First Letter To Esther

Dearest Esther,

I find myself in an uncomfortable situation. It has been a few days since I rid myself of Urdrick once and for all, and an additional week since Dagmar felt Auza’s Embrace. That is not entirely correct. I had significant help in dealing with Urdrick, which is part of the problem. The main problem.

My…allies? I do not know that I would as strong a word as “companions”, so allies will have to suffice. My…allies rallied to my defense and helped me easily dispatch Urdrick. It would have been very difficult for me to have done it on my own. The intense pain in my side from the ghostly wound he inflicted, while wonderfully agonizing (praise Auza), began to overcome even my tolerance for suffering. The searing light of my magic inflicted a great deal of damage, but he only became vulnerable after I severed his protection with my newest acquisition, Soul Cutter. Once he was vulnerable to means both magical and mundane, my allies destroyed him.

Soul Cutter. Such a wonderful name for a weapon, don’t you think? It fits me well. Not only in its name and application, but it just feels right. Like it were made specifically for my hand. Couple that with the experience of speaking with Auza, literally speaking with Auza, and I feel…destined. Auza has made me His champion, and I will dedicate myself to His cause. I am not so full of myself (stop laughing) that I do not recognize that Dagmar was in a previous position. I could just as easily be deposed. But I will not waste Auza’s gifts on creating an army of the dead. I have never shared that particularly unhealthy obsession with Dagmar.

I am learning more about Soul Cutter every day. Extensive study of the blade and discussion with my two foreign-born allies, Tabia and Masumi (and what kinds of names are those?), has yielded a greater understanding of it. Tabia herself bonded to our first artifact we uncovered, Wayfinder. She is almost as possessive of it as I am of Soul Cutter, more on that later, but she does seem willing to let others use it. Especially me. I have gained her trust. She actually felt compassion for me, standing by me and speaking up for me against Dagmar’s vicious accusations. If you knew Tabia, you would know how much it meant to her to actually speak up for anything, let alone for me. I am confused by this relationship. I am almost becoming fond of her. I attribute it more to the bond we feel due to being the only two bearers of artifacts, more so than any actual relationship. What a dreadful thing that would be.

We awoke one night to find that traitor of a dwarf, Sharv, clutching Wayfinder and attempting to take Soul Cutter from my hands. Auza made it clear what a mistake this was, producing delightfully deep and terrible wounds all over his face. Tabia and I quickly disabused him of any notion that he might hold them on for any moment longer. It took everything in my power to not end his life there. The Templar interposed himself between us, involving himself in business that does not concern him, stalling my retribution for now. But I have not forgotten.

The dwarf whimpered and sobbed, the weakling, claiming he heard Auza’s voice telling him that if he combined the two artifacts, he would have power beyond knowing. He blamed Auza for LYING to him as an excuse for his treachery. Then I did need to be restrained. I would cut his lying tongue from his mouth for that affront to my Lord. Is Auza to blame for his terrible weakness? Clearly, he is not capable of wielding the power of two artifacts. That blessing alone shall be reserved for the worthy. I would have demonstrated it immediately, but discretion seemed more appropriate in this case. Sharv begged forgiveness and whimpered the rest of the next several days. No magic anyone could produce would heal his wounds. I could have, of course, but refused, preferring to see him suffer.

We returned briefly to the Walkers’ cave, finding them gone. They are nomadic, so perhaps they moved on now that it is spring. Speaking of which, I hope you found the time to celebrate our most sacred holiday. I did, and thoroughly enjoyed in the festivities. It’s a shame that the holiday and its ritual is so sacred that we cannot celebrate it with just anyone. I hope to one day be able to share the experience with some of my current allies.

Before returning to Stone, we made a brief stop to bury Cruvig’s clan. I was uncomfortable during this, as their customs are so different from our own, but I tried to be as respectful as I could, for appearance’s sake. I noted the location in my mind, so that if I ever did need to return, I could hallow the ground with Auza’s blessing, fortifying it for my own purposes. I do not think I could do this while Cruvig lives, so I will have to bide my time. That is fine. I have patience for that sort of thing.

