Letters to Anna:
An Adventurer's Account by Torvald
:: Dearest Anna ::

A figure steps from the sunlight into the darkened interior of the Lonely Duck Tavern. The bartender, Gerolf, looks up casually to acknowledge his new patron and goes back to cleaning his bar with a filthy towel. Too many drinks and not enough exercise have made him into a quite overweight, and his lack of hygiene is obvious. He thinks about the number of times he's dealt with this same situation: a stranger enters the bar, orders a mug of ale, and doesn't even tip a slug.

"Pah, adventurers," he mutters under his breath, "barely worth the air they breathe.

The stranger scans the main room with a quick but thorough glance, noticing that even though it is ten in the morning this bar has fewer patrons than most. He moves slowly and cautiously, his plate armor glistens slightly through its dirt and grime. After sauntering up to the bar, he sits down on the least wobbly stool and sloughs off his overweight pack and undoes his weapon, a large and well-used bastard sword. With a low grunt he calls to the bartender.

"What kind of swill ye drinkin' stranger?" Gerolf asks in his gravelly tone.

"Nothing today my good man," answers the stranger, who quickly follows his statement with another cautious glance around the room. "But if you can do something with this, I might see fit to buy a few drinks for your trouble." He places small bag on the counter; it jingles slightly.

Raising an eyebrow Gerolf takes the bag and looks inside. 'More than slug today,' he thinks to himself, responding quickly to the stranger, "and what kind of drinks ye expectin' wi' this me good man?"

"Just a favor, and I need it done quietly." He puts his hands in his rucksack and pulls out a stack of well-worn parchment pages, each folded carefully and sealed with a blob of red wax, the stack has been tied together with a bit of string. "I need you to deliver these, the recipient is named Anna, here's where you can find her." The stranger hands the bartender another scrap of parchment with something scribbled on it. "If you do well, I see fit to stop in with another back of coin in the future."

Gerolf leans over and looks at the seal; it's an image of a wolf's head he hasn't seen before. He thinks carefully about the offer, wondering why the stranger can't send the letters himself. 'Who cares Gerolf, the stranger's offering gold, you haven't seen gold in weeks,' he thinks, 'just take the gold and deliver it, what harm can come?' He nods slowly and speaks, "I think yer offer's fair 'nuff, and the least I can do is get ye a mug of ale to seal the deal. What can I call ye next time yer in?"

"Torvald," responds the stranger, "and I'd be most obliged if you didn't share our little deal with anybody." He nods slowly and grabs the mug of ale Gerolf brings, "yes indeed, you don't want to tell anybody." With a final grin, Torvald takes a swig of the ale, sets the mug back on the bar, and lifts his equipment back onto his shoulder. "I'll bee seeing you bartender, I'm sure you've got some deliveries to make."

With a final grunt under the weight of his equipment, Torvald wanders out the bar back into the daylight. "It's a new town Torvald, you'll find what you're looking for," he mutters under his breath. With a final sigh, he moves down the dusty street, deeper into the town of Zhind, hoping to find what he's been looking for.

 
  On the Island - Day 4 (Evening)
 
My Dearest Anna,

After riding about an hour upriver we came to a spot where Luthien claimed heading due north would take us to the unnatural creature. We rode onward a bit further until we came to a grove of trees. Fearing the worst we sent Nitley ahead as a scout and if he found something, to pull the creatures to us in an ambush. He didn't return for a good twenty minutes, but eventually these unusual noises started coming from the grove. We cautiously approached the trees when we saw an unusual set of creatures. Humanoid in form they appeared to be green and leafy, but rather bulbous. They caught sight of us and started approaching. We started backing off when the first one lunged at Sylgen. An arrow flew from across the clearing (Nitley to the rescue), which immediately caused the creature it hit to explode in a puff of spores. They were hard to breathe through, and I sense that somebody with a little less fortitude may have had problems. Sylgen, Canaveous and I took the brunt of the cloud though and faired well enough. I dispatched the other with a single shield spike. We of course realized that these creatures could not be the one we were looking for and chose to press on.

