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Entry 23: Riloth 19 the 20th

Dear Spellbook,

I don’t know what happened. Yesterday, I’d planned to scout the road, and only the road, but I think you know me well enough by now to know that didn’t happen. I don’t even remember the end of the day, but I hope you can help me with that.

Yesterday, Riloth 19th the 19th, shortly after writing Entry twenty two, I walked out of the Parlor. On the way out I picked up the book I’d been muddling through from the Parlor’s small collection of fiction for guests.

In the market, I’d decided against buying apples for my lunch; the thought of them made me want to vomit all over again. It's going to be a while before I can eat those. With no real pressing matters or tasks, I found the opportunity to finally see what these stalls had to offer. One in particular caught my eye, selling exotic produce from beyond the surface of the Continent. They had dwarven cave moss, which looked like dirt-caked hair but had a pleasant nutty smell. I will need a lot more resets to get over the appearance of that one. They had many new oddities, but I spotted a familiar one in sea sponge cakes. These cakes are harvested by the sea folk and traded to the surface for beef; the seafolk love beef. The sponges taste like scallops, but have a much spongier texture and take a lot of chewing. They make a good travel snack to chew on all-day treks if you don’t mind smelling like fish the whole time. Still feeling queasy—mentally and physically—from before, I passed on the savory delicacy.

Pomegranate, which I'd never had before, became my lunch of choice that day. The vendor, Erok, explained how they were grown by the druids on the floating mats that roam The Ocean. He then went on to tell me how fortunate I was to arrive when I did because these were his last four and who knew when the mats would return to land for trade. Clearly, he was trying to make a sale, but I indulged him anyway, buying four at his outrageous price of two silver each.

While he spoke, I concentrated on sensing his color—that's not a great term for it. I need a better one, but nothing touches on this that I’ve ever read about. I hate to use the word, but aura fits. Auras are “theoretical” energy fields said to surround everything, typically referenced by want-to-be-druids and “traditional” magicians. I put traditional in quotes because the people who bandy the term are charlatans, known for their lack of any discernible magical abilities—yet somehow they gain followers. Those who frequent them claim that some crystal cured their troll elbow, or some mundane animal’s horn cured their infertility.

I digress, I will use the term aura for now, for it fits, though I highly doubt any of the aforementioned practitioners ever saw what I am seeing now. Possibly one did long ago and coined the term?

I sensed, without seeing the color in my eyes, that Erok’s aura was the dark green of shaded grass. A single color, like everyone else I’d examined thus far—except for myself. I allowed this new sense to return to my vision, and the color that covered Erok’s skin matched what I’d envisioned. Feeling the building headache already I quickly banished the aura sight.

I can’t call it that. Aura sight? I’ve been toying with a name, but I am hesitant to use it. I suspect—but have no proof—that what I’m seeing is Will. I know that sounds crazy, but it's the only common factor. Magic is just the harnessing of the Fonts through the use of one’s Will. Will is the essence of the gods—what they gave more of to make men more than beasts, and what they used to create the Fonts. I don’t know why I see the world as grey, spellforms as white, and people and magic as colors, but I don’t know what else it could be if not Will. It certainly makes more sense than auras—though the term is useful to describe what I see.

I think for now—though I have no proof—I will call it Will sight. If it proves an incorrect theory, you can edit the phrase out for me before anyone reads it, and this last paragraph.

I momentarily took you out of my satchel, to make room for the pomegranates, which may have been a mistake. As soon as you were spotted, whispers broke out in the crowd, and it parted around me. Looking up, I felt nervous, exposed, and frankly a little embarrassed at the attention.

Erok’s face paled, and he contemplated his sales tactics and the possible ramifications of an angered wizard. I paid him no mind, and once my bag was sorted and you were hidden once more, I turned to search out the horse trader Daulf had met on the first iteration of the 19th. While scanning the market for the man, a woman collapsed at my feet, taking me by surprise.

"Master wizard!" she cried as she clutched my legs. "I beg of you! Help me please! Please, I beg of you!"

Not having legs you probably aren’t aware of this but it's very difficult to free oneself from another who is clutching them.