My hostility to Sharv continued unabated, but Tabia eventually forgave him, after ignoring him for a few days. Masumi’s opinion of me and her compassion after the Urdrick experience has diminished, thanks to my hostility towards him. What does she expect? I neither need nor desire her sympathy, and certainly not her pity! But, it would prove useful to keep her on my side, as she is very powerful, especially with fire. So I do like that about her. I suppose I will have to do something to improve our “relationship”. How annoying.

Our return to Stone was met with much comment and praise. We have become rather famous in this unique town. I had my pick of companions for the evenings, and did partake in the celebrations of our fame. But we are here for business. I do not like that I am becoming so well known. Working behind the scenes will only become much more difficult. I spent some time trading and selling, acquiring a replacement horse and some more appropriate gear for our travels South. We all agreed that the next step is to go to Tabia’s homeland. I am eager to experience her culture, and to find some way to learn her powers. The ability to change one’s shape would make things much easier. Imagine how easy it would be to fly away from any trouble! Truly something to consider.

One of the local priestesses had a rather brilliant idea to solve Tabia’s dilemma with her people. She placed a water skin in the sacred fountain for the entire month we were gone, letting it soak in the “holy” waters. Filling it while it is beneath the water should allow it to store its famous healing properties, and aid Tabia’s people. Perhaps I can use this as a means of reward when I escort her back? I am, after all, “from” this town. Tabia is grateful, and I found I was actually happy for her. It is a rather curious thing, but ultimately inconsequential. We both know how this will end.

I had a bitter dispute with my allies over the traitorous Sharv. He asked to stay with us, and continue on our quest, such as it is. He said he wished to make amends for his betrayal. I, of course, was, and still am, very opposed to this course of action. We simply cannot trust him. He has not proven to be a valuable resource in our journey so far. In fact, I really rather feel he has been a hindrance. I made my opinion known, quite vocally. Of course, they all already knew it anyway.

Sharv made a personal appeal to Frederick, who accepted him right away. I think he did it just to be contrary and because he knew it would anger me. Cruvig always wants another drinking companion, so he too accepted the traitor back into the fold. Tabia appeared to be on my side, but when that disgraceful excuse for a dwarf apologized, she decided everything was wonderful and he could join us. Masumi seemed to not care one way or another, and she actually asked me if I believed in second chances. Hello!! Journeying with us WAS his second chance! Am I the only one who remembers that he tried to kill us all in the battle of Stone, and we captured his worthless should-be-a-carcass? He came with us because of some information he claimed he could provide. Frankly, I found him entirely useless. However, seeing I had no chance of winning this argument, I decided to sound a more conciliatory note to my allies, telling them to just keep him away from me. If I bide my time long enough, I should be able to see to it that he meets an unhappy fate. I know he will bide his time to do the same to us.

Vuluf and Imbrus elected to stay with us as well. Imbrus even seemed to think that he might be able to eventually bond with one of the artifacts. The fool. Doesn’t he know that they are all rightfully mine? He is pretty to look at though, so I will have no problem keeping him along. I will have to disabuse him of his dreams eventually.

One of the drawbacks to all this fame we received is the mass of admirers. Normally I would not see this as a problem, but too many people know me and stories about me, and my power. I typically prefer to stay in the shadows, as you well know, Esther, so this is not very appealing to me at all. Plus many of them are creepy. And smell bad. Three of those who offered, nay, requested to join us actually had some merit.

The first is the aforementioned Priestess of Stone, the one who had some interesting ideas regarding the spring. Hopefully it will work, so Tabia’s people will be indebted to us. Though it might lead to Tabia staying with her people, as the whole point of her travels is to save them from this mysterious illness. That would be unfortunate, as she is very useful to have around, and is one I can usually persuade to my cause. I say usually, as her sentimental feelings towards me also have the annoying problem of extending to others I wish to kill. And I am somewhat fond of her, so there is that, too. If she were to leave, I’d have to find someway to get the artifact from her.

