Nether's Journal

Minala has told me to start writing a journal to help sort through my feelings about Coltaine’s death. She also said to be brutally honest with myself while writing. She knows I have no need to write anything down to remember – I remember everything. She claims that if I pour as much emotion into the pages as I can it will help me to set aside those emotions when pure reason is called for. I am skeptical of this, but perhaps the meditative act of writing will calm my nerves and ease my guilt. One can only hope.

After the orcs killed my coven – my family – Coltaine and Minala rescued me and took me from the only home I ever knew. We settled in Cassomir. They set me up in a large apartment (with the best door and locks money could buy) and a small tradesman’s cart. I set up my alchemy lab in one of my rooms and began a new life as an alchemist named Marie. Then they left me. They never explained why orcs had killed all my friends and family. They never explained why I had to change my name – as if orcs would dare pursue me in this huge city. They weren’t sure when they’d be back. All they told me was to be careful and trust no one.

The next month was difficult. More difficult than anything I’d ever done, including that wilderness survival course Coltaine forced me to endure three years ago. My daily routine was easy enough. I spent most days and nights making alchemical items. Once or twice a week, I’d fill my cart with my goods and wheel it to the market. There I’d also buy raw materials as well as food and drink for the next few days. But I did all this under the pressure of alertness bordering on the insanely paranoid.

I never went to market on the same days of the week. I took a different route each time. I avoided buying things from the same vendors (as much as was possible), and I never spoke more than was necessary to anyone. Even though I had invented an extensive fake background as “Marie the Alchemist,” I avoided giving out even those details unless I felt I had to in order to avoid looking suspicious. In a city of thousands, I was utterly alone.

This went on for nearly three months. I was beginning to despair that this would be my new life. I began to look for ways to contact Minala and Coltaine, but all my efforts were in vain. The loneliness began to weigh heavily upon me. I started doing things I knew I should not do. At random, I would dine out at a restaurant or tavern. I did my best to interact with people as little as possible by feigning a language barrier. No one speaks Old Azlanti, so that proved to be a good way to keep people’s questions at bay. So, although I was still alone in a crowd, at least I was in the crowd and that helped ease the loneliness.

Two weeks ago, Coltaine and Minala came to me. They burst into my rooms so suddenly I was two heartbeats away from blowing them (and possibly myself) to the moon with an alchemical explosion. They had the same look of panic combined with focus I’d seen when they rescued me from the orcs and told me to pack my things because we were leaving the city. Now. I had to leave my more extensive (and expensive) lab equipment, but managed to pack a portable lab kit along with my emergency travel pack, my weapons, and some clothing. In less than twenty minutes, we were in a wagon drawn by four powerful horses and barreling through the town at a reckless pace.

It was then that I started to notice things. There were numerous columns of smoke marring the roofline of the city – not the usual smoke of home and industry, but the thick black smoke of fires gone out of control. In the distance I could hear the whistles of the city watch blowing in numbers I’d never heard before. Something was very, very wrong.

When we reached the city gates, the portcullis was partially closed and there was some sort of battle. My first thought was that the orcs were attacking the city, but as we drew closer I could see the attackers were no orcs. The guards at the gate were being overrun by townsfolk, but this was no simple riot. The townsfolk were all walking dead and there were dozens of them! We ran down six as we charged through the still open gate, but I doubt that helped the guards much. There were just too many zombies and they were simply too fast. As we galloped out of Cassomir all I could was look behind me and gape in horror.

There was smoke everywhere. If each column of smoke represented a site of a zombie attack, then the whole city was under siege from within. Cassomir was lost.

Coltain and Minala finally started filling me in once we slowed the horses to a walk. What had happened to Cassomir was happening all over. They first encountered the zombie phenomena in a small fishing village on the coast. Once they realized the danger – that people bitten or killed by the zombies turned into zombies – the came to Cassomir as fast as they could. By the time they arrived, the city was already under attack and we were all lucky to have escaped the city alive.

After a few days, we joined up with a small caravan of refugees. As we traveled, the caravan grew. Once a new arrival turned into a zombie in the night and killed some fellow travelers before it was brought down. That’s when we first saw a corpse rise again as a new zombie and later we witnessed an injured soldier turn into a zombie as well. This caused much panic. People started to point fingers and make accusations. Luckily, a priest of Abadar and I were able to talk reason into some of the more authoritative wagon drivers. We started the process of inspecting any newcomers for bite marks and signs of infection. We set up a sturdy closed wagon as a quarantine wagon for anyone injured by a Zombie (or suspected of being infected). And this is how we made our way to Tribulation.