I didn’t want to embarrass myself trying, so I gently tapped her head and asked, "Could you please get up, and explain yourself?"

I tried to come off calm and reassuring but it ended up sounding like a child asking his mother if he could go out and play. I need to work on my wizardly air of authority.

At my voice she looked up, and then around to see the crowd that had parted around me was now staring at her. She stood up, dusted herself off, and wiped the tears from her eyes as she tried to recover some of her dignity.

"Please master wizard, I need your help. No one would aid me except for a wandering knight, but even he hasn’t returned!"

"Ma’am, I understand you need help, but what exactly do you need help with?" I asked her again.

"My Gerald! He's a woodsman, has a permit from the Parlor and everything to hunt these woods. He was hunting to the south three days back, and he hasn’t returned! Please, please, please, I beg you! I’ll give you anything, but find my Gerald!" she pleaded and by the end was in tears once more.

I considered a moment, and then said, "Alright, I will look for him, where was he last?"

And just like that the plan to be methodical and thorough in my search ended. It lasted a whole half an hour from inception to foil.

I can explore the area later, it's not like it’s going anywhere.

It took her a moment to register my words but when she did her face lit up. Pulling a hand-drawn map from her own satchel, she explained that her husband always hunted from a camp along the southern road. Taking her map and leaving her with assurances that I would look for him, I continued with my plan—at least partially—bought a horse and set off south.

I purchased the most "agreeable" horse the trader had to sell, not that there were a lot of choices. He had only three to choose from, a plow horse, an elderly charger, and the donkey we had purchased originally. I named the plow horse Ian, hoping a name would help us bond better. I don’t have the best track record with horses. It's not that I don’t like them, it's that they don’t like me, as if they can tell that horses in my company tend to not have good track records of—well—survival.

Astride Ian, I meandered through the bustle of the refugee camp, and down the road south. I traveled for an hour before seeing the lightning-struck tree the woman, Beatrice, had told me to watch for. A few minutes past that, I spotted a narrow trail into the forest, far too small for Ian's massive plow horse frame. Dismounted, I patted Ian on the rump to shoo him back to town and set out down the trail.

There, not every horse I encounter is doomed to die or be stolen by bandits. Though, I suspect Ian won't always fare so well with me in these resets.

I won't claim to be a woodsman, if I did, I suspect Roland would emerge from the shadows and chastise me—that was and will always be his department. Even Bearskin’s hulking frame traversed the forest more gracefully than myself. Branches crunch under my feet, animals flee at my coming, and I can’t tell a wolf’s print from a bear’s. That being said, whoever had walked this path before me made my passage look like a field mouse's in comparison. Branches were cut by a blade, leaves were trampled, and the footprints of heavy armored boots were clear as day.

I followed the knight’s path—or possibly the path of a sword wielding elephant in full plate—and came to the campsite Gerald maintained. A neatly ordered stack of covered firewood stood next to a lean-to, and the ground had been swept clear of leaves and the typical detritus that filled the forest, leaving hard packed dirt. All in all, it looked quite cozy. Taking the opportunity to rest, I unpacked my pomegranates and sat for a quick lunch before following the destruction further into the woods. Chances were good that if the knight had gotten this far, he’d encountered whatever was keeping Gerald.

Pomegranates were not good trail food and my quick lunch turned into a long one. Their skin was inedible and tasted quite awful if you tried it. They don’t peel easily, and they are full of more layers of skin that you must pick the fruit out of. The taste is amazing though, and almost worth the work. As a travel food, the apple still reigns supreme, but those were still off the menu for me. The thought of them returns me to that miserable night in the forest.

I should have Simon peel some pomegranates for me to take to the baths, I could see these being perfect for lounging.

So, after some effort—and covered in pomegranate juice—I continued on my search.

I really need to learn Clean.

