20 Spring 219

I am Alamion, captain of the fith company, tenth regiment of the Ild-An army. We fight under the command of Marshal Qayyan who, it is rumored, learned his trade from the same teachers as the Golden Emperor. Qayyan has two armies under him, ours from Ild-An and another made from Releven and Soubous. All together we are almost 100,000 strong in two fleets of about 250 ships each. We sail to some far shore to claim whatever we find there for the glory of the Emperor Sidir, so that it can be said the known world is defined only by the limits of his power. This is my third such expedition for His Glory.

I and my fellow Asperian officers lead these 250 dark-skinned human men from the north. The Golden Emperor, in his wisdom, has allowed these savages to live provided they fight for him. They are not great soldiers, much that comes easily to children of Soubous or Aspera is hard for them. I won't even attempt to compare them to the halflings of Releven, who are born and raised for competition of all kinds and see war as the greatest of all contests. What I wouldn't give for a company of native-born halfsies! They aren't altogether hopelss, though. They are a very tall, very strong breed of human, and they don't seem cowardly. If I can teach them to fight with some kind skill then I might make something of them.

35 Spring 219

Shangtana does not like the ocean. Traveling by sea is hard for the horses, but they do their best. I visit her daily to feed and groom her. The Annies call her my guardian spirit, which isn't far off the mark.

These men that I lead - they live under the protection of the Empire but they have little meaningful contact with it. They send their tribute, and live under the Soubous law (which is the most enlightened in all history). But they still live in their grass huts under the canopy of the dark Ild-An jungle. Untill they were conscripted by their own people as tribute to the Emperor, I think none of them had seen a city or even a town of more than a few hundred people. They have their little river boats, and a few larger boats for fishing in the bay, but nothing like the massive warships we sail in now. They exclaim in wonder at every common thing, this world is so new to them.

During the day we form them up on the little deck space we have and practice shield and spear manuevers. I decided the train them with the spear first because that is most like their native arms. But teaching them to move and attack as a group is hard and they do not take the exercises seriously.

At night I teach them the Emperor's language, and my officers and I have learned some of theirs. I know some people will think learning the black tongue is a waste of time when the Annies should be learning our language, but I do it anyway. I am as curious about people who have lived for so long without benefit of civilization.

40 Spring 219

I trust today's lessons will not be soon forgotten.

Today I hit on a plan to teach these men the superiority of our way of fighting. I arranged to borrow a squad of Asperian men from another ship, and pit the largest of them against one of my Annies, a huge fellow named Xachem, with blunted weapons. It was a good rousing fight, and neither man gave quarter until Xachem felled his opponent with a closed fist. It took us forever to wake the man up, but he came around eventually and the two men shared a cup of grog. Everything is better with an extra ration of grog.

After that I formed opposing lines with the Annies on one side and the Asperians on the other. The Asperians of course won easily. Just to rub it in I had them do it again with a two-to-one advantage in favor of the Annies. The Annies cheated (rather creatively I might add) but lost again.

44 Spring 219 *

I caught my first glimpse of a black ship today, one of two that carry the Emperor's Dread Lords. Our ship passed within a hundred yards of one during maneuvers, and when it did we all felt a awful blackness which oppresed all of our senses. I can only hope our enemies have nothing to match whatever is in those ships. That, and I hope never to stand in the presence of the thing in that ship.

I am on speaking terms with the magician on our ship, who is a halfling from Aspera. Magicians are supposed to forsake family and country ties when they join the Academy, but this doesn't stop Ryhaco from being friendly -- when he can be found, that is. He spends a lot of time shut up in his little room with his books, his little jars full of strange powders, scribbling diagrams, doing whatever his kind do. He has an apprentice, the human girl Nuhane, who sleeps on the floor in what looks like a pile of rags. She is obviously frightened of him. Sometimes the two of them come out on deck when the wind is still and chant to the air to make it blow again. Ryhaco says that alone they can make a little breeze, but with all of the wizards on the other ships working at the same time they can bring up a gale if they wish it.

Ryhaco says the Dark Lords weren't born, but made by the Emperor himself. The life in them is granted by some fel intelligence from a far-away world that knows only order and cruely. It is plain he admires these qualities, and well he should. He wears the black stripe of personal service to the Emperor.

51 Spring 219

Last night something in the water grabbed one of the ships and pulled it down into the sea. All we saw of it were huge coils, like a snake. I think the magicians conjured a beast to fight the creature, and drove it away. Anyway, it didn't sink any more boats. We pulled fifty survivors from the water. The hundred and fifty missing men are presumed drowned or devoured.

After the magical victory over the creature Rhyhaco was feeling especially garrulous, and told us these waters are normally far more dangerous. But even the giant sea creatures know to avoid so large a fleet.

