far, I’m in the good graces of the Mayor, the captain of the Guard, and the leading lights of what passes for the local criminal element — and Cosimo says I’m unsociable!

I’ve also more or less confirmed my theory about the gnolls. There’s a gnome here named Spank who hoards antiquities and magical artifacts. His magical security is advanced enough to trouble even me — yes, of course I checked — and he has been witnessed in conversation with the gnoll leader whose head I later delivered to the town authorities. Why one would willingly stand within fifty feet of such a noisome creature, much less invite it to breathe in your vicinity by speaking to it, is beyond me.

He has the means to draw out gnolls and spirits, via his magical artifacts and, likely, magical powers. He has had ample opportunity in that secluded workshop of his. His motivations for dealing with these powers are still a puzzle, but I plan to solve it directly. My best guess is some foolish deal gone wrong, but I plan to catch up to the little irritant and avoid the need for guesswork. Like father always says, most problems solve themselves once you suspend them by their toes over a cesspit.

I hope this letter finds you relaxed and in good company.

Kindest regards,
Enzo

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Enzo's Letters: Part Four
Pious little wings

Dear Marina,
I must apologize for what I can only imagine was a shameful piece of correspondence. I can only imagine, of course, because my inebriated state left behind neither fair copies nor detailed memories. I haven’t received your reply yet, and I dread that the letter might have fallen into that snoop, Alfredo’s hands. I shudder to consider the new heights of smugness he could reach with such a breeze beneath those pious little wings of his.

I assure you, I haven’t let drink or our bizarre circumstances blunt my edge. I have invested in better equipment (without compromising the overall profitability of this venture, of course), and I have gotten started on a network of sympathetic businesses here on the frontier. To start with, there is a talented alchemist in my debt here. Don’t worry — I’ve seen Father work long enough to know to start with small and simple favors. Over time, however, I think that he will become quite a resource.

I have also found an excellent source of easy income. The locals here are fond of a dice gambling game with simple principles that favor the house. I have taken to running tables with a rather fetching dice set I found in a dwarven keep.

I also had a meal with Cartor Percidan, a school chum who was appointed mayor here. He remains unimaginative, utterly blinkered to the potential his position offers for advancing his family’s name, but it was still pleasant to experience a bit of Yhilport society in this socially desolate place. Also, he already owes me five hundred gold, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Which brings us to the dull part of the letter: a tiresome rundown of the various magical beasts we have ourselves run down since last I wrote. The village was attacked, part of its wall blown open by some magical or alchemical force so that spectres, undead, and gnolls could invade. This is mainly notable because in the ensuing fracas, a misfired crossbow bolt seriously scratched the leatherwork on my brand-new set of studded armor, utterly ruining their natty effect. No amount of polish has been able to repair the damage. I think the wall is still broken, too.

Afterward, I was charged by the captain of the guard to bring back the head of the chief gnoll. My horse, which I have called Vivaldi after a rather talented violist I met in Yhilport, was invaluable in the pursuit, saving my strength for heroic performance in battle and keeping the soles of my boots clean enough to be presentable in polite company (with thorough washing to remove the stench of dead gnoll chief, of course).

The salient points here are one, that this involves the risible scenario of a Mantova working for a policewoman rather than the other way around, and two, that this policewoman’s family name is “Stoutbiscuit.” Honestly! I could never invent such a thing.

I write this as we return to the village; Vivaldi requires little steering, so long as someone else is walking ahead. I have suspicions about who is behind these attacks, which I am going to investigate. If I’m right, finding the party responsible will not only put law enforcement in my debt, but also open up a trove of magical equipment for auction or simple repossession.

Your loyal brother,
Enzo

P.S. Rest easy. The Soris girl has proven herself not only pleasant company, but possessed of invaluable magical talent. I think that we will continue to get along famously.

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Enzo's Letters: Part Three
I am a Mantova and I will quit myself cordfully

[The writing on this letter is skewed in all different directions, the penmanship wobbly. There are so many ink and drink stains on it that they overlap in many places.]

Dear Marina,
Hellooooooooo! In the tavern again. I think I’m going to buj buy the tavern. Can I puy a tavern? Ask Cosimo I’m sure he on’ won’t mind.

Parsley is a great big netal lizard !!!! gods Magic is stupd.

I fund found a bunch of old boks. Im reading them. Well I will read them.