After passing through seven towns completely devoid of life, finding a place not overrun by zombies was a welcome sight. Whoever was in charge of the town gained my instant respect because they had the entrance to the town gated off (and were working on new fortifications) and had instituted the kinds of checks we had done in the caravan. My modesty insisted I ask for a woman to inspect my body for bites and infection and that’s when I first met Lady Merrideth D’Vire.

Our first encounter was strictly clinical, but she had an air if authority about her and a presence that filled a room. My first impression was one of nobility, calm, and composure in the face of adversity. Although she did not seem to be the mayor or leader of Tribulation, she was clearly a woman of influence and personal power.

Once we cleared quarantine, Coltaine, Minala, and I parked our wagon in the most defensible spot we could find and started discussing our situation. We quickly surmised that this town had been attacked, but had weathered the attack and was determined to survive. This brought me some hope and, strangely enough, a small spark of joy.

My hyper-vigilance soon singled out two more people in the town as being influential or powerful in some way. One was easy to spot. Aziik is a heavily-muscled warrior. I had thought him a mercenary at first, but I have since come to understand he is something more than that. The man is the most powerful warrior I have ever seen. He wields a greataxe like it were a toy and he backs up his raw power with a surprising combination of skill, tactics, and magical powers. The other was easy to spot. Ejderha is a Sorcerer with the blood of silver drakes running through his blood (and covering his flesh in silver scales). Ejderha is also a paladin or priest of Apsu and is able to magically heal as well as cast spells that harm.

I started following Lady Merrideth, guessing that if anything was going to be done, she would be the one to do it. I was not wrong. When another newcomer was spotted coming towards Tribulation from the wilderness, it was Lady Merrideth that rode out to meet him. The new man is named Maral Partheniad and he has antlers. After passing quarantine, Maral quickly joins up with the other three, as if sensing some sort of connection or even kinship. I must admit, I feel something as well although damned if I can identify it. Maral is an archer of uncanny skills and also has holy powers.

Something huge is going on here in Tribulation. It can be no coincidence that four people of prodigious power (two of them Paladins) have been drawn to this small town in such a time of trouble. If their presence is not coincidence , than I believe my presence is part of the conjunction. I may not have the same kind of power that these four have, but I am smart. I see patterns where others see only chaos. I am able to make sense out of nearly anything provided I can get a little information. And, best of all, I never forget – anything.

It was this certainty – that Time had brought me here at this exact moment – that led me to join them as they set off to the quarry near the town. The quarry had been attacked by zombies (a combination of humans and orcs) and some sort of creature leading the way. One of the orcs bore the same symbol I’d seen on the orcs who attacked my coven – the mark of Rovagug. Coltaine and Minala tried to talk me out of going with these four, but I was adamant that this was what I was meant to do. Once I said those words, they stopped arguing, looked at each other as if having a telepathic conversation, and Coltaine grabbed his gear to come with us.

I should have insisted he stay behind. I should have told him that all the patterns I was seeing indicated this was my path and not his. But the four were leaving and I had no time to argue with him and I knew that although he would believe me, he would still insist on going with me. And that’s why he’s dead. Because I would not take the time to convince him to stay behind and help guard the city. Coltaine’s blood is on my hands and I can never clean them off.

We were attacked on the way to the quarry. Six zombies (three humans and three orcs) were headed directly for Tribulation and we ran right into them. They were so fast! Their attacks were fearsome. In an instant they were surrounding us and we were fighting for our lives. I used an extract to make myself a giant and saw that Aziik can do the same thing without a spell or extract! I was forced to reveal the power of my hair as I constricted the head right off a zombie. For a few moments, it looked like everything would be alright.

That’s when a pair of zombies set upon Coltaine who was guarding my flank. They tore him apart before my horrified eyes. As he fell, the zombies, instead of feeding, moved on to other targets. Reason fled my mind. I raced to Coltaine’s side, ignoring my new companions, praying to Sarenrae that he was still alive. By the time I reached him, however, he was dead. As a knealt next to him weeping, he started to twitch. In a few seconds, the vile zombie curse had woken him! I screamed in terror and wrapped my hair around him to restrain him. Maybe if I could capture him, I could bend my powerful mind to a way to cure him! Maybe all was not lost. Those are the foolish thoughts that were running through my mind as my other companions fought for their lives.