Trekking through the underbrush, I found time to reflect on the last few days. They’d been a whirlwind of pain, confusion, and blind fumbling through magic I didn’t—still don't—understand, and through it all I’d forgotten about the night Daulf had tended to me.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I think Daulf was right about me. I always seem to entangle myself in the messy affairs of others. I stuck my nose into Trish's business without a thought, revealed my magic at the first sign of trouble with the goblins, volunteered myself for that insane mission at Edgewater, and ran off after Bearskin—a man I hardly knew—as soon as I realized he needed help. I keep thinking of myself as a focused scholar like my father, pursuing mysteries at the exclusion of all else, but that’s a lie. I thought I was set on finding out my parents’ secrets but my actions prove the opposite. I take any opportunity to avoid following through on my plans. Case in point, I'm cavorting through the forest looking for some woman’s husband when I should be methodically searching this area for clues.

Lost in thought, I followed the trampled path for nearly an hour before the evidence of the knight’s passing became harder to detect. Where before every dozen steps there was a hacked tree branch, the trail became one of only footprints and trampled foliage. My query had begun to run, and if my tracking skills existed, I’m sure the path would have been evident, but without Roland’s eye for disturbed leaves, I had to scan the ground for the footprints hidden by the undergrowth. I slowed to inspect them and that was as much as I remembered when I woke up this morning.

Now though, if I try to write about it, I can remember what came next. While crouching down, trying to find the next footprint, I heard a noise in the distance. Abandoning my pitiful—okay terrible—attempt to track, I headed towards the sound. It grew louder as I walked towards it, and as it grew, so did my pace. Some compulsion drove me forward—the strength of the allure intensifying with each step. Branches whipped my face, thorns tore at my clothes and my body quickly became coated in mud and blood

This is very strange—what about my life isn't these days? I'm remembering this as though I'd experienced it, but there are no thoughts. Normally when I recount my recent past through you, my state of mind from that time runs through my thoughts as I write, and my current thinking takes a back seat until I call upon it to analyze my writing. Here though, as I write, I only feel that constant drive, a need to obey with no room for any other thought. Something had taken control of me and replaced my inner monologue with an overwhelming desire to run.

I ran headlong and heedless through the woods. My ankle twisted painfully on a root, but I didn't slow. Eventually, the trees ended, revealing a clearing with a modest ruin at its center. It was another dwarven outpost, but larger than the one we'd camped at on the original 19th. It had four walls, each standing over two stories high, with two towers that rose to six, almost to the tops of the trees. One of the walls had collapsed where a gate once stood.

I heard the sound coming from the closest tower, a sound that resolved into otherworldly singing. A song of longing and desire with an implied promise, though it had no words I could understand. I ran to the wall at the base of the tower and began to climb, only to fall when I put my weight on my ankle. I landed with a groan. As I laid there recovering, a head poked out over the crenelation.

The head belonged to a woman of great beauty. Her angular features and large nose and—Why did I write that? I can picture this face clearly in my mind and it was rather plain, bordering on ugly. Not to be cruel, but beauty is not a word I'd have chosen. I think the compulsion bleeds into my writing. That's dangerous.

Focus.

The face seemed surprised at my presence, the head tilted on an angle, studying me. After a moment’s contemplation, the head stuck itself out further and leapt off the tower revealing a gangly skeletal body covered in patchy feathers. She—for the graceful form left no doubt—spread her wings to slow her fall and banked around in a gentle arc, landing quite far away. Her landing was as graceful as her figure was bea—What am I doing? This is getting harder to resist.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

She approached me with needless caution, for I would never harm one of such elegance. Longing filled my entire being, and all I wanted was to run to her, but I sensed she would not approve. Each step she took brought me joy and pain—joy that she drew closer but pain that she doubted my intentions. When she reached me I reveled in her presence. She escorted me over the pile of rubble, where a gate had once stood, to a group of two men and two ogres. The group stared at my escort with eyes full of longing as we neared, and jealousy flared in my chest. They were rightly in awe of the majestic creature who blessed me with an escort. Her beauty was like the sun on—Stop it!

These are getting worse. Each time the influence becomes more subtle. Spellbook, if I write beauty, beautiful, graceful, or majestic, show me a doodle I’ve drawn of Daulf.

She escorted me to the circle and left, taking off into the air like a divine being breaking free the confines and dust of the mortal realm. Her beauty


FOCUS!