55 Spring 219

The men are doing better at their training. We have progressed to breaking the line and also learning the sword. They laughed at the wooden practice swords until I used one to beat one of their number. I told them they would receive steel swords when they were worthy, and not before, even if it meant sending them into battle with swords made of wood. It was said in haste and I regret it now because I will have to honor my word even if it means their deaths. Maybe they will be more motivated, knowing they will have to fight with dull wooden tools if they do not find my approval. Otherwise, how will I explain to my major-captain why my men fight with practice swords?

It may not matter anyway. All we have for the men are rough iron swords that bend when you hit too hard with them. Good hardwood banded with a little bronze is maybe better. Given the choice between too little food and too little arms, feeding the men might be the better choice.

10 Summer 219

The fleet has divided. We have gone west, while the other part of the fleet continues north. The black ships have both gone with the north-bound fleet.

41 Summer 219

Land has been sighted! It is only a string of islands, but they are a welcome sight. We have been at sea for all of Spring and then some. We will be putting in to shore for a week to gather whatever supplies we may and discover what we can about these islands.

42 Summer 219

We have put in to an island covered with many large hills and made camp there for the week. The shore is a rocky and difficult landing, but the main of the island is sweet grassland. Shangtana and I took advantage of a few hours to gallop around. Between us, she is the most glad to be on dry land. We gave a little demonstration of mounted combat for the Annies, much to their amazement.

Nuhane, the arcane apprentice, likes the horses. She and several of the Annies come around to watch the officers drill and train. We've put them all to work grooming the pack animals. The warhorses are picky about who handles them and tend to bite. Maybe we will teach some of them to ride, though I doubt we could ever make real cavalry of any of them. There just isn't time.

45 Summer 219

We found a large nest of trolls today, and seven men from the batallion were lost. I doubt the trolls realize there is an entire army on their little island, or they would have hidden. Tomorrow will be the reckoning. The commander has announced we will draw lots to see which of the Ild-An companies will engage the trolls.

46 Summer 219

Today went very well. My company and one other were chosen to dispatch the trolls. We attacked during the day with nets and fire, to great success. There were no injuries on our part that won't heal fully, while the trolls were completely destroyed. We put their bodies to the torch and sacked their little village.

To hear the Annies cheer, you'd think they had won a major engagement. I hope they do not become overconfident.

I have heard that sixty men from third company tried to desert last night. They thought they would try to steal one of the smaller boats and take it to the other side of the island, then sail home after the rest of us had gone. There is some talk of whether it is more deterrent to the others to put the deserters to death or give them punishment.

49 Summer 219

The Annies petitioned Battalion Commander Ghaucia to deal with the deserters themselves, and he allowed it. They took the men, bound them, then pierced them through many times with spears. The bodies they threw onto a fire while Ghaucia, Qayyan, and the other officers watched. One of the Annnies, an older man who is some kind of shamman, gave a speach to the officers which I translated as well as I could:

  • These men were given to your divine Emperor, he of the golden robe, as a sacrifice to appease him and spare our people from destruction. They deserted our people when they deserted the Emperor's service. If these men had lived well we would take some of the flesh for our own and give the rest to the animals of the forest. They would live on in us and in the forest, and we would remember them. But they failed their people because they were cowards and betrayers. We burned their bodies so they will not be remembered by any living thing.

The Commander and the General signaled their acceptance and the affair is considered finished to everyone's satisfaction.

Ghaucia is an elf so old that you can see his age, which my grandam would say is a very old elf indeed. In the days of Emperor Mosyph, the Golden Emperor's grandfather, it was Ghaucia who fought Releven for two years with an inferior force until Mosyph arrived to conquer them. That a man once held in such high esteem as Ghaucia should be leading a mere batallion of a conquered people is surely a sign of some great disfavor. He bears it well though. If you didn't know his history you'd never think he was in any kind of disgrace.

62 Summer 219

Two weeks out of the islands against a contrary wind and we have come to what the navigators say is a great expanse of land, greater by far than our homeland of As-Perod. The wizards are mapping the coastline as we follow the shore eastwards looking for, I presume, a good place to land. The wizards tie themselves to their ships and grow thin and widen until they kite into the air on the end of the jute sail-lines. I wonder if a storm blows are they in danger of drifting away until they are lost forever? One can only hope.

67 Summer 219

The fighting started at dawn. We usually start at dawn because that gives us all day to fight. My Annies were angry at being held back, but I assured them they would get their turn.

We have discovered the Orcish people who escaped As-Perod at the end of the Seosur wars. A hundred and fifty years ago they would have conquered us if Mosyph hadn't the foresight to unite the kingdoms. After the orcs were mastered some took to ships and were never seen again. Now we know where they went. Our orders are to kill every one of them, no matter how old or young.

