The Ascension Gate

Howl
"Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness"

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To: Grover Ruk, Esq.
From: Daba Ruk, Death Inc.

Grover Ruk, Esquire
That temple with the purple spire next to the river
Falmouth, Erst County, Menard Parish
West Calagos, P.B.W.

Dear Grover,

I am writing this letter having no particular estimate of when it might reach you seeing as we are not at present proximitous to a town of any sort, but plan on putting it in the pony post as such opportunity arises. I also will attempt to make my words extra good as I am sure you probably remember that communication was never my fortay – no, leave that to the eldest brother Martin who tended towards locution the best of us. Not that he said much to me when I left! But you was the brother closest to me in age and in heart, and as such my own heart wonders how you are and seeks to craft this missive. (It was even you named me “Daba” when you could not wrap your beak around “Deborah,” which our father saw fit to call me. Of course, his name being “Hubert Jr.”, I am not sure if he could come up with much better.)

Last I heard you was up in Falmouth working towards preacherdom, so my hope is that this finds you safe in the tabernacle of whichever god you found palatable. For sure I am glad in knowing you not to be crammed in that godawful hut no more, although I do ask after our mother and father and their health, hoping all their feathers are in the right place. Having seen nothing of their deaths on my end of this ink I am assuming they are still in the land of those who walk upright but then again my visions are not so comprehensive as I would like and news often travels slow from the clanhold. As for the other siblings I do not ask and care naught, but in regardings to you I do wish happiness for you upon your new career. I must say I do also wonder what faith you follow now as many of those stained-glass doors stay closed to our kind, so it must be a goodly creed. We have a priest with our small company going by Ilios who worships the sun god, so I wonder if you do the same.

I myself have been getting somewhat better in my witching skills, though at the speed of syrup, and Declan Birdfriend has been a strong help on my shoulder. He is a prissy little thing sometimes but I have done got myself attached to him. He would have made you laugh, had you got to know him. He also knew our great-grandmother Taney the Elder fairly well but does not speak to me about her for some foreboding reason I cannot divine.

One of my other compatriots is a dwarf who speaks with bears, and he is one creature whose strength is alike to the old stories from our mother of the man who pulled down the temple with only his hands after they cut his hair and burned his eyes out (as I recall it was your favorite of her bedtime yarns). Bartak could do that if he was in a rage and we was in need of it. There is also an elf with a name I cannot quite master the spelling of yet, but the difficulty of his name casts no shade on my respect for him – faster than hell, sneaky too, but in a powerful useful way. Has a little sword like a toothpick but it certainly does the job, I tell you.

Well look here. I done ran out of paper. That of course is how it always goes. But Grover if your new lord and savior puts it upon your soul to write me back I would certainly be grateful for the consideration. If I do not see you before either of us cross over that river to rest in the shade of the trees I do want you to know how dear you are to me being one of very few bright spots in what truly told has been a rough start in life (but now I can shoot fire out my hands so that makes up for a lot).

Love,
Your dear sister eternal,
Daba Ruk

P.S. – As I am not sure where I might be come time you have the chance to send a reply dear brother please send any response to Tauster, the Wizard, and if you ask around for him you shall surely get an address as he is a pretty big personage I think.

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Hardlow Gothic

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Stranger in a Strange Land
Erasday, 30th of Hamas, 2022 AG

Following our encounter with the creatures infected with the cursed Demonplague, we decided to continue our investigation into the strange events occurring in the Haranshire. A short journey downriver led us to the farmlands where sheep have been mutilated. Local farmers informed us that most of the sheep belonged to a man named Mannis, at his farm located at the very southern edge of the Hardlow Woods. We were warned he was not the friendliest of people, but who would turn away help in such troubled times?

A drunkard, apparently. We came upon Mannis and his sister Brenda in the midst of a drunken shouting match. Both people gave me an uneasy feeling, and I fear something may be gravely wrong here. After a short argument (in which Bartak’s “diplomatic” skills were handily demonstrated), Mannis allowed us to examine the remains of a sheep killed the previous night.

I found that the sheep had multiple lacerations and puncture wounds consistent with what one would expect from sharp claws and bites. Unfortunately, whatever killed the sheep was also immensely strong, as it ripped the poor beast asunder and scattered pieces of it over a wide area. Bartak discovered the tracks of a wolf in the vicinity, but I have never known a wolf capable of this kind of carnage. Additionally, although the sheep appeared to have been partially eaten, a normal wolf or pack of wolves would have consumed more of it.

Mannis’ demeanor was hostile from the start, and only seemed to grow worse with time. Soon, Vilig began amelioration and we departed. Out of the many oddities we discovered at this farm, none was as perplexing as the man’s apparent knowledge of Daba and her kind. While not unseen or unheard of outside of the major cities or their few nesting grounds, the Tengu do tend to be a reclusive people. Moreover, the peoples of the Haranshire, with few exception, seem to have never encountered her kind before. Most strange, indeed.