Maral has already gone down under a barrage of zombies teeth and these distracted me enough that Coltaine was able to break free of my hair. He came straight for me. Any feelings he once had for me were gone – nothing left but blood lust and hunger. He tore into my flesh and opened the artery in my upper arm. I collapsed under his weight knowing that one of my last two friends had died because of me and in turn killed me for my carelessness.

I woke up with Ejderha’s hand on my arm and comforting coolness flowing into my body as his holy powers healed me. Maral had also survived his wounds, but everyone was hurt. We limped back to Tribulation where we were quarantined and spent the next several days fighting off the zombie plague. I didn’t even get to see Coltaine’s funeral. Minala is beside herself with grief. She blames me for his death and I agree with her. I am more alone now that I have ever been.

Here I learned from the four, that they knew (or believed) the zombie plague (as they’re calling it) was created by an evil cult. The cult was the unholy alliance of Rovagug and Urgathoa and they had discovered a way of bring the world to an end through an undead apocalypse. I also learned that if a zombie doesn’t kill you, it is possible to survive the infection. It hurts though. The disease starts to rot your flesh from the inside. While I recovered, I was wracked by cramps, cold sweat was common, and the smell, well let’s just say that necratzing from the inside means all the normal expulsions of gases we as people make smell much, much worse.

The miner in quarantine with us – the one who warned us of the attack on the quarry – died from the infection, rose as a zombie, and had to be put down. All I could see was Coltaine’s death replayed in graphic detail.

During this week of horror and pain and grief I was very close to giving into despair. The guilt of Coltaine’s death, the pain of the infection, the loneliness of having Minala turn her back on me, and the realization that the world may very well be coming to an end these things all started to destroy my spirit. But something deep inside me resisted. From deep within my soul, a wellspring of warmth, light, and most importantly, hope began to flow. Where had this reserve of strength come from? Had Sarenrae belatedly answered my prayers and touched me instead of Coltaine as some sort of consolation? I know not (and believe me, that’s a tough thing for me to admit). All I know, is that by the time I left quarantine, I was not ruled by despair. I had hope. The five of us were here in Tribulation. We five were willing to do things to make a difference. While one person still struggles against the darkness there will be hope. There will be light. As long as the sun still rises, I will fight.

I came out of that cell feeling more sure of myself than I ever had. But that was short-lived.

The five of us headed out to the quarry. Along the way, Aziik and Maral found tracks of zombies headed to the main road north of town. Although the monster at the quarry was our main goal, I convinced the others that zombies attacking survivors on the road was a scenario Tribulation could not afford. So, we tracked the zombies and found them waiting to ambush travelers. We killed seven zombies, but were ravaged in return. We limped back to town again and survived another week in quarantine. I battled despair and prevailed, coming out of the cell even more determined to bring light to the darkness.

We finally made it to the quarry and confronted a summoner and his eidolon. The eidolon took the form of a vrock demon, but luckily was not quite as formidable. The summoner was also an accomplished alchemist and while his minion tore into us with teeth and claws, the summoner took refuge on a high ledge and dropped flaming bombs on us and lit us on fire. During this battle, despair threatened me again.

I find myself not nearly as helpful to my allies as I want to be. Despite the power of my hair, I was unable to hold (or even hit) the eidolon. Even my own bombs proved ineffectual against the summoner. I was never even able to score a direct hit on him! Luckily, my allies are far more able than I am. Aziik’s skill with his axe and Maral’s skill with his bow were backed up by healing and spells from Ejderha and Merrideth they are the ones who won the day. I just took up space.

We killed the summoner and I gained his formulae book. We went back to town and, for once, did not have to spend time in quarantine.

My new allies are talking about assaulting a hobgoblin encampment near town. They say the hobgoblins have varisian slaves. While I abhor slavery, I don’t think we should just attack the hobgoblins. If they have not yet been turned to zombies, they may prove to be allies if they can be made to see that their survival may well depend on alliance with humans. I don’t think my arguments swayed anyone and I am no diplomat. Perhaps I will talk to Lady D’vire in private. She may understand the value of turning enemies to allies. I just don’t see how we can afford to dismiss any possible living, thinking “people” as allies unless they leave us with no choice.

Nether's Journal

Descended from Divine Ericthefish