The orcs don't have cavalry but they have ferocious dogs that lead the attacks. The dogs would be more effective against Asperians whose horses are afraid of these beasts, or agains Soubous troops who seem afraid of animals of all sorts, but the Annies are used to far worse beasts in their jungle homelands. Behind the dogs are heavily armored orcs. Not all the Ild-An warriors have taken as well to the army as mine have, and the lead ranks were soon broken, and my company was called forward to fill in the gap. I told them they could take the swords of any orcs they killed to replace their wooden ones.

Fewer than one in fifty died, and one in twenty seriously wounded -- an excellent result for such a pitched battle. There would have been even fewer casualties but we have no priests to heal us, because the gods will do nothing in Sidir's cause. I imagine that is why the Golden One has killed most of them.

I'm even more pleased that all of the survivors are armed several times over with the cruel-looking orcish swords. The extras will be melted down and reforged into proper infrantry weapons.

True to their word the Annies took a small part of flesh from near the heart of each man who died and cooked the meat into a kind of thick soup with mashed tubers. They left the rest of the corpses on the ground in a place where the scavengers and bugs could find them. I scandalized the younger officers by partaking of what they dubbed "soup of the dead". I will not dismiss the deaths of men who fight bravely, savages or not. When the hard days come, which they ultimately must, these men will remember who trained them and who honored them. Men will not long follow commanders who piss on their graves.

37 Autumn 219

I have seen Nuhane in the company of one of my Annies, a kindly fellow whom we call Oloberry because of his knack for finding the little berries that grow secretly all over this land. Her master will surely punish her if he discovers her rendevous.

68 Autumn 219

A long entry today, because I have much to tell. We have laid siege to the city of Cross Maschaket, and there is plenty of time to write. Sieges are boring by nature.

For a whole moon we marched back and forth over the countryside, killing and burning and pillaging. It was not soldiers' work, only butchering. The Emperor must want to punish the Orcs for the Seosur wars -- I can imagine no other reason for what we did there. Some of the men, even my own, raped or tortured the orcs. My lieutenants and I put a stop to those practices but it was costly -- we had to execute fifteen men. I know from experience the thrill of those very pleasures. This is not my first campaign for the Golden One, and I know better than they what danger lies in such unholy appetites, the shame, the dreams.

Soon after the affair of the deserters we were visited by an occupant of one of the Black Ships, who is called Lord Erekguzar, Governor of these new lands which has been named Monadran. With him was the family of Captain Obbert. Captain Obbert was the officer in charge of the sixty men who deserted. To punish him the Governor had his family abducted, killed, and their bodies animated with foul magics. His wife, a young son, and two daughters were collared and chained like dogs by the captain's tent. They said the most foul things to him in their unnatural voices, things so terrible I can not bear to write them. To silence the abominations that were once his flesh and blood, he had to dismember them and throw them into the fire. Erekguzar would allow no-one to help, so all his fellow officers could do was just stand and watch him butcher his family. He started with the youngest, used his sharpest sword to take her head clean off then threw it into the fire to quiet it. Her body escaped from the collar and tried to attack so he had to sit astride his daughter while he carved her into pieces. I will say no more, it is too terrible.

I don't know what sort of creature this Lord Erekguzar may be. He is shaped like a tall human, but he not a man. His skin is everywhere metallic, black, smooth, but rings like mail when he moves. His dress is white with the Emperor's gold stripes, but he radiates shadow and fear. Rhyaco has told me before that their bodies are made from cold iron but their intelligence comes from some world that does not know compassion. He spoke to us, to me, told me he knew the hatred in my heart. He takes pleasure in knowing I would betray him if I could but that I daren't. He knows that I will butcher for him endlessly for so long as I am in his power.

This brings us to Cross Maschaket, a great city that straddles a river in a fertile plain. The people here call themselves gnomes and are small, as short as the halflings but far more clever. Even the meanest little hovel has some little mechanical or magical wonder to it, like self-closing doors or wells that gush water when a lever is worked, or carriages that move when you work pedals with your feet. The villages all around the city are burned and any who would not surrender or escape are slaughtered. This work was done by the army that continued north when our fleet turned east, and now both armies are camped around the city.

The gnomish war machines have a longer range than ours which has twice forced us move our position farther from the walls of the city. Instead of throwing massive boulders with their war machines they throw smaller iron balls that explode above us, showering our forces with deadly hot metal shards. It was one of these killed my mare Shangtana. I am stricken and glad at the same time. It pains me to lose her, but I am glad she won't be doing the Golden One's work any more. I hope our gods will forgive her and take her spirit.

Obbert was also killed in the same barrage, same as some of my annies. I have both companies under my command now, but the first test of my command came quickly: Obbert's Annies respected him and wanted to eat him as one of their own. I could not allow it because those are not his ways, but we reached this compromise: We will pass bread and wine over his body and eat from that. This seemed to mollify them enough. Obbert's mare Nightbow has accepted me for a rider, and for my part I have woven a braid from her hair and tied it into my own. In my mourning anguish I secretly cut some flesh from near Shangtana's heart and ate it while her blood was still hot. Maybe my close association with the Annies is making me more savage, or maybe it is the war, but I felt her stir in me.

