Feeling quite certain that the ruins had long ago been picked clean of anything worth taking by those who had previously passed this way, we slowly led our horses towards the center of the ruins and to the one structure that stood out from the rest. Constructed of stone and therefore having better withstood the test of time, this building, which appeared to have once been a shrine to some long forgotten deity, had only a few areas where the walls were partially collapsed, while the roof remained intact. Leaving our horses just outside, we cautiously ascended a short flight of steps towards the shrine’s doorless entrance and the dark shadows that lay within…
The Journal of Jareth Ambrose
(Continued from) Friday, March 10th, 745 B.C.Once the battle against the kobolds had come to its conclusion, we took the time to tend to our injuries, exhausting all our magical means of healing save for a few potions. Afterwards, we searched about the cavern for anything of value, which included a few magic items worn by the chieftain and his sorcerers. By the time we had completed this task, we were too tired to do much of anything else. So, despite the fact that there was still daylight left in the day, we decided to make camp just inside the entrance to the kobold lair and rest for the remainder of the day.
Saturday, March 11thThis morning, we resumed our journey northward through the treacherous Claws of the Beast. Although the rough terrain greatly hindered our rate of travel, we encountered no other difficulties, and shortly after midday, we rode out of the hills without further incident. By the time the sun was setting low on the horizon, we had traveled about halfway through a wide valley. It is in this valley that we have made camp for the night.
Sunday, March 12thSoon after setting out this morning, we began to see signs of people heading north along the same route as we are. There are no obvious roads or trails in this area, as far as we have seen, and because there appears to have been two or more bands of people each about 20 to 30 strong, we suspect these are the tracks of pilgrims, perhaps being drawn to the north by the rumors of the Vale of the Blest. The tracks appear to be several days old at the very least, some probably a week or two old or more. So it is unlikely that we will catch up to any of them anytime soon. At about midday, we reached the northern edge of the wide valley and entered the foothills of a range of low mountains that stretched off to the northeast. Following the tracks of those who had passed before us, we stuck to a narrow valley that lay between the hills and a small lake which lay to the northwest. Keeping to the east side of the lake, we eventually came upon the ruins of an old town. Nestled in between the lake and the foothills, we got the sense that this town was once a very ideal setting. But clearly that was all in the past, perhaps many decades ago. Now the town appeared abandoned, as most of the wooden buildings were partially, if not entirely, collapsed. There were no signs of life. Instead, a melancholy sadness seemed to hang in the air as a chill wind drifted through the ruins creating a sound like the whispering voices of ghosts from a distant time… …As we stepped into the shrine, we noted immediately among the debris, two fallen statues, one to the left of the entrance and a larger one at the far end of the nave in the semi-circular chancel. Both statues appeared to be those of men dressed in clerical garb, and both were heavily defaced. Using our typical sources of magical light to illuminate the chamber, we cautiously made our way further into the shrine, while Vance searched for traps. But as we approached the larger of the two fallen statues, a sudden chill filled the room just moments before five apparitions emerged from the walls and surrounded us. All five of the ghostly entities were dressed in tattered robes and had looks of extreme pain and anguish upon their ravaged faces. The most prominent spectre, which appeared just above the larger statue, screamed out in anger, “Blasphemers! You all will die!” The tortured spirits then reached out to touch us in an attempt to suck the life out of us, and a frantic battle ensued. During the battle, several of us were struck by the spirits that had emerged from the sides of the shrine, and when they did so, not only did they cause a numbing chill to pass through us, but they also seemed to drain us of energy. Redwald was fortunate enough to be protected from this later effect by one of his magical rings. But the rest of us were not. Ladislav did his best to destroy them by channeling positive energy all around us. However, the effect of the positive energy seemed to be somewhat diminished, most likely because the shrine was in what Dr. Van Richten termed a “sinkhole of evil.” But despite the terrible situation in which we found ourselves, we were quite fortunate that none of us were struck by the more prominent spectre as we believed it to be more powerful than the others because it was more difficult to destroy. It was most likely the master of the other spectres and certainly it would have drained more life force with each successful hit. Nevertheless, we managed to destroy it and the other spirits, though some of us were drained of energy before it was all said and done. Once the threat had passed, Ladislav healed what injuries he could, while the rest of us looked around for anything worthy of note. Vance then discovered what appeared to be a hidden compartment in the stone base of the larger fallen statue. After checking for traps, he opened it up and found a stash of some fairly powerful magic items, including a sword and other weapons. No doubt these had been hidden under the statue many decades ago by the clergy who once tended to the shrine and whose restless spirits we had just released from damnation. With the ghosts of the shrine no longer present, the shrine now somehow feels at peace, as if the sinkhole of evil has rapidly faded away. It has given us the opportunity to learn what we can about the magic items we have found and to rest with a roof over our heads. So we will spend the night here and resume our travels in the morning.
