Journal of Alabaster Nethembal, Cartographer

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[The text of the journal of Alabaster Nethembal, Cartographer, is written in a black, looping script on soft off-white parchment. The text is mainly composed on two pages, with a depiction of the statue of Branwen and Rook on a third page with the caption "The statues of Branwen and Rook, as depicted by Milosh N." In the picture, there is a shorter humanoid with a raven head wearing a white doublet, wielding a longsword in their right hand and holding a flame-like aura in their left hand. The figure on the right is taller, bearing a crystalline crown, and is similarly a raven-headed humanoid. He holds nothing in his hands but his left claw is covered in aura that licks all the way up his arm. Both figures look up slightly and to the center.]

24 Mareshyir 1120, Day of Life

The journey has been a difficult one, lying low and dodging patrols of Kingdom soldiers and battle-worn shambling undead with my crew. We received word and set out from the hamlet serving the Baron's now-quiet manor that Knoch'Len was managing to evacuate civilians elsewhere. We are not fighters, but mere cartographers and surveyors, I would not know the first thing about tilling a field or swinging a sword to defend our group. Upon reaching the outskirts of the town, a guard in the familiar blue and black colors directed us through barricades after checking through our belongings. Fortunately, the rough-handed high orc who scrutinized our cartography supplies seemed satisfied with our explanation and pointed us toward the aptly named Dead Walk Inn at the center of town. There, finishing their breakfast, exchanging potions, checking over gear, and clearly recovering from one battle and preparing for another, we found a motley crew of adventurers. I have long thought of them as merely mercenaries who cause more problems than they solve, but I could not help being grateful for them. Selunari, humans, dryads, elves, and even a man who appeared to be some sort of snake or reptile-kin covered in knives and resplendent armor came together to escort us.

Milosh, Emil, Hargrim and I disappeared into the crowd of about - no, precisely one hundred civilians - that were to be given passage. A sack was passed back through the ranks while we hung back, to place anything they could use more than we could, a collection in gratitude of their aid. At the end, it rattled with weapons, shields, potions, elixirs, globes, and scrolls. The group we had spotted in the tavern served as an advance guard, fighting their way through undead ahead while others protected the flanks and rear of our terrified rabble. I did not see where the sack ended up, having been jostled into the middle of the press of people smelling of aromatic herbs, livestock, and sweat - a heady mixture I was happy to be rid of when we passed through the swirling portal under the observation of a tall man who seemed to be a raven Wylderkin until closer inspection gave an otherworldly feel to him.

On the other side, even before the crowd dispersed, there was a change in the air, the taste of sea breeze, a cool freshness and a smell in the air I could only describe as clean and sweet. It was quieter here, murmurs instead of shouts as people reunited with their families and our group reconvened away from the portal mouth to gape at what we saw. The colors here seemed starker somehow, richer, like the leaves were made of fine-cut jewels. We were by a harbor, and the one ship in port had sails that looked like massive raven wings, currently folded and furled as though the craft was sleeping. Looking for signs of where to go while our benefactor was busy on the other side, I found a tall statue, about fifteen feet high, of two raven fae that the plaque identified as Rook and Branwen, with the words on the plaque seeming to warp to be readable in my native language, "May this port give safe harbor to all in need." With minimal exploration down the path, our group was able to find the Crow's Nest, the local tavern. The buildings here are of starkly beautiful but simple construction, and there is a definite theme of black and white in the banners and decorations. Nobody seemed to be staffing the tavern as of yet, as if it was a void waiting to be filled by those who came through from Knoch'Len. The mood around the Crow's Nest seemed relieved, relaxed, and congenial, with members of all sentient races, even lofty Biata and brusque High Ogres offering to help one another and sup together.

At least to start, the people who filled in the tavern shared what they had and a few tentatively began working the kitchen to make a meal for everyone before guards wearing the colors of Barony Mercer came to join for a meal. Afterward, they directed groups to set up small encampments near the heart of Port Morgan, urging us to stay together. Apparently there are blood-thirsty fae even here, called Redcaps for the blood they drench their hats in! We were assured that guard rotations would preserve us while we slept, but such is the way of things even seemingly outside the dangerous lands of Barran. It would not feel like a home if something were not trying to murder us in our sleep, would it?

As the light fades, I lay down my pen and prepare for what tomorrow may bring. -A. N
 

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[The text of the journal of Alabaster Nethembal, Cartographer, is written in a black, looping script on soft off-white parchment. The text is composed on two pages.]

25 Mareshyir 1120, Day of Chaos

Emil, Milosh, and Hargrim settled into a hastily-erected tent with me last evening, and the only interruption I had to my sleep was Hargrim's snoring. From speaking with others who stayed awake, there were no dead walking at night in this place, apparently a separate plane entirely. We gathered our things and made for the Crow's Nest, blinking away soft morning light that seems to radiate from the center of the sky in a more diffuse way than that of the sun in Barran. Upon shuffling into the tavern, we headed to the kitchen window to be greeted by a Selunari woman named Nadiya, recognizable as one of the advance guard who guided our gaggle to the portal to Port Morgan.