Tonight we are building our own war machines based on the gnomish design, thanks to the (unwilling) help of Sprittersprocket Pelligon. (All the names here are ludicrous.) These are even smaller than the gnome machines, so small that four men can carry one with ease. I can't imagine how they will be effective against such thick walls. But Ghaucia has a plan and the blessing of Qayyan to pursue it.

89 Autumn 219

The gnomes are busy lately. They sally out of the city in large numbers in an attempt to lure us onto the field in range of their war machines. Of course most of the troops are not real, and we are supposed to think they won't throw their bombs so close to their own people. Our wizards are better than theirs, and we aren't falling for their tricks.

The mystery of the small throwing machines is solved. After they were built a group of men went out at night with a dozen of the machines to approach the city walls. They loaded the machines with specially enchanted spheres which they threw over the walls. The balls are small enough to escape notice, and hundreds were thrown deep into the city. The special detachment of men were already returned when the screaming started from inside the city. That might be why the little guys are so pissed off this week.

It is the eve of the new year, the so-called "Year of Unity".

10 Winter 220

Rhyaco discovered his apprentice's love of Oloberry and beat her with a staff until one of the offiers intervened. She might not live, but it matters little to Rhyaco: he has thrown her out and burned her book of spells. By nightfall he took two gnome women as slaves in her place.

When Nuhane is healed up some I will put her to work with the animals. Rhyaco is terrified of the warhorses and won't go near them.

27 Winter 220

We have been ordered to withdraw from the city, every fifth man of the Ild-An army, and go up river with Dark Lord Azzadh. This will not end well. I know dread Azzadh drinks our fear of him like honey, I can feel him like a leech on my neck.

I hate my life, but the gods do not forgive suicide.

30 Winter 220

The river, which we have named Meander, flows into the city through a large barred opening and travels down a deep canal that divides the city in half. Azzadh's plan was to move the river, and thus make the canal approach assailable. With the lives of ten thousand Ild-Anians, our men, he made magic powerful enough to carve a ditch miles long -- far enough to spill the river onto a new course.

According to Azzadh they were only savages, but they had their uses. I could only think that some fourty of them had been my savages, whom I had led there like cattle to slaughter. There was nothing left of them, not even dust. Nothing to take back to their fellows. Nothing to eat. Nothing to remember them by. Azzadh laughs at the hate we feel for him, our impotent mutiny.

The assault worked, and we took the city. We drained their river on a festival day and, sure of their defenses, the gnomes were drunk and slacking their guard duties. We were inside the walls and out of the canal before many of them even knew what was happening, and by then it was too late for them. We have orders not to sack the city. Sidir the Golden thinks gnomes will make useful subjects.

Ghaucia has been promoted to brigade commander, and he promoted me to batallion commander. Tomorrow Ghaucia's entire brigade will begin "peacemaking" patrols, which is another name for murdering any who resist the Emperor's rule. I would feel privileged to serve under him, if only it were in the service of someone worthy.

52 Winter 220

Tonight I and fifty of my best Annies murdered some of the batallion wizards and bound and drugged the rest. I am amazed that everything went so smoothly, but then it was Ghaucia who laid the plans. They were peculiar from the start, but I have decided to trust him utterly.

We were far afield when he and I found ourselves alone on a high hill surveying a town we had just set to the torch. He said to me, "If I told you there was a chance to stop all of this, would you follow me? Would you follow me blindly even at the cost of your life?" I told him that my life wasn't worth living and pledged myself to him on the spot. He gave me a small leaden box and told me not to open it, but to bury its contents someplace where it was unlikely to be found, farther north than any of our men. The Black Lords could become aware of it once the box was open and seek it out, but it needed to stay hidden for at least three days after opening.

I took a company of men and rode patrol for several days until I was certain we had passed north of any place our combined armies had been, then buried it in the earthen floor of a house that we had been forced to "pacify" that day. Then we rode south to rejoin the brigade at the appointed place and time, where we poisoned the wizards and killed the ones wearing the white stripe of the Emperor or the black stripe of the Black Lords. The remainder we bound carefully, those wearing the green stripe were not to be harmed under any condition, aside from the poison that made them unconsious.

I did not kill Rhyaco myself but put daggers into the hands of the women he had injured, Nuhane and his two slave gnomes. They did not hesitate to serve him the justice he deserved. The gnome women are branded as slaves and can never be freed (another sin on Rhyaco's part), but I will take them under my protection that noone else can claim them. What I will do with them is beyond me.