[Smaller, in the margin:] Read? That looks wrong. I maen the one that sounds like ‘reed’ not the 1 that smells like ’red."

I got more stuf! Magic stuff. I got a bag and a stick that doesnt move. Also a real nice sord but but not a real nice magic sword, just a real nice regular sword. and some pretty dice! I played a lot of dice tonight but don’t worry Im real good even drunk.

(Have I told you I’m drunk yet?

I jus read the whole letter and I didnt tell you I’m drunk yet! Im real drunk. I think I won MORE mony not lost mony (monye? sp) but I haven’t counted it yet, there are a lot and I keep loosing track.

Here’s the thing, Marina. You are my best friend and I love you so much. I miss you so much in this shithole. I also miss my tailor

But you know how I almost died? I told you in the last leter. It was bad But it made me think about it, these gosts and skellitons and dragons an zombys (did I say about the zombys?), I can’t take any of it seriously!!!!

but I was thinking, it’s all so stupid like from 1 of Gisella’s plays, but I was thinking I cant think about it that way. It’s real stupid but it’s also real* danger.

[Smaller, in the margin:] * Real like not fake not real like very.**

[Even smaller, below:] ** Actaully both come to think of it

So it make made me think I can’t keep treating this nonsense like nonsense, even if I want to laugh I have to fight like I woud woudl fight a real enemy. No mercey no horseshite no more waving just one dagger at them and wishing thel theyll go away. Fighting them ironicly wont make them less real. (but it might make me more dead).

I wont give Alfredo that sasitfaction. Or Instagram the halfgoat. (I think se she doens’t like me). I am a Mantova and I will quit myself cordfully!

Anyway Im going to keep trying to drink away what I found out about Marley. I’ll fold this up and post it to you now before I forget thogh, along with the other one I alredy did. I think You should know all about this as soon as posibble. I am a good brother that way.

Have a good night,
Enzo

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Smidge's Diary 2
Entry #79

I managed to get the recipe out of her! frankly i liked it more when i didn’t know what it was called. i can’t decide if they know exactly what that sign looks like and are playing an amazing joke on the town, or if they’re genuinely unaware. i’m not telling them though.
I converted the measurements to gnomish where necessary, but they’re still there in common too in case i’m in a non-gnome kitchen.

UNICORN SAUSAGE STEW (yes really)

6 tbsp Olive oil
350 g (12.3oz) Onions, chopped
2 Carrots, chopped
400 g (14.1oz) Pancetta, diced
1 kg (2.2lbs) Pork sausages, cut into chunks about 3cm thick
2 tbsp Plain flour
2 Glasses of red wine
80 g (2.8oz) Tomato paste
400 ml (14.1fl oz) Beef stock
150 g (5.3oz) Pitted black olives
400 g (14.1oz) Tinned cannellini beans, drained
200 g (7.1oz) Button mushrooms, quartered
5 Bay leaves
1 pinch Salt and pepper (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Heat the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole dish and fry the onions and carrots over a high heat for 2 minutes until golden.

Add in the pancetta and the sausages and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Mix in the flour and cook for a further minute, stirring continuously.

Add in the wine and cook for about 2 minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Stir in the tomato paste, add in the beef stock, the olives, the cannellini beans and the mushrooms. Add the bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for 30 minutes until the sausages are tender and the sauce has thickened

Serve

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Smidge's Diary
Entry #78

Well, I guess I can start updating this again now I’m out of the monastery. Not much to add to a diary up there. “woke up, ate breakfast, watched ol’ thunderguts knock a new batch of neophytes arse over elbow, read a dusty old book, went to bed.” It’s not really a compelling read.

But yes though! Out of the monastery, delivering booze, which is a service I didn’t think the monastery offered, and indeed they do not, but I’ll get to that later. Frankly I was just glad of an opportunity to stretch my legs, such as they are. The library up there is amazing but Desmet’s got little patience for people drifting in and out unless they’re bringing supplies. I shouldn’t be too grumpy, They’ve all looked after me since I melted everything I’ve ever known into a 20 foot pit in the street, I’m just glad grandpa owned that whole building. Pretty sure Mrs. Coldlantern next door is never ever going to get that smell out of her washing.

Ugh, digressing, here I am with the opportunity to write a new diary entry for the first time in years and retreading old ground again.