The terrain eventually yielded to the rocky surface of mountains, and we believed at the time the rather copious moss coverage was due to our height in the mountains. Eventually (with Nitley scouting ahead on foot) came to a cave and he stopped to examine something in the ground. It appeared he was about to set a piton in the stone when the moss around us erupted in clouds of greenish gas, gas that immediately began eating away and Nitley's shoes and causing the horses to reel. In a flash Luthien, Canaveous., Sylgen and I started towards the grove of trees, a good half-mile ride by our estimates. Nitley started running on foot, but we could see him falling back quickly. Yanni tried to lend assistance but eventually had to charge away on his own. The entire ride to safety we started crunching over the skeletons of those who previously fell victim to this monstrosity.

We survived the run for about a minute before the horse disappeared in a puff of smoke. First Sylgen took a dive, followed by Luthien and then me, and Yanni. Canaveous rode his horse hard and stayed on its back longer than any of us. Luthien quickly drank a potion and began flying back in an effort to rescue Nitley. The rest of us were running for our lives as quickly as we could. I helped pick up the speed of Canaveous and Sylgen, while Yanni zipped past all of us and Luthien took his time flying back. We all survived the run Anna, but Canaveous' and Nitley's boots were damaged beyond hope. We did rescue a breastplate though in the chaos, which read something along the lines of "Centurion Guard." It was well worn and old; we guess a belonging of the previous island inhabitants.

We were forced to walk the rest of the way on foot, and started back toward the fork in the river and buildings we were originally attempting to explore. It was a long hike, but fortunately beyond a single natural creature, we were left alone. Unfortunately that creature appeared to be a giant blood-red skunk, and sprayed Sylgen a good one. He still stinks, and I wish it had been an improvement over his normally odoriferous self.

We made it to the fork, and we can see some pillared ruins across the river. Luthien spoke again with the natural world and informed us that there was what he could best describe as a city to our east. Tonight we rest, tomorrow we explore. Yanni's also broken the bad news to us that he cannot cast his more powerful spells, and has been unable to since he set foot on the island. Tonight we're going to see if it's anything any of us are carrying. This is not a good thing, and it does jeopardize our way home. I must take my leave though, it's been a long day, and I require a bit of downtime myself. As always, do not fret for my safety, it's going to be a long time before I come back, and I watch my back always.

Lovingly,
Torvald
 
 
 
 
  On the Island - Day 4 (Midday)
 
Dearest Anna,

We've broken for lunch today and so far we haven't come across anything terribly exciting, which is always a good thing. After leaving the mill Yanni summoned mounts that could only be described as ghostly steeds. They were quick on the hoof and could cross terrain impassable by normal horses. We headed further up the river into the mountains to the lake Yanni had seen from above a few days earlier. The lake was quite beautiful and serene, it reminded me of Lake Undar when we used to take trips into the mountains, calm and quiet.

Yanni floated into the sky to take another long-range view from above while Luthian spoke with the natural world through his God. For a leaf eating do good he's been quick on the draw and his attunement to the natural world has proven invaluable. I like Luthien, he just often thinks too hard of saving the people on this island who do not exist, and I fear that one day he will bring us into a situation in which we have no right to be involved. After about twenty minutes or so Yanni returned and told us that he could see the next lake, but if we wanted to take the easy path along the river instead of taking mountain passes it may take us an extra day.

Luthien's abilities also told him that we're still the only people within range; it also told us that there's another larger structure up at the next river branch. Luthien also detected something between the structure and us just a little off our river path, something he described as "unnaturally powerful." We've agreed to take a small detour (mainly because our horses are so quick) and examine this creature. I'm hoping it's not something we can't handle. I'll write more later.