It feels good to rebel, but I can't imagine that the Black Lords will allow it. Are the other brigades doing something similar? Have I done my men a disservice by involving them in this rebellion, albeit unknowingly? The horn has sounded and the charge has begun, as Harran used to say, the time to turn back has long gone.

54 Winter 220

Ghaucia has defeated the Black Lords! I don't understand how he has done it, but their bodies lie on the ground as lifeless as the cold iron from when they were made. We don't know if we should be joyous or terrified.

Around noon we could see the emperor's terrible servants in the sky, flying in the shape of huge dragons coming to kill us. Word had spread about what was done to the wizards and people were afraid. But when the lords changed their shape and their feet touched the ground in the center of our encampment, they fell down lifeless. I do not say "dead" because can anything that feels no compassion ever be truly alive?

We have woken some of the wizards with green stripes by administering an antidote and liberal amounts of cold water. They are taking the bodies to places where the black spirits can not find them again. One goes into deep water while the other goes far underground. We have broken camp, but we are leaving most of our things behind. Our most important job now is to reach the city as soon as possible.

60 Winter 220

There is too much to tell in one sitting. We marched to Cross Maschaket as fast as the Annies could handle it, traveling light. Qayyan and many wizards are missing from the Ild-An army and nobody knows where they have gone. The Soubous/Releven armies are missing their top officers and are in disarray.

There was a skirmish line waiting for us as we neared Maschaket plain and for about a half-hour we fought against parts of the Soubous army and some Releven bear-riders, but they lacked the tactical skill to fight Ghaucia. Our black Annies are so competent now that we officers were able to leave them in charge of the infantry and form a small Asperian cavalry. Once the two lines were engaged we came up from a dip in the land and bore down so hard on the bear-riders that they broke and ran. It didn't take much longer for a truce to be called.

Ghaucia now rules Cross Maschaket and both armies, as much by diplomatic skill as by his superb skills on the battlefield. Once all these matters were settled he made a speach. It was long, but I have tried to record the most important parts. I can not capture the beauty of his delivery, which won the hearts of one hundred thousand people on that bloodsoaked morning, but here at least are some semblance of his words.

  • The world has changed. The Emperor Sidir has been denied his heart's desire to sit with the gods. His power is reduced. His Black Lords are defeated. His magicians and his foul priests are cut off from their greatest sources of power. From this day forth the rule of Sidir, who is but a man and will always be but a man, is in decline. The day is swiftly coming when he will be no more and the nations of As-Perod will be break free from his vile yoke.

  • So great are that man's sins that he alone can not bear the burden of them. What the gods gave to us, their third children, they are now taking back. The world we know is shrinking, being unmade as we speak. From all directions our world closes in around us, and it will continue to recede down to the very first lands our races once called home. It is our fate to live in these new circumstances, but it is our fate to live. If we can only outpace this un-creation of the world, back to the shores where the gods first made our kind, we will live.

62 Winter 220

One of the warhorses, an ageing stallion named Barley, has taken a special liking to Nuhane. He follows her around the camp like an oversized dog, and refuses to let anyone near her without her explicit consent. He lost his rider, company commander Theldeon, during the skirmish with the Releven army and will let noone else ride him. I may have to teach Nuhane to ride him just to keep from wasting such a fine horse.

Nuhane has assumed Rhyaco's position and has taken charge of the two gnome women, whose names are so long and complicated I can't catch them. We call them Lori and Suzie for short. That takes one problem off my hands. I will have to find an Annie to take her place with the grooming.

66 Winter 220

The dead are rising. Some people have ignored the instructions on how to prevent it, or did not get the word. Sometimes we find them on the road, looking for flesh to eat and we stop just long enough to put them down. We get the job done and move on.

The two armies and the inhabitants of the city plus all the towns we pass form a collum a hundred feet wide and 2 1/2 miles long. Some of the mages have been sent ahead to prepare more boats or figure out how to transport a million people from these shores to As-Perod. Ghaucia has commanded them to find a way or else be left behind to find their own ways home. So many of their traveling spells no longer work, I think they might really be worried about being stuck here.

The mists follow behind us slowly yet they are unstopable. When the gnomes first saw it they tried what I had done only a few days before and, believing it to be only a mist tried to walk through it. Like everyone since then they were turned back. Since that day we have been traveling south to the sea.

I think we are five days ahead of it now. Some people have tried to stay behind but always are rebuffed by the magic. For the natives here our arrival has spelled the end of everything they know. Those who don't trust us run, and we let them go. They almost always come back when they realize they can't get through the mists. Of those who don't come back I have no knowledge nor can I afford them much thought. There are so many people to move and feed, every day is fraught with difficulty.

84 Winter 220

One million people are afloat on the waters of the North Ocean. I know because it is my job to count them. It is a greater floatilla than the world has ever seen. Even Sidir has never fielded a navy like this, carrying an entire race of people from the farthest limits of the known world.