More and more we travel this backwater, and each day brings with it more questions than answers. May Gadar guide us to the Truth and the Light.

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Ink Masters: Port of Call
Vilig tries to avoid the mark from this funky bunch

Just past dusk in the port town of F————-, and the crew of the Clarion’s Call are packed into a ramshackle hut. Though a constant din of bawdy laughter and contemptuous bickering spills from the shack, the women and men are generally behaving themselves in the absence of ranking officers. A small sign on the door has one word painted in Common, Elven, and Gnomish, ‘Tattoos’.

Crew gaggle: :Indeterminate roar:

Mowlrag: Cmawn boy-o, you talked a mighty big talk back on Call; wooden want uhvreeyone gettin thots aboutchya being scared or worse- a liar.

The half-troll’s face split into a wide grin of faux concern

Vilig: I see the tales I’ve heard of the Concern Trolls are well founded.

Mowlrag: It’s really bout yer future; I just would hate to see you awstrasized. Sometimes we dohn make the best desishuns for us.

Vilig: No, really I want one, I do…I do…I do, but an Elf getting a tattoo is a much bigger choice than a human or other shorter lived races.

Mowlrag: Howzzat? Seems ta me that they all last tha same, a lifetime. That’s all the time we got, so’s its all fair.

Vilig: For that sort of romantic pie in the sky platitude to work on me, I’d have to be way drunker.

Mowlrag So wattsa matta with dat? Let’s all get pissed, and then I’ll say it again and you’ll get a drawin of a leopard lady with tits the size of my fists. Hey uhvreeyone, Vilig’s buyin a round of drinks before he gets marked!

Crew gaggle: YEAH! AWRIGHT! DRINKING!

Vilig: Interpersonal communication can be very complicated.

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The Demonplague Returns
Iomeday, 29th of Hamas, 2022 AG

Dread news. The dogs we were sent to kill were not rabid. They were infected with a disease of terrifying malignancy. The Demonplague.

I know little of this disease myself, other than the symptoms. It starts as a low fever, and slight cough. Little more than a summer’s hay fever or mild cold. It quickly progresses to a much more severe condition, withering muscle and producing a burning fever which can often consume its victims in as little as a single day. Worst, the deceased then rise as abominable undead, spreading the plague through vicious bites.

The plague itself is not natural, that much I know. Its source is the Great Abyss, a hellish plane to which evil souls are banished by Gadar, and soul-corrupting demons roam freely. Some of the more blasphemous religions claim the Abyss is simply one more realm in a great multiverse, that other places of evils and good also exist. Some even claim the Abyss itself twists the souls of men into the demons that dwell there. This is of course nonsense, as Gadar protects us in his Light. Still, unnatural evil such as what we saw today could make one of lesser faith give pause.

Truth and Light protect and guide us.

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A Paladin's Woes
Iomeday, 29th of Hamas, 2022 AG

I remember the first time I ever met a Paladin. His armor shone brilliantly in the sun like the ocean on a clear day. Tall, strong, and with an air of rightness, the image of the man was inspiring. His warhammer was a massive thing, etched with runes and gilded with glittering stones that caught the sunlight. His destrier was massive and powerful, with a noble gait and barding that matched the man’s. I remember reaching up to him, just a boy, and he touched my bare hand with one gauntleted in steel. I knew then that I would be a warrior, a servant in Gadar’s holy armies, to be like him.

In the end, my destiny was not to be amongst the members of the Hand of Light. They were a very select few, only open to the most devout of the chosen, the most martially skilled. Although I trained hard, Gadar saw fit to gift me with a talent for healing, and thus guided my life down its current path. I do not feel regret or resentment for this, I accept Gadar’s will, but I will always remember those men and women raised to the Hand.

So, understandably, I was excited to learn that a Paladin of the One Truth once resided and even ruled these lands. I was thrilled by the opportunity to speak with one of his descendants, Count Parlfray, to speak of his great great grandfather and the heroic deeds he no doubt performed. I was…disappointed to find a doddering old man with a cloudy memory and a list of seemingly simple problems he was unable to deal with. What little he could remember of Paladin Lothar Parlfray was little more than the gossip we had heard in town. Sad, that a man of worth is forgotten. Perhaps the Athenaeum of Sistaort will retain some records?

Regardless, we did learn of some more troubles in the land that we agreed to try and assist with. In particular, it would appear a group of rabid dogs has taken up residence in the Redwood, endangering the year’s harvest festival. We travel now to eradicate this nuisance before returning to Milbourne.

Truth and Light.

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A package in the night
Secreted goods for the common good

A gap appeared in the door of Tauster’s tower, the head of an elf tentatively poking out a moment later and just as quickly receding. The door gapped another few inches and the elf began his delicate, silent exit into the pre-dawn kissed garden.

This is a bit impetuous. Is it foolish? Am I doing the right thing?