Getting sent out on this job was a definite bolt out of the blue, that’s for sure. There’s me, armful of books, wondering to myself why I keep seeing this “Mordenkainen” name everywhere and the next thing I know I’m a foot off the ground courtesy of The Grasp Of Desmet, I thought I was dead. As I’m dangling there wondering what I did, how bad it was, and how I was going to adapt to a possible new life with only one of each appendage, I manage to notice another face there too. Isfargel. I’ve talked about her in here before. Nice, but extremely shortfused. Not overly surprising, really, there’s probably no good way to find out your great-grandpa was up to a bit of the ol’ rumpy-pumpy with demons, but waking up on your birthday to find out you now are one (or half of one? (Or just… I don’t want to use the word corrupted even in private, Izzy tries really hard to deal with this and she mostly does keep a lid on it. Think of a better word.) That’s probably the worst. And she was way way too old to be effectively abandoned on the temple steps like a newborn.

Digressing again. There’s probably enough information in these diaries on Izzy to make me one of the world’s foremost experts on tieflings just by accident. Heck, just knowing they’re actually called “tieflings” probably puts you in the top thousand.

So, there’s me, hanging by the scruff of the neck, eye to eye with the great booze typhoon himself, somehow managing to comprehend he’s not angry (at me, at least.) and with a loud “pack your shit, you’re goin’ out with Izzy.”, I find myself sat on a pony heading down the mountain in the company of some variety of whiskey in four surprisingly nice barrels, and a grumpy Tiefling who is being more than a little cagey about what’s going on. It was a nice day for a ride down the mountain though, so I didn’t press it. One to deliver to Llanda, one to deliver to Yhilport, then home again. Good enough for me.

Hah, just noticed I called the monastery “home” in the same sentence I mentioned Yhilport. That bridge is definitely burned. Or melted I guess.

We got to the inn about mid-afternoon I think? Llanda’s one of those towns that pretty much happened by accident because the miners needed somewhere to sleep, and because there was a lot to mine it just kept happening. Less a town and more an unfeasibly large village. It’s not a bad place, but you wouldn’t come here for a weekend break or anything. The inn was well kept, although the sign. Gods, the sign. I should definitely try and sketch that up. I don’t even know what the inn’s real name is because of the sign. It looks like the original intent was to draw a unicorn leaping dramatically over a barrel, but, well. Put it this way I wouldn’t drink out of that barrel for all the tea in yhilport.

I wish I could explain the inkeeper’s face when he saw this whiskey, I thought he was going to piddle his little dwarven britches. Apparently not all booze is created equal. He looked like Lady Moon just walked in and started flirting with him. We got a free dram out of the guy though I think he’d have preferred us to decline. It was okay I guess? I’ve never really got the whole whisky thing. Or whiskey. See I can’t even remember which is which.

To say these barrels got attention is an understatement. We couldn’t even get halfway through the frankly excellent stew (note to self; see if you can get that recipe off the inkeeper’s missus) when we got guests for dinner. This guy. This absolute threadstrip. Enzo Mantova. Not a family name I expected to hear again ever. Grandpa and I never really had any dealings with them, but everyone in Yhilport knows who they are and what sort of pies they have fingers in, and even if I didn’t know that, the fact that pretty much the first words out of his mouth were an attempt at some groundwork to lightening our load of whiskey definitely soured me on the guy. I’m glad he didn’t speak gnomish and that Izzy had picked up enough of it over the years in the monastery that I could warn her. Before she became changed she grew up in a rich household so she’s never really had to deal with the sort of person who can get down a corkscrew without touching the sides. I’ve go no idea what he’s doing so far from a paved road but gold dust to gingerbread it’s nothing good. His attempt at patter was interrupted, fortunately.

The next person to interrupt my plans to get on the outside of some stew was a dwarf, who apparently has some sort of supernatural whiskey sense and – the smith bless him – not really much else upstairs. Del Odak. Absolutely, definitely 100% a paladin. You see guys like Delboy at the monastery all the time, Full of holy righteousness and a burning zeal to fix a problem with the world via kicking it very hard in the ear until it stops being a problem. Desmet almost universally throws them out the door. For one thing, it’s not even that kind of order up there. More working on the world via self-improvement than hollering about gods. Dwarves like Del usually hear “that’s not a plan, that’s a goal” before unconsciousness takes them back down the mountain for a little introspection.