Monday, March 13thToday we rode the entire day along the northern bank of a stream that flowed from the lake by the town ruins. The stream ran through a narrow valley, with a range of hills on the far southwestern side, and the mountains on the near side to the northeast. Though we have continued to follow the tracks of the people whom we believe to be bands of pilgrims, we have encountered no one. According to our map, we are currently about a day away from something that the mongrelmen marked on our map called Wadi, whatever that may be, and perhaps two days away from the Vale of the Blest.
Tuesday, March 14thStill riding along the northern bank of the stream, the valley has grown even narrower, while the mountains to the north have encroached closer and closer to the stream as we have proceeded, leaving only a narrow path through which to travel. The stream, on the other hand, has only grown wider. But the tracks of the people, in whose footsteps we continue to follow, have not changed. Still we have not encountered a soul. Once more we have made camp for the night, perhaps for the last time in this gods forsaken land. Before doing so, however, we noted in the narrow valley ahead of us, a forested area – something we have seen very little of in this desolate realm. Could this be what the mongrelmen call Wadi? Wednesday, March 15th It did not take long for us to reach the forested area, but once we entered it our rate of travel slowed due to the unstable footing and the undergrowth. The woods there seemed to have a foreboding quality to them as if they were hiding some dark secret. And we could not shake the feeling that we were being watched by some malignant entity that had infested woods like some cancerous growth. Eventually though, we emerged from the woods to find before us a very pleasant valley that seemed to be hidden away by an encircling wall of hills and mountains. The stream ran through the center of the valley and at the very heart of the valley sat a village that was clearly occupied by scores of people. More people, in fact, than we had expected to find – much more, perhaps even hundreds. Most of these people seemed to be merrily going about their business, while children played and tended to chores. From about half a mile away, we could see several people working hard to plow a field, having to do it by hand as they had no oxen. A few columns of smoke rose from the village, most likely from smithies or other such places. To all appearances, it seemed to be a thriving community. This, we realized, had to be the so-called Vale of the Blest. But it was not what we were expecting and we were somewhat suspicious. So Redwald and Vance snuck in closer to get a better look. They were able to get right up to the edge of the village, in fact, and eves drop on a few conversations. After a bit, they snuck back and reported to us what they had learned. At first, they said, everything about the village appeared very normal. But the more they looked and listened, the more they began to notice some peculiarities. For example, many of the buildings had the appearance of old ruins that had only recently been fixed up. And from some of the conversations, Redwald and Vance got the impression that the villagers were still in the process of trying to organize themselves. It was as if these villagers had only recently arrived to find this village which had been abandoned by its previous residents. If that was the case, we could not help but wonder what had happened to the previous villagers? By this time, it was late in the afternoon, and we debated for a bit on whether or not to enter the village. We decided to enter the village though, in order to gather more information. So we dismissed our magical horses, since horses do not exist in G’Henna as far as we know, and we did not want to draw any extra attention to ourselves. Then we walked into the village. Almost immediately, we were greeted by friendly people, although many others were suspicious of us, no doubt because of our obvious weapons and our unusual appearances. But the mere fact that people went out of their way to greet us, demonstrated the fact that this was no ordinary village, but rather a large gathering of recently arrived pilgrims. We were invited by some of the people to simply find an unoccupied space in one of the buildings and make ourselves at home, and later on to come to the center of the village for a communal dinner. This, of course, confirmed our suspicions. So we did as suggested, although none of us were ready to leave any of our possessions unattended. We then spent the evening mingling with the villagers, some of us splitting up to get better acquainted with the people and ask questions. Later on, as the evening drew to a close, we met up in our designated space and shared what we had learned. This is what we have discovered: Nearly all of the villagers were indeed pilgrims who had only recently arrived – within a few weeks. Their leader is a so-called hermit by the name of Piet Dostoyevsky, who lives in a cave just north of the village. He is said to be a wise old man and a blessed disciple of Zhakata the Provider. Just inside his cave, according to some villagers who claim to have seen it, there is a magical, glowing pool of water through which the hermit speaks to Zhakata and from which, Zhakata provides food, much in the form of meat, to the villagers once a week. The hermit visits the village once a week and brings the food to the people on a wagon that is pulled by appointed followers of the hermit who live with him. Although the hermit occasionally visits the village at other times, usually to relate proclamations from Zhakata, he is not due to arrive for a couple of days. Perhaps most interesting of all, is that when the hermit brings the food, he also announces the names of a few people who Zhakata has selected to become special servants of his in a garden of paradise which supposedly lies in a hidden valley that can only be accessed through the hermit’s cave. It is said to be a great honor to be selected and those who are named follow the hermit and his men back to the cave never to be seen again. Also, no one seems to know what happened to the previous residents of the village. Considering what Lady Valerie told us about the Vale of the Blest, and assuming what she said was true, we are quite alarmed by the above information. According to what we’ve been told, the hermit must surely be the necromancer that consorts with demons, he is probably feeding to the villagers the very people he has chosen to serve Zhakata, and for all we know, his helpers could be ghouls in disguise! Vance did some scouting around in bat form as well, but found nothing more. Since the hermit did not make an appearance in the village tonight, we have decided to wait until morning, then go and investigate the hermit’s cave uninvited.