Lovingly,

Torvald
 
 
 
 
  On the Island - Day 3 (Afternoon)
 
My Dearest Anna,

We've rested up nicely from the encounter with the living black oozes. After an inventory both Sylgen and I discovered that we did have some minimal equipment left. Luckily for me my lucky ring survived as well and lets me move on a little easier. We returned to the barn and farmhouse and found it completely abandoned. It was at this time it was brought up that we needed to nominate a "group leader."

I'll tell you Anna, it is times like these that you identify your true allies, or if you're fairly certain of their alliances, who has the sense to recognize leadership. Yanni was chosen on a three-to-two vote with Canavous sitting out (if he had been able to vote, I would have pulled it off). One of the things I've learned through my training is that everybody has a toolbox, and most of those tools are quite useful. While Yanni has some truly spectacular tools in his toolbox, leadership is not one of them. He's far too quick to react and doesn't always consider what's best for the group. Just as you would not ask a carpenter to set stone, we have a similar situation on our hands. When he fails though I will be there, and will gladly fill the opening when the situation arises.

After the vote and a quick discussion we decided to press on and leave the barn untouched; it just wasn't worth our time and effort. Having the most of the day left to us, we started up the river. On our trip up river we were attacked by what can be best described as tusked lions that appeared to be like walking bushes. They surrounded us before we could react, and three quickly mauled Yanni and Canavous. We all fought back quickly and efficiently and either killed our routed all of our enemies. It was perhaps the easiest encounter we've had on this accursed island.

Later in the afternoon we came across a fork in the river, and few new structures that included a mill. None were in nearly as good of a condition as the previous farmhouse, but after examining them closely we decided that they would make for a very strong defensible position for the evening. Tomorrow will be heading upriver some more to a large lake on Yanni's magical horses. More when we break at midday tomorrow.

Lovingly,

Torvald.
 
 
 
 
  On the Island - Day 2 (Evening)
 
Dearest Anna,

This letter will be short as I'm afraid I had to borrow this parchment and a quill from one of my fellow travelers.

Today was perhaps one of the most grueling days I've encountered so far. If this kind of pace continues, I'm afraid I may not make it off this island alive. We assaulted the barn we came across in an attempt to discover what was within. After setting ourselves in a classic flanking maneuver, I helped Sylgen throw open the barn doors. Much to our dismay, that was perhaps the biggest mistake we've made in awhile.

The doors opened a large foul corpse fell from within; it was easily as tall as two men. We then saw swarms of large mosquito like creatures, maggots the size of Halflings, and a pool of blackness which oozed our direction. Sylgen started taking swathes out of the enemies before us, but when he came to the ooze, he cleaved it cleanly in two; both halves operating independently. It didn't take long for Sylgen and I to become engulfed in the black masses. Fighting for our lives, they started dissolving at the flesh and armor. While not completely aware of the situation, I hear that Luthien and Yanni were fighting for their lives as well, the mosquitoes draining blood with their enormous proboscises. Yanni also had problems casting his spells, something about being countered or some such. I don't understand all the magic mumbo-jumbo, but if he said there's a problem, there is.

Canaveous and Nitley came to my rescue, helping me escape from the pool. We killed remaining oozes quickly and attempted to close the doors. At that time the realization that our equipment was gone, and our weapons and armor were damaged severely hit us. Unfortunately our strength was not enough to close the door and we faced another wave of mosquitoes. They nearly took down Luthien, Yanni, Canaveous, and Nitley, but we did defeat them. Closing the door we took a survey of the area in an attempt to find the one who supposedly countered Yanni's magic. Not finding anything we fled to higher ground to lick our wounds and plan for a counterattack.

Our campsite was actually quite good. It consisted of a smallish wooded area on a large hill overlooking the area. After setting up a defensible perimeter, Luthien helped tend to our wounds, and Sylgen and I took an inventory of what was left, which was not much. Later that day Sylgen did catch us dinner, a large horse-like creature which should feed us for at least a little while.