Let's try examining anything but that creature.

My companions all stood, staring at her as she departed. When she left their view behind the crest of the tower, they continued to stare at it, waiting for a glimpse of her. I joined them in their vigil, and we stood there, unmoving, for hours. Hoping and longing for a vision of her divine presence. I took cautious glances from the tower to examine the competition for my love’s affection—though I never looked away for long, for fear I would miss sight of her. The ogres were no threat, they were hideous monsters, slack-jawed and dim-eyed. Despite their obvious lack of intelligence, they were tall and imposing, and could prove a strong defender of my love's virtue. Surely she would balk at their brutish demeanors. My love was too wise to see them as anything more than manservants, footmen at best. Clearly that was their role in this kingdom she had built.

My next potential rival I presumed to be Gerald. The sight of him filled me with contempt for the man I’d come to save. How dare he betray his wife Beatrice to bow before this goddess? No one of such dishonor is worthy of my goddess’s attention, let alone her affection. Surely she sees through his duplicitous heart. He must be here to serve some purpose. Likely in her great wisdom, she has assigned him her huntsmen. Every great kingdom has a master of the hunt.

The last man may be a threat for my queen’s affection. The handsome knight towered over me, almost seven feet tall, clad in his once brilliant armor that was now covered in mud and missing its helm. He bore no sword, so a good knight he was not. His chin was strong but long in need of a shave, and he stank. They all stank, as if they had soiled themselves. Noticing the smell, I saw more flaws in the group. Blood and gore covered each of them. Why would my queen allow such filth to remain in her presence? Surely this is the remnants of a hard won victory in her honor, but still, the odor was beneath her. If only I knew Clean, I could make my lady’s servants worthy of her service.

They had desecrated the home of our love! My love! It was then I knew why she had called me. All these servants were weak, pale imitations of her true needs. Perfect she may be, she could not conjure worthy servants from thin air. That is why she had called for me. I was to rule this castle, nay, kingdom at her side.

Though it is not my task, I wish I knew Clean, so I could make these imperfect vessels of servatute more worthy of my queen’s attention.

As the sun began to set, my love flew away into the setting sun. Despair gripped my heart. Had I failed her? What did I do wrong? How could I get her to return? Despite my despair, I sensed that she did not want me to follow. Whatever this was, it was a test, and I refused to fail. I wanted to die and burn the world down with me, but I stood strong. The servants about me felt much the same, I could tell. The ogres wept openly, tears running down their faces, leaving trails of dirt on their filthy cheeks. I could hear Gerald sobbing behind me, but I could not risk a glance away from the horizon, and chance missing my love’s return.

My stalwart vigilance paid off, for as the sun kissed the horizon—as I dream of kissing my love’s lips—she returned to us in her glory. Silhouetted by the setting sun, she flew with a bounty of benevolence clutched in her talons. She carried for us a gift, an offering for our faithful service. Before us, she dropped a deer, expertly slain, and for the first time in my presence, I was blessed to hear her voice in something other than her entrancing song.

"Eat," she said, and my heart leaped with joy as she deemed myself worthy of her words. I joined as they tore into the feast before us, the innards tasted like the

 

Sorry, I just threw up a little on the table. I could taste the—no, I will not write of it lest I taste it once more. Simon came over, cleaned it up all while giving me his most professional look, which I took to mean he’s plotting some way to get back at me tomorrow. Lucky for me he won't remember this.

That recollection really gripped me there, but the taste of raw deer entrails sure knocked some sense into me.

I’m at the library now. I felt it best to continue this entry in some privacy. I did some research but only found a single accounting of a creature that matched the description of what I experienced—if not exactly what I saw. In the book Wars of Heroes: Legends of War from the Age of Heroes by Allen Estillan, Allen mentions a creature which—I assure you—was not a divine being sent from the gods nor a god herself. Allen referred to a race of magical creatures called harpies.

In his account, they looked like a cross between man and eagle, elegant and graceful.

They flew with a pair of feathered wings that descended from their arms and they had the ability to enchant men with the power of their songs and bind them to their will. If someone remained captivated for too long, their minds broke and they became nothing but subservient thralls. Thralldom sets in after a week, but the damage to the mind could start before then.