Vilig tried to shallow out his breathing, keep as much air under his feet as possible. His hands full of a bundle of goods, he had been forced to strap on his rapier before leaving and every step through the tower was an exercise in deftness and dexterity, mostly due to the dozens of piles Bartak had made the previous evening.

Mannequins stacked on bunt cake mold atop insect farms.
A cup and ball game rolling loose on a rusty shield placed over a basinet.
A mound of weapons layered alphabetically by the first letter of the animal Bartak would like to use it to kill and eat it.

Gritted teeth and luck had been mostly enough to escape this junk heap labyrinth without waking up any of his friends and now Vilig was out, wetting his boots with morning dew as he headed North out of town.

Just have to get far enough that no one in town could see where I’m going and then right back. No having around, no dawdling. Not too keen on meeting my first lizard man while I’m running errands

A mile outside of Thurnmaster the wooded greenery that marked the outskirts of The Redwood began to give way to the sparser tundra. Vilig stepped off of the road into a natural vellum filled with brush and unfurled his bundle for a last check.

Tunic, light boots for walking, kerchief for the face, 3 Gold 4 Sp, a days worth of light rations, and a handwritten list of towns and inns worth visiting. Looks about right. As long as he can find his way here, he should have enough to stake him for a bit of a trip. Let’s hope he’s ready for it.

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I used to eat nicer things, you know
and we find something frightening in the woods

So it appears that the rabid dogs have already been put down, thanks be to Irunae. That will be one less item on this wretched “honey-do” list of ours that is swiftly growing interminable.

It’s also the one piece of pleasant news I’ve heard in a while, and I start to relax on Daba’s shoulder as we traipse through the forest, picking through my feathers for little insect snacks.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. In the past it was all spice-mulled honey wine, thin buttery cheddar cheese waffles, tiny cakes of fruit and almond milk, roasted garlic chickpeas with olives, and plums so rich they almost bled.

Now it’s bugs, seeds, and mostly rotting flesh. I disgust myself.

At first, I tried to deny my new, strange little regurgitating stomach its desires. Now I soar at the scent of a festering stoat, a putrefying badger, or a bloated stag on the roadside. I can even tell the difference between them all at this point, as I might once have known the difference between an Amontillado and a Puerto Fino.

Just like right now, what I smell is…a distinct…sort of…let’s see…mixed with the blood there’s a whiff of…cotton fabric? Denim? Strange. Perhaps tobacco, too, and shucks of corn, with…oh yes, it’s stronger now as we get closer to it, that smell of…

Humans! Yes. Dead people! Excellent! I’m so great. Yay Declan.

But no one ever says “Yay Declan” to my supreme olfactory skills, of course, because they never do anyway and also because by this point they have all stopped moving and are having some kind of serious conversation, which I suppose I should have been paying attention to. Apparently something has gone awry up ahead. There’s a lot that I missed – something about how all the trees are yellow here, Daba sensing death, or the undead, perhaps, and Bartak picking up on some toxicity in the area, but I only really start paying attention once Daba drops my name into the conversation.

“We could send Declan up ahead to look and report back.”

Oh dear.

But Ilios cuts in: “It’s probably not safe for him.”

Right. Good. Exactly. Obviously unsafe.

“He can fly; he’ll stay up high,” she replies, pointing to my wings. I start to panic.

“Someone could shoot him.”

Yes indeed someone could shoot me DABA WHAT ARE YOU DOING.

She squints. “He just looks like a reg’lar raven, though…”

Well, that stings. I thought I’d cultivated a certain je ne sais quoi with the distinguished way I carried myself in this sassy little body, but apparently –

“…so how’ll they know he’s not just an everyday, normal bird? Why would they even take note of him?”

“They can probably sense magic, and he certainly is,” says Vilig, just in the nick of time.

Thank you, Vilig. I crane my head slightly in his direction to acknowledge my gratitude. That seems to have finally shut Daba’s ridiculously elongated beak about THAT asinine plan, so they start to craft another, one which blissfully does NOT involve me:

Daba is going to use her handy-dandy Message spell, and Vilig – who can, I just learned, hide from the undead, which is also handy-dandy – will creep into the thicket and whisper back to Daba what he sees there. Then we will respond accordingly.

Bravely he saunters into the brush – good luck, fellow elf, and my savior! – and it’s not long before I can see from the change in Daba’s face that she’s hearing back from him. She then takes what feels like an involuntary step back, which is never a positive sign.

“What are you hearing from him?” asks Bartak.

She looks at him, then casts a sideways glance through the uncertain blackness of her periphery at me.

“Some corpses up ahead. Look like farmers.”

That explains the corn and denim.

But I don’t think she’s done.

“…and eatin’ on em’s five dogs.”

For the second time in ten minutes, I think, oh dear.

“Undead dogs. Undead, rabid dogs.”

I sigh a little crowish sigh and stare off into the thicket.

Well, shit. So much for that.

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