Follow-up: We have returned to search the house, making sure to keep a wide berth from the barn. There's been no signs of any people or other creatures, and we're certainly not opening the barn in an attempt to find more. Hopefully things will begin to lighten up, but for now I'm afraid the situation may be dire. Don't worry about me though, I can take care of myself, and with Canaveous' help, I should be fine.

Lovingly,

Torvald.
 
 
 
 
  On the Island - Day 2 (Midday)
 
Dearest Anna,

My letter will be quick as there is much to do. We set ground yesterday and set up a small camp in a wooded area with clear views to the hills surrounding us. With Canavous' help we were able to set up a watch schedule that requires more time on watch, but allows for three simultaneous people to be awake at any given time. Fortunately for me I can live without the sleep. Last night on watch a flying creature with large leathery wings flew by the camp. Though it startled those on watch, it did fly by without noticing us, but gave those who saw it a sense of what we will encounter.

Canavous and I have been chatting. He's eager to learn as much as possible. I sense that he could go a long way, and perhaps one day soon I'll chat with him about his future, I think he could be more than just a valuable ally in my adventures.

Well enough chitter-chatter, I need to break camp and head off. Luthien has been using his Elven magic to help us explore more efficiently. He noticed a cluster of buildings up the river that we're planning on exploring. I hope my stack of letters does not grow too thick before I can send them to you again.

Always lovingly,

Torvald
 
 
 
 
  On the Island - Day 1 (Afternoon)
 
My dearest Anna,

It has been nearly two weeks since my last letter, but I fear you will not read this for many months. The sea crossing was difficult at best, and easily matches some of the worst sea journeys I've ever encountered. The first week went by easily enough, and I did my best to help out even though I was outside my area of expertise.

Luthien warned us though of a pending storm, a vision from his God. The storm hit hard, tearing at the ship with gale force winds and terrible fury. The sea got the best of me, and I spent a good amount of the storm leaning over a barrel. Yanni weathered the storm strapped to a mast, and told us of dangers such as waterspouts and whirlpools.

After a day or so the storm broke and the sun again shown through the clouds. We sailed on to the island, and struck up a bargain with the captain. He agreed to take us around nearly half the island, and agreed to set us ashore when we requested. When the island appeared on the horizons it was beautiful, untouched and virgin; a new land waiting for discovery. The cost started as forest, and quickly gave ground to plains. We traveled further and watched the beaches turn to rocks, waves breaking against mighty cliffs where the terrain turned to mountains rising out of the water. Eventually the cliffs settled, and we were met with lightly wooded hills. It was here we set ground and made it ashore.

We're setting camp now, I'll write when I have the time again.

Lovingly,
Torvald
 
 
 
 
  Herbert Harbor - Day 6 (Evening)
 
Dearest Anna,

My stay here in Herbert Harbor has been fruitful. I've been assisting the town guard assessing the training techniques of their militia. In the process I met a younger man named Canavous (pronounced Kuh-nay-vus) who displayed talents above and beyond the typical food solider. We talked for a bit and I learned that he was a member of the original expeditionary force who located the area for settlement. He had been trained in forward observation and was now delegated to common guard duty. We talked for a bit, and although he knows very little about me, asked if I could use a hand in my upcoming journey. After discussing it with the rest of the group, they agreed that a scout would be of some significant use and agreed to let him come along for half a share.

I can see him going far Anna, for he does have a fighting style reminiscent of the Emerald Guard of old, using quick motions and a polearm to amazing success. Someday once he's earned my trust, and I his, I may tell him a thing or two, but for now, I'll train him to the best of my ability, and he does seem extremely interested in historical battlefield tactics. We'll be leaving tomorrow for sea, and I may not be able to find a courier for some time. May the gods of love bring you warmth on these cold winter evenings.

Lovingly,
Torvald.
 
 
 
::: Teachings ::

By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

-Sun Tzu: The Art of War

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