He was in the company of a cleric, a human. Ran Soris. I honestly cannot get a read on her. Very quiet but you can tell she’s not missing a thing. For a while I thought she was Del’s special handler or something. Honestly I’ll take a quiet believer over a bookthumper any day of the week. Those are the ones that definitely believe. They keep it inside because it’s for them, not you, and that is fine. It definitely beats listening to “Magic has returned because the gods willed it” again, as though that is an actual answer and not an excuse.

The last interruption to lunch was definitely the most surprising, that’s for sure. Somehow Harley was in town. I haven’t seen that sticky-fingered old fart since grandpa was alive, and he’s here in Llanda? I can see him right now across the room, cramming sausages into his face before we head out to this ruin he’s being very secretive about. I hope it’s more hospitable than the first job he roped us into. Yeah, all of us somehow. Still not sure how that happened. That’s a thing about harley, it’s like trying to have a conversation with a tornado. Sometimes you have no idea what happened until later when he’s left with your gold and you have a countertop full of magical artifacts you didn’t really intend to buy. Even with that though, everything he sold always worked and he never ripped grandpa off. The opposite really. That’s before you got into the stories he told too. They definitely kept me occupied and out from under grandpa’s feet.

Harley somehow managed to talk the whole lot of us into a little light guard duty while he checked out a ruin for loot, I wonder who he sells it to now? Maybe that gnome across town. I’d like to talk to that guy again when he’s not exploding. He gave me a good price on those obsidians, probably just to get me out of the workshop.

So yeah, the job. there we went, two gnomes, a tiefling, a can of dwarf, a human cleric, and a fop trying to breathe through a handkerchief, off on a nice countryside ramble to a ruin, or what seemed like a ruin until it vanished entirely for a second. That even shut harley up. We stopped and stared and wondered what we should do, and apparently the answer to that was “duck”, because spears started coming through this illusory wall. This is all a bit of a blur so forgive me the lack of detail here.

Del, to his credit, had no hesitation and ran straight at the wall. I have no idea if he knew he was going to go straight through it or believed he could just knock half a castle out of the way. Like I said, this is why I don’t really trust the overly religious, but also contrary to what I said, he managed to solve this problem by kicking it in the ear, if rocks can be said to have ears. I couldn’t see what was going on for the illusion, but apparently “there was a rock with a blasphemous symbol on it” so he kicked it and the illusion dropped. I’m still a little agog at this. I wish I could have got a look at this rock but we were a little busy with gnolls. Turned out everyone here was attuned, even Enzo surprisingly, though he spent most of this fight behind a bush. Del impressively hammered a gnoll’s head right off, and I think Izzy was thankful of a little steam venting opportunity, though I don’t think the gnoll whose jawbone she launched across the field was thankful of anything much. I managed to get a gnoll too, though a face full of acid isn’t really a death I’d wish on anything. I don’t remember what happened to the fourth one.

We headed into the cave that was behind the illusion, Enzo complaining about the gnoll poop and the dirt on his shoes and whatever else he could think of as we descended into the ruin beneath. I don’t really know how to put this, it was fulll of skeletons, and then they stood up and started attacking us. Enzo apparently had a small nervous breakdown about this and started yelling about hidden wires and stage shows but a rusty sword across the chest apparently does wonders for the concentration and he pulled his socks up. Once we got over the initial shock the skeletons weren’t really hard to beat, which with hindsight makes sense, there’s not really a lot to reanimate and I suspect the spell that created them was well over a millennium old at this point anyway.

The ruin cleared (still not sure what it was, seemed like a part of something else, but cave-ins had done for the rest of the structure), harley suddenly appeared from wherever he’d been hiding and made a beeline for what appeared to be a pile of junk in the corner, turned out that’s what we were here for, or rather one specific thing in there. Some really old figurine of a female form. Deeefinitely female. I don’t get what was so special about it I mean sure it was a nice piece of jade but definitely not worth this sort of trouble, especially as he was completely ignoring legitimate magical items. Waste not, want not, as the saying goes though. Isfargel managed to grab a backpack that seemed utterly nondescript except for the fact that it looked like it was made yesterday, Enzo found a nice looking dagger, and I got a weird crystal ball that turned out to be a hovering torch. I have some ideas about mountings and focusing devices for this but it’s been a long time since I did any serious tinkering. I need to get some tools first of all and those are decidedly not cheap. Found some gems too, managed to sell those to the aforementioned grumpy gnome. Note to self: see if he has any old tools for sale when we get back

Turned out this had all been a test, but we got paid so it’s fine. Honestly it was nice to see harley again though a drink by the fire would have suited me better. Soon we head out for “the real job”. I hope it’s less, well, undead.

