27 Tera 1333 YS
My dearest Calliope,
We’ve departed Villa Vicosa, and left the town, I pray, a little better off than when we found it. We returned them a sizable horde of their own valuables and belongings, and the mayor – decrepit though he is – had brightened and was confident that with the spring, once travelers frequent La Carretera del Rey again, his small town would be just fine. I am not sure how, but then again I am unfamiliar with the sad, lonely and dusty town.
Finally back on the road, with my poor, trusty pony, Flax, pulling a dilapidated cart we salvaged from the town’s abandoned mining scrapyard. As we trudge along, we are leaving the badlands, for Las Arenas Rojas. The terrain is becoming more scrubby and more sandy. The vegetation is scrabbling at best, and water is sparse, despite the season. Both can be found at the obviously winter-swollen streams and small springs, but those are now more rare, and farther between each other. We have a village boy in tow as well, the sheriff’s son, by name of Ulises. He is a shiftless, lazy and indolent lad. What motivated him to get off his tookus and travel to Alhambra with us, only he knows. He did not say, and none of us really care enough to press the issue. At least he’s prepared himself with sword and food, but frankly, I am not sure he knows how to use the former.
Later in the afternoon, we were ambushed by a roving band of Gnolls, or jackal-men. They sent two trained hyena’s at our rear, obviously intended to scare our horses into panic, and driving us into an ambush of spearmen ahead. Kumori swiftly put an end to the spearmen, however, slicing them with the eloquent style and gracility unique to him – or perhaps via his training at the school of swordsmanship unique to his land. In any case, with but a few simple, sublime strokes of his katana and wakizashi, he’d dropped three of the gnolls, and sent the last one running for its life.
Their leader, some elite or highborn (if such things are possible) gnoll, had peppered us with bow fire from a ridge above. He was wearing an odd ceramic mask, one fashioned in the likeness of a demon from Kumori’s culture, called an Oni. Such masks, in his land, bring luck, or fend off evil, so goes the legends of their land. But this mask is nothing but evil. We discovered it grants special vision when worn (from one of the dying gnolls), but it betrayed its master at the very end, flying off his face. In his eagerness to regain possession of that ‘treasure’, he was swiftly cut down like the dog he was.
We believe the thing might be cursed, for since we’ve had it in our possession, all sorts of creatures are flocking around us. They keep their distance, but we all feel a certain primal tug, some more than others. I think Dorak was hit worst of all by the mask’s pull; perhaps it is because he has been tainted or weakened by that evil knife he is determined to keep. Well, we have a little flock of animals and birds trailing us now, which is unsettling at best.
We’ve decided to take the mask, and the dagger, to the Explorers in Alhambra. Hopefully they will be able to take them off our hands and dispose of them, although I am quite apprehensive about taking either into such a large settlement of people. If the animals are affected by the mask’s lure, then what would happen if it were exposed to thousands of innocent people, not to mention the many not-so-innocent among them.
Off to sleep now, I am exhausted.
28 Tera 2333 YS
Oh my goodness this mask is troublesome. During the night we were best upon by a large number of very ucky translucent scorpions. By the gods, the campfire light made them almost glow, and all their innerds were visible. Yuck. And they swarmed over us, mainly the horses. Thank goodness they avoided the firelight, or they could have swarmed the sleeping (including me), and killed us before we knew what hit us. Unfortunately, we lost Kumori’s horse, Ienobu, the one I had started to train. (Ienobu was named after some great man Kumori named as a Shogun, from his country’s past).
What was really strange was… after the scorpions had feasted on the poor horse and normally would have left, satisfied with their meal, they instead came back to attack again. We all think that somehow the mask was messing with their minds, even though I am not sure how much of a mind such things have.
We mourned the loss of the warrior’s steed, and had a lengthy discussion whether or not we would be replacing our horses with combat trained ones once we arrive in Alhambra. We won’t be, because after Alhambra, through the mountains, we will be leaving on a sea voyage from Bagharid. We’d just have to sell them again, or pay a steep fee to transport them to Io.
Needless to say, honey, I could not get back to sleep. So I thought I would at least jot down an accounting of the battle for you. Some of us got stung, a few were weakened by the scorpion’s poison, but all in all we fared well in the fight. Without Izzy to heal us (she and Coatl are in the lamp again), I fear the healing duties once again fall on my tiny shoulders. I am not equipped to deal with some of these injuries, for I don’t have access to any kind of restoration spells. I hate to say it, but I wish sometimes the lamp would take me instead of Izzy. She is more essential to the party’s survival than I am.
OK, have some chores to do. Love you and will write more soon.
28 Tera 2333 YS
I know I should never start an entry with… ’Don’t worry, I am ok’, but… I am ok. Hurt but ok. Unfortunately, Flax is dead.
What at first seemed harmless dust clouds, Dorak called them dust-devils, turned out to be more like dust-vampires. Once near us, then diminished, and we thought they’d been dispersed, but no… they had gone to ground, only to reappear amongst us. They must prefer dwarf blood, for they started attacking Dorak, and my pony, before moving on to other targets. Oh, the boy Ulises was also set upon, and he remains in a coma, near death. I swear curses on that lamp, for unless Izzy is released from it, and soon, the boy will die. I have marked him, so he won’t lose a gift, but still… what his spirit must endure is not wished upon anyone, shiftless or otherwise. In fact, the boy tried to protect himself. I think he may have even gotten a swipe in on the creature that nearly killed him.
These creatures literally sucked the blood from us, filling their dusty bodies a gruesome crimson with our blood. And when they were killed, the blood exploded from their bodies like a warm gory rain. I have never seen such an abomination, and I shiver in disgust and fear even now, safe from their ravages, at the merest thought of them. They have left us all weakened, ill suited for travel. And with the mask drawing creatures (or so we fear, for we have no arcanist near to analyze them), we can expect encounter after encounter until we are all dead. I think that mask was responsible for drawing these blood devils to us. What is next? Oh Calli, I am afraid but I dare not show it, lest I infect the others with fear.
I don’t mean to scare you my love, but I may not make it out of this accursed mess. If somehow I don’t, I hope that these latest letters find you, and please know that my thoughts are constantly with you, and I miss you and I am so sorry for not coming back to you like I promised. I won’t leave my comrades, like a coward, so I will be as brave as I can be, and with Mormekar and all the god’s will and blessings, we will come out of this. Maybe a little worse for wear, but I want to keep positive. So know your love keeps me strong, and if there is any way through this, I am going to insist at some point, we stop by Drusas so we can be reunited, if only for a short time. Don’t worry. This is in the hands of powers greater than us.
Love to you, forever, my sweet Calliope,