Somehow, we launched the last fleet of ships even while the mists were encroaching on the shore. I myself boarded the last boat of the last launch, as I had been commanded by Ghaucia to see everyone off to sea or be left behind. He is no less adamant than the Black Lords were, but at least if I die it won't be while sacking some pointless village.

Accounting for the men we lost in the campaigns and the gnomes of Monadran who have joined us, we had only one fifth of the ships we needed. By the time we arrived at the ocean teams of shipbuilders and others had cut all the planks needed for the new ships. They must have felled two forests for that much wood.

To build the ships the wizards used magic and the raw materials to duplicate the ships we already had. They required blood to make so much magic, but for once it didn't involve bleeding someone to death against their will. They only needed a little from everyone. When the ships began to take shape people cheered. They cheered a lot less when we gave them their first lesson in seamanship. It seems gnomes don't like water very much.

8 Spring 220

We had a lot of problems in the first two weeks, and four ships took on water and sank. We have too few experienced sailors spread too thin, and we have lost an entire fleet of 100 in a storm. There are bitter disagreements about where we should go, and Ghaucia refuses to make a decision until he must. It won't be long before I will have to execute someone to head off a revolt.

I am not sure about the loyalties of the wizards, even though Ghaucia says they don't follow Sidir. We killed his chosen magicians, the ones with the black or white stripes on their robes, before we even left Cross Maschaket. It bothers me that they are always silent, never speaking except when spoken to.

Even Nuhane doesn't speak much, and she either can't or won't explain why her kind are so somber. She says only that magic doesn't flow the same as it did before, leaving them in very changed circumstances. The Academy is, I suspect, in disarray.

39 Spring 220

News from home: Sidir has blamed the shrinking world on the Fey, who live east of the river Yeron. He thinks the Second Children are jelous of him and are trying to destroy him, so he is mustering eight hundred thousand to march into Gon-Perod and intends to lead them personally. This, in spite of the Fey pledge not to oppose him as long as he does not cross the river. If he didn't dare attack them when he was full of power, how will he conquer them when he is reduced? I am sure he still has plenty of power, especially if he can still build a large army, but we know almost nothing about the Fey except that they are powerful and capricious. The gods made us because the Fey would not worship them.

As soon as we heard the news Ghaucia declared we will sail to Ild-An to the long sandy beaches of Ilnongo bay. There is enough room for all of the ships, an easy tide for beaching and launching, good land for provisions. Once there we will decide the final disposition of the fleets. Some people think they will sail against Soubous. Others want simply to go home. The gnomes have nowhere to go and there isn't a nation anywhere in As-Perod that will take the better part of a million new people. I fear many of them will end up as slaves.

Ghaucia claims to know just where the new edge of the world will be and that Ild-An will be a safe place to stay and take council. It wouldn't surprise me if he already had a plan in mind. I have watched him from close quarters long enough now to understand how he works.

There are numerous pages missing here. From other sources we know that the flotilla headed first to Ild-An. There they stayed for a few months, repairing ships and deciding where to go. A war between the various political camps was narrowly averted. In time, Ghaucia took the council of the Sun Oracle. Most of the fleet was split into sections, each one sent to deliver its occupants to their respective homelands, while the gnomes were distributed among the various fleets. A few small fleets of ships crewed by Ghaucia's followers he kept to himself, to seek out the other five known Oracles of the day, to learn if the Emperor was dead and how to undo the mists. Alamion was the captain of one of those fleets, charged with finding the Oracle of Air.

This part of Alamion's journal begins in Charan, a fishing village in the far northwest of Ess'Tina. He has three ships: the Crux Pentabulator, the Far Moon, and the Wave Rune. For a guide and translator he has been given Edima, a woman who is in some kind of disgrace.

75 Winter, 221

Our guide's name is Edima. She fell at my feet the moment she saw me climb up to the hut where she is staying with Lori and Suzi. She is a broken tearful thing: I haven't the heart to ask her why her king would treat her the way he did, and I haven't the means to undo the harm he worked on her. The worst of her injuries have been healed by father Lyon, and she move around easily now, but her face and body are still covered in bruises. Her face looks a fright, and the notch in her ear is clearly visible when she isn't wearing her hair over it.

Edima's Imperial is fluent, and she apparently has traveled all up and down the coast of Ess'Tina. In secret, Lori tells me that Edima is a seer whose power has faded in the last year. Of course, nobody has told these people of the Veil. This explains her king's displeasure, although not the vehemence with which he expressed it. Knowing too well the ways of cruel and powerful men, I can guess. I have forbidden anyone to ask her.

We leave this place tomorrow.

81 Winter, 221

More sailing back and forth, more charting. We are working our way south, and stopping anywhere along the way that seems friendly to ask about islands covered in clouds or mists. There are rumors of a ring of islands farther west, but you can't get real navigational information from anyone. These people are not deep-water sailors: the move from island to island for trade and for fish. The only time they venture into deep waters is by accident or misfortune.