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Enzo's Letters: Part Two
New Vistas of Swearing

Dear Marina,
Damn this place. Damn this magic. Damn Vadge Nefarious and his already thrice-damned metal boots.

I write to you from a pit — quite literally, this time. We followed Barley, that demented old treasure collector, into a recently revealed dwarven ruin. The place was dark, of course, but I have a rock that glows. The other members of my party shoot fire out of their fingers, and I have a rock that glows. It was given to me by the gnome, who found a better rock that glows.

I don’t know how much longer I can take these indignities.

Anyway, we found something else that glows: ghosts! Yes, those amusing spectres from the tawdrier plays that Gisella is so fond of appear to be a real thing that does exist. Dwarf ghosts, to boot: very amusing, I thought. They were just standing around, but Gran Sisters did something religious that seemed to anger them.

There were some ghost dwarf archers (even more amusing, right? ha. ha.) taking aim from a sort of battlement, so I thought I would get up close and slice at them with my magical dagger. I’m quite a fencer, and they didn’t even have blades, and of course magical weapons are perfect for giving spirits the what-for: I’ve been dragged to enough of Gi’s sordid horror dramatizations to know that.

Here’s the thing: against normal opponents, this would have worked brilliantly. With my considerable skill at fast climbing (why do so many architects put bedchambers on upper floors?) I could negate the enemy’s terrain advantage. With my blade, I could strike at vulnerable targets not equipped for close quarters combat. I’m obviously more mobile than any normal dwarf archer, allowing me to strike quickly and withdraw if necessary.

My opponents, however, were not normal. They were not players on a tuppenny stage with flour on their faces. They did not go ‘boo.’ They screamed like a sawblade dragged sideways across slate and then started clawing at me with their bare, spectral fingernails.

Alfredo will be gratified to hear that I do, in fact, possess a soul. I know that, because these horrifying things were tearing it out of me.

I bid a hasty retreat, which proved useless when the dwarves began to fly. This sounds utterly comical in writing, so I hasten to add that they were flying after me, talons first, and tearing out more shreds of my very being.

I was bested, dear sister. I succumbed to unconsciousness; the rest of the fight passed in a dark blur. Frankly, I am out of my depth where these unnatural magical creatures are concerned. You know me well: I would never say such a thing, but it is true. Even now, my flesh is gray and lifeless where they touched me. I worry that it will not heal.

I came to with a stabbing pain in my backside where the gnome was kicking me. I hope you will not think less of me if I murder him once he is no longer useful. Fran did a ritual of some kind, which strengthened me against the clutches of darkness. Her, I am starting to like.

After more mishaps with ghosts — albeit less serious ones, focused on more expendable members of the group — we encountered a sort of supernatural guardian for what must be the buried city’s treasury. I’m not even going to bother describing him, lest you think me mad. He is the most disgusting thing I have encountered on my travels, which is saying something. Let’s leave it at that.

Fortunately, he was capable of speech, and no one in our party had taken any sacred oaths to attack whatever he was on sight. (Don’t even get me started on sacred oaths. I was not aware just how popular they were among the commoners. When I get home, I think I might push for a ban.) We bargained with him: he wants to be released from service, and I want whatever is in that room. We will have to delve deeper into this ruin to acquire components for the necessary ritual; by comparison with magic, it amazes me that I ever thought our government regulations unnecessarily bureaucratic and circuitous.

I’m writing as we take a rest, here in the darkness and silence of a labyrinthine, ghost-infested cave. You can scarcely imagine how comfortable and refreshed I feel. I’ll send you the letter through one of those little magic portals we use for instantaneous communication across great distances.

Kidding, of course! Magic, do something useful? How absurd! I’ll carry the letter out of here and post it once we return to the town of Llamas. I never thought I could pine for what little civilization such a place could offer, but this venture has proven me wrong in so many other respects: why stop there?

Thank Alfredo for the Gnomish crash course he unwittingly sent me. You would not believe the new vistas of swearing it has opened to me.

Yours sincerely,
Enzo Mantova

P.S. Father will soon be receiving a bill of sale for a horse. Considering the sort of danger I routinely have to encounter in this venture, I thought of my fearless dwarf companion, and asked for one that was fast and sure-footed, but too stupid to spook easily.

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