The Ashen Kingdom

An Inevitable Betrayal

You don’t get your throat slit in the dead of night by the Forest. Your allies can do that all on their own.
—Final statement of Gregor Balus, political dissident

Notice for the King

My liege. If you are reading this, the expedition has failed and the stronghold has fallen. Perhaps it was never even completed.

We write you this message, collectively, so that there will be no confusion on what transpired today.

The night we arrive at the mountain, a ghost made his presence known to us. It seems that Amaranth the priest and Gillard the craftsman were dishonest in describing their previous visit. They survived the encounter with the witch revenant, but Edlan did not. This is only because they conspired to sacrifice Edlan to the Fire Lord in return for protection for the night. Their cowardice drove Edlan from the grave and he has been harrowing our party, killing and wounding many.

Edlan’s spirit demanded the death of either Gillard or Amaranth. It was decided instead to trap the spirit in a magical weapon, something that is only possible with the arrival of Harold.

A shelter for the night was constructed, and a simple altar built. By early morning, all was prepared to capture the ghost. At this time, however, a great flock of birds rose from the trees and dove upon us. The mages and priests expended all their magic repelling the creatures. With sunset only seconds away, it seemed we had survived the night.

It was then that Count Petras revealed his true loyalties. He used watermancy to attack the party, even sacrificing Champ to false gods in return for more power. We refused to be defeated however, and by collectively sacrificing everything that could be thrown onto the altar, the Count was defeated. Champ revealed himself to be a messenger of Ziztheth, and after helping to slay the Count, Champ was invaluable in hunting down the ghost and binding him to a silver dagger.

It is the second day since we came to this place. Gillard and the earth mage have many plans for our defenses and the mine. We have left this note in a chest, warded with the best magic and blessing we could manage.

Ziztheth willing, you will never read this.

The Illusion of Safety

The trap was sprung and all was lost. Where before all had been silence, the Forest sprang back to life. Freya and his men heard it then; the trees were laughing.
—The Parable of Freya the Foolish, final stanza

Diary of Amaranth, excerpt

The night was fitful. [NB: word scratched out] continues to follow us. Gillard and I continue to maintain the lie, but I think the others, especially the Count, are growing suspicious. It does not help that [NB: same word removed] has taken to picking off stragglers.

We were joined last night by Harold of Greystone, a mage with even more skill than the last. He came out of the woods at a dead sprint, wide eyed and covered in fresh wounds. At first we assumed him a creature of the Forest, but he did not react to applewood, silver or iron. Count Petras vouched for him, and we have reluctantly decided to trust the newcomer.

I write this as we set up camp on the cliff face. This leg of our journey, at least, is complete. Once a stronghold is built, there is hope that we could begin mining within the week. I am shocked that optimism still exists within the group.

What Lurks Below the Surface

Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!
—Rallying cry during the 32nd war, after the death of King Garth

Excerpt from The Tale of Jeremias, a posthumous autobiography

Master Morrow was invaluable that day. He drove his body into the ground, though not literally as I had seen him do previously. The stone walls at first seemed sufficient. The rain was light and there was hope that the night would be without further horror.

Such hope was misguided, as it always is in the Forest. A hunting party of rath demons surrounded us. The trees moved to encircle our barricades. The significance of those trees was not understood for many days. Perhaps if something had been done in that moment, many more deaths could have been prevented.

At the time, a fire mage in our party carried Lux Bulla, which was used to drive the demons back and make repairs to the roof of our fort. The light barrier was assaulted by what appeared to be a demon shaman, but when struck with flame, the creature dissolved into water and steam. While trying to grasp the implications, we were caught unawares by a bolt of lighting. To this day I am not certain which of our many foes was responsible for the strike.

Once again in the relative safety of stone walls, my allies could only watch in horror as the fire mage was smothered by a tube of mud. This was yet another significant event that was not understood in time.

The remainder of the night and even the next day’s journey were uneventful. I know there was some terrible business in the early morning, but I was not privy to the goings on.

A Fool's Errand

Gurd: I hope my son does not die on the front tonight.
Pell: What is “hope”?
Gurd: Yes. I know the feeling.
Pell: No. What does the word “hope” mean?
Gurd: In truth, I do not know.

—The Trials of Father Pell, a famous comedy

Final Entries from the diary of Countess Petras

Wensel told me his exciting news at dinner. He has bid for and won the rights to the possible iron mine discovered last week. I do not look forward to leaving the safety of the palisade, but have kept any reservations to myself. He is overburdened enough without adding the worries of his wife.

The first day has been a disaster. Our party is overburdened with supplies and civilians. I am no expert forester, but father taught me enough to know how loud our expedition is. The Forest feigns quiet to lull us into death.

All is chaos. The sacred ash circle was broken earlier when several fae tore through our camp. Terrifyingly, closer examination suggests they were not fae but ice constructs. If that is the case, a watermancer hides nearby. Worse still, a storm is building. We have found a promising rock to make a stand, and Master Morrow thinks he can fashion a suitable shelter, given time. Everyone else is busy gathering wood or preparing the supplies. I feel so helpless with nothing to do.

[Ed. Note: The remainder of the page is damaged by ink and blood and is not legible. For obvious reasons, this was the Countess’ final entry.]

A Distant Rumbling

What good are the efforts of man, when even the ground trembles before the Forest.
—Gildred Thorn, condemned water witch

Abridged Report: Origin of the Tremors and Subsequent Discoveries
For the Eyes of the King

Witnesses confirm the quake began four hours after sunset and lasted between four and six minutes. The motion was not continuous but came in waves. There were minimal casualties. Property damage is still being assessed, but was substantial. Initial recommendation is to send a team of engineers and call for volunteer labor from the other states.

Following immediate recovery efforts, six scouting parties were assigned to sweep the Forest. The hope was to ascertain whether the earthquake was natural or Forestmade. After one week, four teams returned and reported felled trees throughout the area and an unusual absence of fae. Two of the returning parties were badly wounded. Sane members warned that several demon war parties are currently prowling the vicinity. The missing scouting parties were presumed dead and precautions against demon attack were made.

Nine days after the earthquake, a fifth party emerged from the Forest. Only two of the three members survived, and they were so Forest shocked that they were mistaken for undead. After being treated for Forest shock and numerous injuries, the party reported an incredible series of discoveries.

They fought and defeated a revenant of the General Witch. They claim, and the priests have confirmed, that she is truly dead and will not rise again. It seems some remnants of her army still survives under her banner and sought to raise her. That attempt was the cause of the earthquake. We are uncertain what to do about the remaining army; if they managed such a spell, then they are still a credible threat.

The scouting party encountered a pack of ghouls, who intimated that there was a vein of iron nearby, explaining the sudden absence of the fae. The party journeyed over forty miles into the forest and reached the base of the Shrouded Mountains. It was here that they fought the revenant witch, and here that they found the iron vein.

Samples were collected and brought back. Preliminary investigation is limited; there was only one trained alchemist in the camp. He believes this to be iron ore. His report and several samples are attached to this document. Obviously it is up to his majesty to determine how to proceed in this matter. Secrecy is being maintained about the discovery. All persons who were witness to the debriefing have been swore to secrecy. The scouting party itself is traveling to Black Plain now, but is expected to arrive several days after this missive.

—Captain Graves


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