At any rate, this priestess did not like that I worship Auza. It’s funny. She didn’t complain when Auza’s gifts saved Stone from that advancing conglomerate army a month ago. But it is easy to forget. I will have to show her Auza’s power on our journey. Everyone was in favor of her joining for one reason or another. She gave her own reason as wishing to be out from under the thumb of her more experienced bretheren, who are not open to new ideas. I approved. Interesting thought I had, while recording this. What would happen to the holy spring if someone were drowned in it, or if a corpse was thrown in? Would it be desecrated? Or serve as some horrible form of torture, forever dying? Or bring back the dead? And if that, would it be as they were alive, or as undead? Interesting questions. I might have to experiment. It will serve as a good method of getting her riled up, if need be. Knowing the weaknesses of your allies is ALWAYS a good thing.

The second individual was a man calling himself a knight. His name was either Calad or Calahad, I didn’t quite catch it. He claimed to have a vision from his god, sending him to protect us on our journeys. Everyone else is suitably impressed, particularly Frederick. He would be, that one. I recalled his exploits in the battle of Stone, and he was a capable fighter. So we agreed to let him join us. I did not voice my suspicions, but anyone claiming to be on a holy mission from their god makes me uneasy. Ironic, yes I know. But I will watch him for signs that he has designs upon us or my artifacts. He could very well have received a vision from some other god entirely. We all know what Sharv did when he claimed a vision from Auza. Blaming his weakness on “Auza’s lies”. That scum will die by my hand. I just need to wait long enough.

The last man troubled me considerably. Frederick, of course, wished for him to come along, as he would be a good drinking companion. What an idiotic reason to choose one’s allies. But then again, Frederick is an idiot. This third man claimed to be along just for the story. He had all manner of tales of his exploits, but he seemed to be more interested in finding someone to bed than actually being useful. Plus anyone seeking a great story, which our tale is, admittedly, would also be asking probing questions about our background. I did not wish to be more exposed than I already have been, so I encouraged the others to decline. They listened to me, for once. I did consider the possibility that he might follow us anyway, and made a note of it to Vuluf. He said he would keep an eye out for anyone following us.

Seeing that I must make that effort to be more concilatory towards my allies, I drew them together and did my best to seem sincere. It’s always been difficult for me to act sincere, as you know. This time it seemed much easier. It must be because I have spent so much time with them that I know the beset way to manipulate them. Any other idea, such as the preposterous notion I might actually care what they think, is so ridiculous to as not even be in the realm of possibility.

Surely not.

My efforts seemed to have the desired effect, and they all, Frederick included, responded with warmth and understanding. Someone even pat me on the shoulder. They saw what an effort I was making, and understood how I don’t trust easy, thanks to all the sordid details Urdrick and Dagmar revealed. I wanted to throw their pity back in their faces and burn them with Auza’s fire, but I bit my tongue. hard enough to draw blood, actually, which at least made the whole effort enjoyable.

As soon as we resolved to forever be good and true allies, Stone was once again the victim of an assault. Some enterprising warlord decided the two artifacts in Stone were to be his. Ugh. Men and their foolish dreams. We rapidly organized the town to resist, and everyone listened. I showed the priestess a thing or two about the blessings Auza could bestow, and we lived up to our reputation. The Warlord was thrown back, his army broken on the walls of Stone, further cementing our legend. The efforts of the priests kept our casualties down, but there was still plenty of suffering and pain that day. Auza was pleased.

Our journey to Tabia’s homeland went surprisingly well, for such a lengthy trip. A few months ago, I would not have believed anyone could travel that far. Now? Anything seems possible. Oh sure, we had our fair share of harrowing escapes and near death experiences, but everyone made it out alive. To my dismay, ni some particular cases. Of all the events we experienced, one sequence in particular was noteworthy.

We needed to cross an enormous lake, called a sea, so large that I could not even see the other side of it! Obviously I argued vehemently for us to travel via land, where we actually have some control over our surroundings. Every pointed argument and reason I came up with was ignored. I was told I was being obstinate. They’re the ones that were being obstinate! I almost went on my own, just to make a point. But being alone for an extended period of time, let alone in a strange land, is tantamount to suicide. Against my better judgment, I acquiesced. We boarded our ship, and set off.