In fact, Emil pointed out a number of faces he recognized from the group ahead of us. Zyrim, the Snake-kin was there, wearing a similar bracer to the Elf lad known as Quinnley, with the sword superimposed over an open book and a gear made of crystals. When Emil asked, the Elf man with long dark hair and markings on his face explained it was the mark of the Collegium, a group we have never heard of. Apparently, their group hails from another continent entirely, including the Elf woman who made short work of some nasty skeletal minions with her sword, who he referred to as Ellie. Emil thought better of asking the man where the feather-sword he had been wielding had gotten off to, probably for the better. There was a tall and willowy dryad around as well, though they headed off to explore, apparently part of another group. Another dryad named Willowbeard remained as well, but the coppery-haired healer in green that had been ahead of us was nowhere to be seen.

After taking something of a brunch and talking with the patrons of the tavern, it was midafternoon by the time we left out at our own leisurely pace. It was good to have some time in which we were not being harassed on all fronts or ducking into underbrush to save our skins. When we stepped out, there were groups of travelers coming together to barter goods or offer some of their own supplies to help one another. Some who had come through before and were more established loaned blankets and gear to others.

There are many strange sights to set the eye upon, including the odd fauna of this new region. I am not well versed in the natural sciences, but I have never seen a clam with legs and feet sprouting from its sides, much less four of them. The strange beast roved along by the shoreline, occasionally being ambushed by other odd creatures or even children with sticks, but none of them seemed able to so much as slow the ponderous stride of the clam-thing. Though the parents pulled their children back, the odd thing simply roved on its way, unbothered and seemingly unharmed by the assaults. Either it is a gentle and patient beast, or it did not so much as feel the assaults as more than a bare nuisance.

In the evening, we were drawn as moths to a flame to a bonfire outside the Crow's Nest. The raven fae in the white doublet, who I confirmed to be Branwen from the statue (though nigh only a third the height of her representation), had a line of people by a table. For parts of the evening, she offered healing without any requests for payment or recompense. Later, she drew a thick deck of monochromatic cards seemingly from nowhere and asked those who felt moved to come and hear their story. When we asked after the other half of the apparently famous pair, it was explained that Rook was further into the settlements, dealing with the Redcap threat while Branwen watched over the refugees.

As the diffuse light in the sky dimmed into twilight, we took our dinner outside from the tavern and sat to listen to tales of the land. Some whooping archers came back, a couple of strong-backed young hunters and adventurers carrying a pig with wings. A pig with wings! Apparently in this fae land, pigs do indeed fly, and produce quite succulent bacon. There are no blighted fields here, but trees that soak in the heat of the midday, their branches drooping with frozen delights. Tomorrow, we will have to take some of them when we set out to survey and map these new lands. It is the least we can do with the hospitality we have been shown while in this strange new land.

-A.N.
 

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[The text of the journal of Alabaster Nethembal, Cartographer, is written in a black, looping script on soft off-white parchment. The text is composed on two pages.]

26 Mareshyir 1120, Day of Knowledge

On rising, I realized that we were able to once again sleep through the night without so much as a death rattle or clang of steel on bone. Even Hargrim's snoring couldn't pierce the veil of restful sleep, especially after I found a tincture to help clear his sinuses from a distractible old woman with a long tangle of white hair, named Molly. After rousting out the group for breakfast at the Crow's Nest, we found Nadiya keeping the kitchen in ship-shape, prep cooks falling in to help her and clanging to and fro back in the hot bowels of the establishment. She was quick with service and with the news that there would be another group arriving in about an hour, if we were missing anyone. Though our group is complete, we resolved to help them when they came through the portal.

The portal opened out near where the bonfire was before the Crow's nest, a rip in the air that disgorged even more civilians and their protectors than had been in our group, but none we recognized. Some wore the colors of their area, Barony Valgard to the West of Knoch'Len. When a new town had been established in their lands, we had been sent to survey and map it, and for Hargrim to put his services to work dowsing for a few wells to serve the farms. The people from the lands seem to be in good spirits and of sound mind, and were receptive to our curiosity. To our surprise, they told us it had been nearly a week since our departure from Knoch'Len, stating the day they came through as the Thirtieth day of Mareshyir, but still in the year 1120. Time seems to move differently from here in Port Morgan to back in Barran.

Apparently, Baroness Valgard sent troops to Knoch'Len to help protect those still in the town in exchange for safe passage for some of her citizens to Port Morgan. None have seen or heard from King Zatarum of Islan Tel'Nava since the fall of the capital city. As we talked to some of their scouts, they seemed suspicious at first but relented once they realized we were given passage to Port Morgan and had no problems there with the Knoch'Len residents.

The constructed hounds that used to harass unsanctioned ritual casters have now been heavily patrolling regions to find and slay undead, with one even guarding Knoch'Len itself. Its very presence has been driving town guards from their patrol routes to give it a wide berth, but to all accounts it has made quick work of the undead it has set upon, taking them apart like a hunting dog would shake apart a cheaply-made doll.

For the morrow, we have prepared our team to head into the interior of the plane from the port. When we return, we hope to have valuable information, and have recruited someone who is a natural scientist of sorts to our group to help document strange flora and fauna of the lands. I will leave these few journal pages with the tavern mistress as the start of this plane's grand saga. Perhaps someone will pick up from here, and if that should not come to pass, I hope that this will provide a good groundwork for those who explore these lands next.

Fare thee well, or as they say in this port, fair winds and following seas!

-Alabaster Nethembal, Cartographer, Expedition Leader
 
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