The author wrote of harpies as if they were common knowledge, but this book looked to be at least a thousand years old. Most of the details above I had to pull from a story. They referenced legends of beautiful

I will need to remember to turn that off. They referenced legends of... comely winged, humanlike creatures who entranced men with their looks along with their songs. Their origins were not known, but it was believed the gods made them late in the age of wonder. The legend spoke of a queen of the harpies who was more bea the fairest queen in all the Realm. She captured men’s hearts with her looks and words alone, with no need for her magic, and snared the heart of the eldest son of a king.

The son, betrothed to another, fled his lands to be with her. His bride-to-be convinced her father and future father-in-law to wage war on the harpies and drive them from their homes. The harpies, small in number, were not a warlike people. They were reluctant to use their abilities, but when faced with war, they threw restraint to the winds to raise an army of entranced soldiers. Hordes of entranced humans, goblins, orcs, and a myriad of others met the armies of the two kingdoms in battle.

Eventually, the two united kingdoms won through determination and their experience in war. The entranced mob of unfortunate slaves was destroyed at great cost. Though they lacked knowledge of war, they made up for it in numbers and undying devotion to their queen and her lieutenants. When the harpies mountaintop aerie was breached, no harpies, or prince, could be found.

If the above legend is true and the creatures it described were the harpies of today, I wonder how they could have developed from creatures of beau—avian grace to the depraved creature I saw yesterday? The books mentioned that all children born to harpies are harpies themselves, and the entire race is populated by females. Maybe, when cast away from human society, they were forced to interbreed with less human races, and that impacted their appearance over time?

The book didn’t give any indication on how to break the control but mentioned accounts of harpy lieutenants being killed, and their armies being freed. Unfortunately the slave armies of various races and nations turned on each other as soon as they were freed of control.

I’m going to try to finish out the day as briefly as possible so I don’t get lost again.

We ate the deer. It was terrible. We stood watching her magni decrepit ruin of a tower. She did not show herself the rest of the night and my heart wept. We stood there until it was too dark to see. Somehow I kept the deer intestines down and once more I seemed to have soiled myself.

Great

That was very difficult. But, I think this can go down as a lead. Not the harpy, probably, but the ruin itself.

I don’t know what to do. I probably should have ignored Beatrice. Even if I help her husband, what will I accomplish? I need to stay focused on the plan. I can help him by escaping these resets and then slaying that harpy after. I should stick with my plan, continue to explore, and then weigh my options. But, what if this is the lead I need? What if inside this fort is the answer? I don’t know, I will think on this tonight.

No matter what path I choose, I need to prepare. Casting at that boulder showed me how bad my aim is with Firebolt. The accuracy of the spell is only as good as my throwing arm, and there's no substitute similar to the weightless ball of flame to practice without spending Will. I need to get into the habit of using all my Will each day to improve my aim. It's hard to get better when you could only cast a spell four times a day, but now with Levar's potions I should be able to do five times that, at least. What Daulf said while nursing my wounds is probably true, I need to learn to handle myself in a fight better. Magical prowess grows slowly, and I'm still growing accustomed to battle. You may have the impression that I'm some valiant hero of countless adventures, but I assure you I'm not. I'm a man in over his head, with a little magic, and a lot of bad luck. Or possibly really good luck.

Is it bad luck to find oneself endlessly in peril, or good luck to always survive?

Luck is not a thing I can change but I can practice my magic, so I'm off to do that now.


Training went by fast. I went out to the forest once more to avoid drawing attention. There were no improvements over my benchmark, but I would be shocked if there had been. I asked Simon for peeled pomegranates for the bath, which he produced in short order. Either they had these prepared or the man has some secret magic of his own. They made an excellent bath treat.

Thinking it over while training, I decided to continue with my survey. It might feel like I am helping Gerald in trying to save him, but I cannot bind myself to this same action every today. Tomorrow I will resume my survey of the area. I shouldn't have allowed myself to be so easily distracted.

 

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TK523

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Bio: Aim for perfection, but don't try too hard.

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