It was a terrible mistake.

They should have listened to me.

Our first night the merchant captain of the ship has a celebratory feast in honor of our boarding his ship. I tire of these events in our honor, and almost refused to participate. But I could not afford to be too anti social, so I joined in the celebrations. In the end, we were all drugged and fell into a deep sleep.

I awoke to find us missing everything but the clothes on our backs. Soulcutter was GONE. Someone was going to die. I still had some of Auza’s blessings upon me, so we quickly took stock of our situation and endeavored to argue with the captain regarding our circumstances. We quickly over powered the two pathetic guards assigned to our room. They looked at Tabia and me and saw unarmed women. We made sure they realized just how dangerous we could be. After a frantic and admittedly undignified search, I came across the aftermath of a fight between three of the crewmates over Soulcutter and Wayfinder. Reunited at last, we interrogated the one conscious guard very quickly, and resolved to regain the rest of our possessions.

Going to the top of the ship, on the main…deck, is the word, I think…we confronted the Captain. He laughed and proceeded to use some bizarre magic against us. His attempts were ultimately futile, though Frederick, in his infinite wisdom, somehow managed to accidentally summon some horrible creature from the dark depths below us. The Captain was out of his mind from fear of the beast. His fear was missplaced. He should have feared me.

The great beast practically destroyed the ship in its assault. Masumi, Frederick, and Calahad fought well, while the rest seemed too preoccupied with saving themselves. I overcame the difficulty of being so near the boundless, endless water and personally saw to it that the Captain joined the sea he seemed so fond of. None will cross me and live.

That matter settled, I came to the aid of my allies, who were clearly having a difficult time against the terrible monster. Even though it was a monster, it still succumbed to Auza’s Embrace. All beings who walk the earth would do well to remember it. I sent the giant thing to a watery grave, content that it suffered the entire way.

Unfortunately, in its death throes it destroyed the rest of the ship. This was, in retrospect, something I should have foreseen.

We spent the next three days trying to survive the cold and water in our battered smaller vessel, with one of the pirates in tow. Let me repeat that. We spent three days trying to find land. THREE DAYS. I did my best to bite my tongue and not tell everyone how they should have listened to me, and should listen to me in all cases in the future. If they had listened to me, we would not have been in that predicament. I succeeded in holding my tongue. Mostly. Sort of. OK, not at all. But I tried!

No sooner had we found dry land then we were attacked by mad natives, some strange cult intent on sacrificing us to their dark god. If anyone was going to be doing any sacrificing, it was me. We held them off for a time, but they were too many, and my allies were still recovering from the trials at sea and the tongue lashing I gave them to be of much use in the fight. We sought shelter in some ruines closer inland. This frightened the marauding hordes, so we slept in a three-walled structure.

The next morning, our scenery had changed. We were suddenly fully enclosed. Investigating the area showed that the walls were moving from some strange magic I did not understand. Further investigation revealed a terrible monster, a local beast who surely inspired legends and all sorts of horrible tales, much like Fenris had done. It controlled the labyrinth, and sought to separate us. I found myself cornered with Frederick. Of course. After massively impairing its strength, I sought protection by melding with the walls themselves, leaving Frederick to his own devices. The beast promptly moved the wall, expelling me from it, to my extreme detriment. We fought off the beast until everyone else found us, and we slew it without much difficulty once we were together.

There’s a lesson here. Never be alone with Frederick. He will get you in trouble.

The assailants from the previous evening proceeded to worship us after we killed their god. This I actually enjoyed. I need to get in some practice, given my new motivations.

Have I not explained those to you yet? Well, I will have to do so. In person, I think. I’d like to get your opinion.

We had several other adventures on our way to Tabia’s homeland, that would no doubt make for tremendous stories. But they are needless details for me. The important thing is we had arrived. Hopefully we would find clues to some of the other artifacts. And a way to unlock the secrets and power of Tabia’s people.

Forever Yours,

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First Letter To Esther

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