Edima is healing well, and is proving indispensable. A few days ago while we were at the outermost line of islands, we were hailed by an attractive woman in a boat being rowed by three very muscular men. She invited us to her home, and so appealing was her every look and word that all three ships' captains were ready to run their vessels aground to spend the evening with her. Edima recognized her as a sea hag in disguise, and the men as ogres under a spell. Edima tricked the hag into betraying herself, which broke the illusion. We drove them away with arrows and ballista. By keeping them at bay, we prevented her from using her terrifying gaze on us. Edima claims that looking upon the hag at close range will kill most people.

84 Winter, 221

The new moon has passed without incident.

1 Spring, 221

In Aspera the planting has begun. The winter beer is being turned out and the elves are expected any day, to trade their wares and songs for Asperian silver. The trees are budding and the river ice is yielding. Soon will come the spring rains, cool and gentle. Although I have journeyed far with these people I look forward to the day I can build a home and walk my own fields.

There is a large portrait here of Edima, an exotically beautiful woman who is the team's guide and translator.

17 Spring, 221

At last we have found the sacred island, farther out to sea than expected. We charted the whole region and despaired of ever finding it but Skera spotted the island's cone rising out of a low cloud bank. From the sea it looks like a great rock sticking out of the water, and nothing more than that. The waters around it are warm and at night steam rises from the sea obscuring the land which is what kept us from finding it sooner. The fauna here are unusual and must thrive in the hot waters. Several times we have seen huge forms circling the cone of the central mountain.

We are trying to find a place to land our ships, but we must proceed with caution. The shoals here are dangerous.

19 Spring, 221

What looks like a single mountain from the sea is in fact a perfect ring of peaks with a great bowl in the center, ten miles in diameter, the lowest parts of which are covered in dense forest. This is according to our scouts who have been as far as the edge of said forest.

The only viable approach for a ship is from the northwest, where the ships must thread a series of reefs which are only possible in between tides when the water is somewhat still. A small boat can make the trip in daylight with minor difficulties, but a large ship must take great care, as the Crux Pentabulator (a craft obviously christened by a gnome) learned at some cost.

During the troubles on Ild-An and our dangerous voyages since I have watched Nuhane, like so many in our band of questers, blossom. She is perched on the very tip of the bow leaning far out above the water, a living figurehead, clearing the water of occlusion by magic to make navigation easier. From the foremast Seaslim the pilot pipes his shrill signals to the wheelman to guide him through the shoals. The remainder of the crew stands ready to adjust the sail or trim the lines. So much precise and easy teamwork fills me with a sense of harmony with all things.

Our scouts have marked a channel that cuts through the ring of mountains to a bay with calm waters and good anchorage. We will land and then set out on foot.

A picture here of Nuhane, a human woman in a sailor's outfit, standing on the forecastle gesturing at the water below. An old sailor stands behind her, one hand raised in the air and two fingers of the other in his mouth as if to whistle. The channel waters are rough, canting the deck considerably, and an uneven line of markers outline the channel.

20 Spring, 221

We camp on the beach tonight and begin our search in the morning. We will take a force of fifty to the interior and leave the rest behind to replenish supplies and repair the Pentabulator.

Here again are the quatrains for the temple of Iyeru:

    • On cauldron stone of elder gods
    • Amid the jeweled isles of Kord
    • A spire is thrust above the sky
    • Where mortal man may learn his wyrd.

    • Follow red Iyeru's eye
    • into Tygea's hidden bier
    • Bring you not white dove nor ram
    • But wood for offering pyre

The cauldron is obvious, as are the jeweled isles of Kord. The spire seems to indicate some kind of summit or tall outcropping of stone. The second quatrain is more difficult. We don't know what Iyeru's eye or Tygea's hidden bier may be. The wood must be for a burnt offering, or perhaps is itself the offering.

We know only that sacred tasks must be accomplished at midnight of the new moon, or else we wait a month for another chance to obtain the blessing. This small window of time, of the whole month, is all that is alloted for passage between this world and that of the gods, since our world was cut off from them. That the gods have preserved even this small window is proof to me of their intent: they may turn their backs on us their creations, but they will not forget us.

An illustration here of the ships' three captains plus Nuhane, Oloberry, and Edima. They are shoehorned into a small captain's cabin around a table strewn with books, maps, charts, instruments, food, and goblets. They are laughing or singing, and Cpt. Antine is shown playing a lute.

22 Spring, 221

The innermost part of the island is indeed thick forest, with many ancient trees that grow to gigantic proportions and whose leaves are as large as a man. Even more remarkable are remains of settlements among the trees: platforms and stairways made from the living wood high above the forest floor. If elves were prone to sea travel I would say they built these houses in the sky, but as a race I have never heard of them going over water in large numbers.

We stumbled on what must have once been a thriving city on a low hill, crowned by what must be the grandest tree in the cauldron. We are sheltering here and exploring in all directions for this "red eye" or "hidden bier" or a spire of any kind. We thought to climb the tree and look out at the mountains for some prominent feature, but mists from the heated sea always obscures them.

It is frequently raining here, which is depressing. Maybe that's why the old inhabitants left. Other than the daily downpour it is quite beautiful. There is plenty of small game, and more kinds of birds than we have been able to count. Snakes thrive here too, but thankfully only a few are poisonous. There are no large animals here, which explains the seeming lack of predators on the ground. The large flying creatures we saw from the ocean are still unexplained, but we have had no glimpse of them since approaching close to the island.

26 Spring, 221

In retrospect the clues were quite plain. Funny how they seemed so opaque at the time. The only real difficulty was the burnt offering. We brought with us plenty of wood and arrived (after hours of climbing those damned stairs) with plenty of time to spare. Our problem was that we brought too few weapons, and lost four of our number to the creature that attacked us at the peak. The monstrous bird swooped down on us, plucked our people off of the spire, and threw them into the ocean hundreds of feet below. We slew the beast then burnt him where he fell as an offering near midnight.

The oracle that resides in that place appeared to us, and we made our request. The response was unexpected.

    • I can give you what you seek, but it will not avail you in the least. The task you set for yourself is not yours to perform, nor that of your children or their children after them.

    • The mortal hands of clay have drawn a line
    • which gods in secret anger have surveyed
    • to topple throne of one man's gilded hate
    • and those who through inaction gods betrayed.

    • Seven times around the white dawn stone
    • turns the path to mother's hard embrace;
    • its trod by four young gods she greets with draught
    • that none who live today can ever taste.

    • Though long are years of darkness man must bear,
    • atonement will those wandring gods repair.

A small illustration of Verald, a deckhand on the Wave Rune, holding a bunch of flowers. He has been heavily bandaged, but looks pleased.

35 Spring, 221

We are giving up the Crux Pentabulator as a lost cause. The damage to her keel was greater than we at first believed. Packing all her crew and equipment into the remaining two ships will be tight, but we will manage. We have laid in a store of fresh water, jerked fish, and fruits from the forest. It is only a month or so from here through the Stavengard and then Eastward to home if the weather holds.

57 Spring, 221

The new moon has again passed without incident. Being at sea is an advantage, since improperly buried bodies are not as likely to find you there as they would on a well-traveled road. The proliferation of undead is maybe the worst aspect of this new arrangement.

60 Spring, 221

I have reported to Ghaucia finally. Some of the expeditions have failed utterly, their members lost. The people we sent to the Ild-Eldir were turned away by the oracle there, and tried to force their way into the temple. The defenders were adamant, and there were few survivors from our party. The dwarves allowed Ghaucia into the deepest forge to speak with the spirit of fire, who merely informed him that his days of doing the Gods' work was over. The expedition to the ancient depths hasn't been heard from.

I am astonished and afraid, that I helped to work a change so great on our world. I have done my best, and the gods will judge me as they may.

Ghaucia has granted me my resignation. My fleet will set sail for Ild-Eldir in the morning, where Ghaucia will be waiting. I will relinquish my command and my sigil of the key, then ride south to my homelands.

67 Spring, 221

I am nearly free. Ghaucia asks one last service of me -- to attend the Rite of the Goddess in Oxhed and ask our question of the Oracle there. Of my original company of 50 Asperian knights, only myself and four other remain. They go with me, as does Edina in whose company I feel most at home. I hold little hope that the Goddess will accept me into the sacred grove, given all that I have done.

My life as a man of the Empire thankfully draws to a close. I only have this last act, which I do in truth for Ghaucia more than for the Empire.

88 Spring, 221

The trip from the mouth of the Yeron has been more difficult than our passing over the deep waters between Ild-An and Releven. The caravan has been assaulted three times, but even a score of outlaws are not a match for five Asperian cavalry.

It being the day after the new moon, this morning we were almost overrun with zombies, which was gruesome but not terribly dangerous for us. It was easy to track them back to where bandits were unwisely dumping the bodies of their victims and storing their ill-gotten gold. It is a respectable haul.

29 Summer, 221

The Oracle of Te has disregarded my question about the Veil, perhaps because I already know the answer. She instead laid her hands on each of us then departed. I felt nothing at the time, but as the day has passed I wonder if I don't feel something moving in my heart.

Our time waiting for the moon to turn has not been idle. King Oriole has granted me a small estate, between the Silver Hills and the great forest. It is fair country for horses, not too far from the city of Straight and not too close to the frontier.

This then is my last entry in my journal, which I leave to the archives along with my old life. I have no desire to look back. I take with me only the treasures I have won with honor.